In the Crease: Lexi Thompson was robbed

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The Ladies Professional Golf Association owes Lexi Thompson $154,491, and an apology.

The organization that purports to be an advocate for the game of golf among women and girls, that is hoping to grow a sport already suffering from years of self-inflicted elitism — intentional or otherwise — and one that already struggles to find sponsors, spectators and viewers, shortchanged one of its brightest stars on Sunday.

And they did so at the behest of a keyboard jockey from who-knows-where.

If that’s not enough to get your Spidey senses tingling, let’s ask a few questions:

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Who sent the email?

Where is the viewer from?

For whom does the viewer work?

Who is the viewer’s favorite golfer?

If the infraction was on the 17th green during Saturday’s round, why did the viewer wait until Sunday afternoon to send in an alert?

It’s easy to see where this can lead, and it’s not out of the question that there were some ulterior motives for the viewer as Thompson started to pull away at the LPGA’s first major tournament of the season.

But let’s put conjecture aside, and look at the rule Thompson is said to have broken:

Rule 20-7c in the most recent Rules of Golf reads as follows: “If a competitor makes a stroke from a wrong place, he incurs a penalty of two strokes under the applicable Rule. He must play out the hole with the ball played from the wrong place, without correcting his error, provided he has not committed a serious breach.”

The implication, then, from the LPGA in citing this rule is that Thompson knowingly tried to cheat the system.

The video shows Thompson placing a coin or marker behind the ball. She realigns the ball — perhaps to line up her marks on a putt of fewer than two feet, perhaps to ensure there is no debris attached — and immediately replaces the ball.

But wait, the viewer said. Her ball wasn’t in exactly the same position post-marking. In the video, the commentator delivering the news to the TV audience noted that when she marked the ball, the coin was completely hidden behind the ball. When she replaced it, you could (gasp!) see the coin.

But not entirely.

So this big, bad, cheating golfer intentionally moved her ball less the distance across a medium-sized coin, within two feet of the hole, in the time it takes someone to shoo away a pesky fly.

Have you ever been golfing? Have you ever placed the ball on the green after marking it exactly where it was prior to marking? If you have, it was by dumb luck.

Normally, the routine goes something like this: You mark the ball, snag it, roll it around in your hand, wipe the dirt off, maybe rub it down with a towel. You talk to your buddy (or caddie, or both), you take a drink, you watch someone else putt, you walk away, and then back, you line up whatever mark you have on your ball with whatever target you have picked out, you place the ball back on the green and remove your mark.

And if you’ve done all that, and it still rests on the exact same blade of grass from which you originally plucked it, congratulations, you have one of the most remarkable memories about which I know.

The spirit of the rule is that you should not improve your position or line. And even if you’re off that little bit, it’s about intent.

And to tack on another two-stroke penalty under Rule 6-6d was even more insulting.

I have been around golf since I could walk. I’ve played almost as long — far more poorly these days than I care to admit.

I have as much respect for the game of golf, its rich history and its traditions as anyone this side of St. Andrews.

But I don’t like this rule, as written.

Here is a piece of it: “If a competitor returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken due to failure to include one or more penalty strokes that, before returning his score card, he did not know he had incurred, he is not disqualified. In such circumstances, the competitor incurs the penalty prescribed by the applicable Rule and an additional penalty of two strokes for each hole at which the competitor has committed a breach of Rule 6-6d.”

Rule 6-6d itself is meant to disqualify a golfer for signing a card with an incorrect score — in other words, a cheater.

But how can a golfer know that they’ve signed an incorrect card if they are unaware they’ve committed an infraction? And in the rare case where this happens in a tourney setting — especially at the professional level — it should be incumbent upon the rules officials on site to suggest and implement rules infractions, and that justice should carry a statute of limitations equal to the length of the round in which the infraction occurred.

Technology has afforded us many things, and instant replay has become normal at almost every level of every major sport. But none of those major sports allow fans to call fouls, call runners safe or out, decide whether a shot was behind the 3-point line or determine if a play was offside. Nor do they allow officials to make those calls after the game is over.

Nor should golf.

The idea that a keyboard jockey was allowed to be a judge at a major championship, and ultimately make a decision that cost someone a championship, is unconscionable.

At the very least, the LPGA should apologize to Lexi Thompson.

Furthermore, the LPGA — and its friends at the PGA, the USGA, The Masters and the Royal and Ancient — need to make it clear that fans should not have any input in the administering of any tournament. The LPGA should then award Thompson the money she should otherwise have earned as the winner of the tournament — a difference of $154,409.

Lexi Thompson high-five fans as she walks to the 18th green during the final round of the LPGA Tour’s ANA Inspiration golf tournament at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Sunday, April 2, 2017. Earlier in the round, Thompson found out she had been assessed a four-stroke penalty for a rules violation Saturday. Thompson had a chance to win the tourney on 18, but left an eagle putt an inch short. So Yeon Ru won a playoff on the first hole. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

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