If you’re wondering why this column doesn’t have a picture of Patrick Reed in his spanking new Green Jacket, that’s because you’ve already seen ‘Captain America’ smirking with the trophy on more newsprint and television screens than you’d care to. If you’re sensing that your columnist isn’t a fan, you’re very discerning, but more on that later. The bit that I do want to draw your attention to is that other Major Championship in April, the one you probably haven’t heard or read much about: the ANA Inspiration on the LPGA. The 2018 edition of this Major will be remembered, unfortunately, not as one that was won by Korean player So Yeon Ryu, but rather as one that was unkindly snatched from American Lexi Thompson.
There’s a famous adage in golf: ‘If you’re not playing by the Rules, then you’re not playing golf’. Golf prides itself on personal integrity and fastidiousness to the Rules, but in that endeavour, it’s also become a game where blind adherence sometimes borders on the ridiculous and often enough, as in Thompson’s case, on the tragic. We’ve heard the story before: some armchair viewer sees something on television and proceeds to call up Rules officials at a tournament, ending up affecting the outcome of a tournament.
In Thompson’s case, her error was placing the ball back less than an inch away from the marker before a one-foot putt on the 17th green during her third round at Mission Hills Country Club. After putting down a marker and picking up the ball, Thompson put it back, but not in exactly the same spot, as video replays showed.
That it was an inadvertent error was obvious: Thompson had no advantage to gain by moving the ball on such a short putt. To make matters worse, she was informed of the ruling while leading by four strokes on the 12th hole on the final day—a four-stroke penalty that wiped out her lead. To her credit, Thompson responded with three birdies over the remaining five holes to force a playoff with Ryu, only to lose on the first extra hole.
Tiger Woods was one of the first to tweet about the incident. “Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes,” Woods wrote on social media. Justin Thomas, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, added: “Whatever number this is that people can call in (sic), it needs to go away.”
This sort of nonsense has been taking place quite regularly over the past few years. Dustin Johnson’s win at the US Open in Oakmont in 2017 was nearly derailed by a similar ruling called in by a television viewer. Johnson was hit with a one-stroke penalty in retrospect that, thankfully, did not affect the outcome of the tournament. Again, in 2017, at the women’s edition of the US Open, Anna Nordqvist got docked two strokes for accidentally touching the sand in the bunker with her club—an infringement that was noticed by a television cameraman—and ended up losing by two strokes.
The Royal & Ancient and the USGA, the two governing bodies of golf—in light of these incidents—have proposed changes that would lessen the degree of punishment for such occurrences, especially when they are not deemed as having given an advantage to a player. Unfortunately for Thompson, these haven’t been adopted yet, in which case she would have definitely got the benefit under a “reasonable judgment standard” under the proposed rules. Hopefully, she’ll be the last golfer to pay such a high price for such meaningless rules.
Coming back to Mr Reed’s exploits at The Masters. Detractors of the voluble American player, your columnist included, have to grant it to the man who proclaimed in 2014 that he was one of the world’s best. At the time, it seemed not only cocky, but delusional, coming from a player who, at that point, had only a solitary win on the PGA Tour. Since then, Reed has not only given stirring performances at Ryder Cup, but also taken down some of the biggest names in the game.
He did that again at Augusta, picking up the gauntlet against a marauding Jordan Spieth (who finished in the top five again, the fourth time in the last five years), a confident Rory McIlroy—the crowd favourite and chasing a career grand slam—and a resurgent Rickie Fowler.
Grudgingly, you also have to admire the fact that Reed practically had no one rooting for him in the gallery, which was solidly behind McIlRoy and later Spieth. Reed is known to be abrasive and the sort of player who seems to thrive being cast as a villain. In his freshman season at University Georgia, when he was just 17 years old, Reed was apparently so unpopular that he had to practice and play alone.
He was accused of cheating on the course by his teammates who also suspected he stole equipment and cash from the locker room, although that was never substantiated with proof. He’s also been arrested twice for underage drinking. He has a reputation for ignoring questions and reporters after bad rounds and was caught on camera using anti-LGBT slurs on the course. As recently as last month, Reed had a dispute with a Rules official and was caught on film saying, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys”. He later asked for a different official to review the matter because he needed an “unbiased source”.
Reed may have got the better of Spieth at Augusta, but the latter remains the only man in the history of the game to have won three times after winning The Masters in the same season, which he did by triumphing at the US Open and Tour Championship in 2015. I won’t be rooting for Reed to equal that feat, but wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game