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"We’re still not over this – the Lexi controversy."
April 17, 2017

Coates Golf is solely dedicated to women’s golf, so it should come as no surprise that we were watching the final round of the ANA Inspiration live. What we saw transpire on international TV made us emphatically passionate about how the rules of golf need to be updated. Here is how one of our tour players, Alex Milan, reacted to the events.

As a professional golfer, watching Lexi Thompson lose the ANA made me extremely emotional; I felt every struggle and disappointment right along with her. We sacrifice so much of our personal lives to train and prepare for the opportunity to claim victory at a Major.

I couldn’t not be more impressed with the poise that Lexi held in the face of adversity. She had a microphone thrust at her moments after what should have been a jump into Poppy’s Pond. She stood in front of the world and let everyone see her heartbreak, placed the blame on no one, and had a moment with the most class I’ve ever witnessed in golf. As a professional, I felt her hurt, as if it was my own and cried just as she did.

But, this post is not just about Lexi, so let’s talk about the real problem – the rules of golf.

Golf is rarely fair to begin with. A bombed drive can roll into an old divot, a perfect shot can hit the flagstick and ricochet into the water, and the wind can blow a great approach off the green. However, the penalties given to Lexi, and the time that they were given, seemed extraordinarily unfair and out of context.

Golf is a game of honor, integrity, and tradition. There are many rules that at times can be almost impossible to uphold. You are held accountable to the rules by yourself, your competitors, and the rules officials. If you are in the woods and cause your ball to move, it is your own responsibility to report it and assess yourself a penalty. If you hit the ball twice while chipping but do not feel it, it is your playing competitor’s job to notify you and assess you a penalty.

I can guarantee that when a ball is marked, it is never replaced in exactly the same position. It is virtually impossible to do so. The goal is to put it as close as you can to the original spot, making sure that you do not move the ball closer to the hole than it was originally.  Lexi was off a half inch (maybe) from her original spot and it was no nearer to the hole, the new position offered no advantage, and Lexi has said many times that she did not intentionally misplace her ball. The change in position was so small that she did not notice it, her playing competitors did not notice it, and the rules officials at the time did not notice it.

In fact, in an un-televised situation, there would have been no penalty.

I find it terribly ironic that a game with such antiquated rules and stigmas has chosen to allow television viewers to pause, rewind, and zoom into the position of an official. The audience, fans and gamblers now have the power to determine the outcome of a tournament? I’m not sure that is a game that any professional golfer wants to play for a living. This is not what golf is about.

Not to mention, subjecting players to the public’s scrutiny is inherently unfair and inconsistent. Every player is not shown hitting every shot on every hole. Suppose the player who won had the same infraction on hole 2 in round one, but because it was not televised, she received no penalty? The players in the lead and the media favorites would always be subjected to penalties while lesser-known players would not be.

The rules of golf have been long overdue for some updating and there has never been a better time to discuss changes. I believe that professionals whose livelihoods depend on playing by the rules be included in the conversation. Most other professional sports have made allowances and specific rules for official camera review – golf needs to as well. How do you define “as near as possible”? If the USGA, the LPGA, and the PGA continue to enforce these antiquated rules by television, we need a better definition. Clearly half of an inch off was too far, next time will a quarter of an inch be too far? Will one inch be fine the next week?

It is imperative that professionals be included in this conversation. The application of rules is what we live by every week and we recognize where the system is broken. If the USGA does not want to include us, maybe we should take the time to create and vote on our own rule book. Better yet, the professional tours should take the initiative to put their own rules into effect that prevent “arm-chair officials” immediately.

Alex Milan