This year, the LPGA has had what some may call “bad luck,” but in golf it is more commonly known as your ball getting a bad kick in the middle of the fairway only to find it resting in the divot. From there, you have to play it as it lies…something the LPGA has had to do this year.
It seems the Tour has faced harsh criticism for certain decisions it has made as an organization, and for situations it could not control, ranging from rulings, tournament location, and dress code guidelines.
At the ANA Inspiration, the first major the year, rules officials found themselves in a predicament of sorts when they gave fan favorite, Lexi Thompson, a four-stroke penalty in the final round of the tournament for a rules infraction from the day before that had been called in by someone watching the tournament on TV.
Thompson was leading the tournament at the time when she received notice that she had improperly replaced her ball in the previous round on the green after marking it, and therefore, did not play the ball from the original spot. Her other penalty included a two-stroke penalty for signing for the wrong score. Thompson went from leading by two to down by two. She eventually lost to So Yeon Ryu in a playoff. Arguably, this penalty cost Thompson her second major, causing critics to lash out the LPGA for allowing a fan to call in a rules infraction.
While LPGA Commissioner Mike When felt terrible for Lexi, he also understood that the rules had been applied correctly, “This is one of those cases that the rules were applied 100% correct as they’re written today, for the rules of golf, but it doesn’t mean that everybody doesn’t feel horrible the next day,” Whan told CNN.
Sue Witters, LPGA VP of Rules who had to deliver the news to Lexi, felt she had no choice in the matter but to assess the penalty “It made me sick, but I had to do it,” she said.
During a time of harsh criticism, the LPGA did not avoid the tough questions or try to recuse itself the choice to penalize. The Tour answered questions, gave the best explanation they could for the reasons behind the penalty, and admitted that either way they would have faced criticism for abandoning the rules of golf if they had chosen not to penalize Thompson.
And through this debacle, we learned a lot about Thompson as a player. After she was given the penalty, she fought back to get into a playoff. Then, after the devastating loss, she spent nearly an hour signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans. Just a little over a month later, Lexi went on to win the Kingsmill Championship in dominant fashion, setting a tournament record at 20-under.
In a post-victory interview, she said, “I’m so over [the ruling]. It’s in the past. It’s unfortunate what happened, but it’s time to move on. This [win] puts a lid on it.”
Unfortunately for the LPGA, bad luck followed them to the U.S. Women’s Open, which was held at President Trump’s course, Trump National Golf Club. People protested the Tour, and many were understandably upset tried to put pressure on the organization to move the tournament venue because of Trump’s controversial relationship with women. What many did not realize however, is that the LPGA does not have control over the location of the U.S. Women’s Open because the United States Golf Association is in charge of the event. Leading up to the tournament, the Tour and its players dealt with protesters at regular LPGA events, and during the Open tournament had to field questions about the organization’s relationship to Trump. Players were put in the crosshairs as protest groups urged them to boycott playing in the event.
In spite of the chaos surrounding the controversy of the U.S. Open, the players had to stay focused on the championship at hand. It meant looking forward, rather than dwelling on the unfair scrutiny placed on them for a decision they were not in control of.
Then, to add to the chaos of the week, someone leaked a memo the LPGA had sent to players, which clarified dress code rules. Immediately, the media (ranging from Teen Vogue, the Guardian, Fortune Magazine) jumped on the bandwagon of saying the LPGA was regulating the player’s bodies, that the LPGA was going back to medieval times, and that the LPGA was body-shaming the women on Tour. Had the media done its due diligence of research, they would have learned that the memo was in response to a request from players for clarification of the dress code as there was confusion as to what was and was not allowed. A little research would have also highlighted how much women’s golf fashion has progressed: long gone are the days of ankle length skirts and long sleeve blouses, and instead athletic gear that would make some of our ancestors of golf blush is worn on the course.
All of these controversies happened within a four-month period, testing the LPGA and its players from every angle. Most often, they dealt with circumstances outside of their control and had to make the best out of situations that at times seemed unfair.
Playing golf very much falls within the realm of having to move forward and onward. A gust of wind may push your ball into a hazard, a bad bounce on a sprinkler head may send your ball out of bounds, and perhaps you may hit a perfect shot towards the green, only for you ball to hit the flagstick causing your ball to ricochet off the green. These types of breaks happen in life, even when we try to do the right thing.
As an organization, the LPGA is striving to learn how it can respond better to tough situations, but also how it can make the most of out of bad breaks. Golf reveals the most about ourselves with how we react to those bad breaks, and the LPGA exposed itself as an organization that is not afraid of criticism and an organization that is malleable when unfavorable situations arise.
May we all learn to look at how we can take a bad lie and give ourselves the best opportunity in our next shot.