COMMENT: Lexi deserves penalty, but ban armchair anoraks

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Lexi Thompson cries during the final round of the ANA Inspiration

What happened to Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration was incredibly cruel and unfortunate.

And yet, what cannot be denied is that she was in breach of a rule of golf, and she rightfully got penalized for that.

Everything else is subject to people’s opinion.

These are the hard facts – during the third round of the tournament, which is the first major of the LPGA season, the American marked her ball on the 17th green, and while replacing it, she did not put it at the right spot. Lexi was about an inch away from where she should have been.

On the next day, while she was on the ninth hole and cruising towards a victory, a TV viewer sent an e-mail to LPGA rules officials. After checking the veracity of his claim, the officials informed Lexi on the 12th hole that she was being penalized four shots – two for marking her ball incorrectly and breaking Rule 20-7c, and two for submitting an incorrect scorecard under Rule 6-6d.

Leading by three shots at that late stage of the tournament, Lexi then had to produce some incredible golf to play the last six holes in two-under par and make it to the play-off, which she eventually lost.

So, here are some of the questions that are being asked on what is now being termed LexiGate…

Should there be more common sense applied in the matter of rules?

Golf is trying to move in that direction with the proposed new rules that will come into effect in 2019. At least, Lexi was fortunate she wasn’t disqualified for signing a wrong card, something that used to happen in the very near past.

Remember the Padraig Harrington incident in Abu Dhabi? The Irishman was disqualified the next day after shooting a 65, because his ball moved ever so slightly while marking and he failed to replace it in its original spot. He should have signed for a 67, but submitting a wrong card led to his disqualification.

However, applying common sense to rules is subjective and it is very difficult to establish intent to cheat, or not.

Should viewers be allowed to call in and report infringements?

Golf is a unique sport in this respect. No other sport takes congnizance of facts brought to light by armchair anoraks. Just imagine how many football results would have to change if this was allowed.

As it is, the sport is blessed to have a system that is mostly self-governed, and then there are playing partners, or for that matter any other player or caddie in the field, who can question another player’s action and get officials involved.

Most importantly, golf is a game of honour, and it is rare to find intentional cheaters on the Tours. If they do, they are very quickly found out by their competitors and are marked for rest of their careers.

Really, TV viewers should have no role to play in officiating what is a self-policed sport.

Should players be penalized retrospectively during a tournament?

Why not? Breach of rule is a breach of rule.

Was the quantum of penalty heaped on Lexi too harsh?

It was, if we go by common sense. It wasn’t, if we go by the rules. How was she supposed to know on Saturday that there was a breach of rule and she should have signed for a 69 and not a 67.

Was the Lexi incident detrimental to golf?

Definitely yes. Only because she is an extremely popular player on the LPGA Tour, and American fans would have loved to see a home winner, which was denied. Most fans do not understand the intricacies of the rules, and when something like this happens, they get cheesed off.

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Trip down memory Lane at the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters

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After being part of the first wave of professional golfers to tee it up in the United Arab Emirates in the late 1980s, former Ryder Cup player Barry Lane is excited to return to the Middle East at the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq.

The 56-year-old was the only player to participate in the first 25 editions of the Dubai Desert Classic, from 1989 to 2014, and has fond memories of the UAE. Ahead of the first event of the 2017 European Senior Tour season, Lane is one of 57 golfers preparing for the first tournament to be held in the Emirate of Sharjah this week.

“There have been some massive changes in this country since I first played here in 1989,” said Lane, who is making his first appearance at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club. “I have played well in the Emirates over the years, I finished third in Dubai twice and sixth four times.”

“I like coming here, and at this time of year the weather is perfect. It’s a shock to the system coming to 30 degrees, I live in Gothenburg in Sweden and it has been minus 15 over there.”

Lane is the most recent winner on the Senior Tour after his success at the 2016 season-ending MCB Tour Championship in Mauritius, where he collected his fifth over-50s title, adding to the five he won on the European Tour.

“I had six second-place finishes and a few thirds since the last time I won on the Senior Tour in 2012,” he said. “I hadn’t realised it had been so many years between wins.”

“I played well from September onwards and carried it through. I feel like I’m playing as well, if not better, than I was in Mauritius. I went over to America at the start of the year and practised and played a lot.”

“The game seems to still be there and I’m really looking forward to this season.”

The 57-man field in Sharjah will make history this week at the first European Tour-sanctioned event to be played on a nine-hole golf course.

“It’s a lovely course,” said Lane. “It’s a proper nine-hole course, and it will make a tough 18-hole course. I’m not quite sure what the final score will be to be honest. It’s difficult to get close to the flags and some of the greens are tricky to read, it has been set up really nicely for a tournament. We play from different tees on the par threes and par fives, which I think is very sensible.”

“I think the hardest challenge will be forgetting what you had done the first time you played the hole and refocusing. It will be different for us, but anything different is good.”

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Reigning Senior Open champ heads to Sharjah to kickstart season

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“After all the rain they’ve had in the United Arab Emirates recently, it will be good to be playing in the sunshine again at Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club in this inaugural event” said the reigning European Senior Tour No1, who will be among the star names lining up in the event which is taking place from March 16-18.

“I’ve played very little this year and the weather so far in England certainly hasn’t been conducive to golf. My first competitive round of 2017 will be in the Pro-Am at Sharjah and I can’t wait. I played in the first Dubai Desert Classic in 1989 and since then I have loved coming to play in the Middle East.”

The tournament also marks the first time a European Senior Tour event will be played on a nine-hole course.

Broadhurst had to bide his time to join the Senior ranks following the end of his career on the European Tour, which saw him win six titles. He was even considering giving up the game or going into coaching prior to turning 50 midway through the 2015 season.

“I had waited almost four years to play on the Senior Tour,” said the 51-year-old Englishman, who won his first Senior major by defeating American Scott McCarron by two shots over the daunting Carnoustie Links on his Senior Open Championship debut last year.

Broadhurst then headed off to the USA and another famous links course, at Pebble Beach, where he won the Nature Valley First Tee Open.

His stunning victory in the United States earned him the accolade of Rookie of the Year on the PGA Champions Tour, having collected the prestigious John Jacobs Trophy as No1 on the European Senior Tour Order of Merit.

“Life changed dramatically for me thanks to that breakthrough win in the Senior Open at Carnoustie,” said Broadhurst, who won both of his matches in The Ryder Cup in 1991 at Kiawah Island.

“People ask which was the biggest and best win of my career, and without doubt I have to say the Senior Open. However, it was extremely satisfying to follow that up by beating the Americans in their own ‘backyard’.

“I felt it proved that Carnoustie wasn’t a flash in the pan and it probably earned me the respect of my peers over there. It doesn’t really come much bigger than winning at Carnoustie and then Pebble Beach.”

Broadhurst is hoping to recreate the form that made him a Senior star when he returns for the defence of his Senior Open Championship at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club this summer and he’s delighted to be starting the build up to that in the UAE as the Senior Tour comes to Sharjah for the first time.

“The courses are fantastic, the weather is nearly always great, the hotels are wonderful and the people are so friendly,” he says. “I played in the Sharjah Senior Invitational Pro-Am last March with Des Smyth, Malcolm Mackenzie and Ronan Rafferty, which was an ideal way of introducing the main event onto the Senior Tour Schedule, and I enjoyed every moment.”

The Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq takes place at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club from March 16-18 and entry is free of charge for all.

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