LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A rules violation prompted an overhaul of the controversial trial-by-television rule in 2017, and the ascendancy of youth continued unabated, all the while played against a backdrop of a certain 14-times major champion whose occasional health updates kept his fans hopeful that a comeback awaits.
The California desert was where Lexi Thompson took an inch and changed the game a mile when she replaced her ball in the wrong spot after marking it on a green during the third round of the ANA Inspiration women’s major on April Fools’ Day.
The final round was already well underway when rules officials were informed by a viewer, who still has not been publicly identified, of the infraction, which meant Thompson incurred a two stroke penalty for the violation itself, and another two shots for having signed an incorrect scorecard after the previous round.
That led to the bizarre situation of an official informing Thompson of the penalty as she walked from the 12th green to the 13th tee.
“Is this a joke?” an incredulous Thompson asked, her lead suddenly gone in one fell swoop. She subsequently lost a playoff to Ryu So-yeon but the bigger upshot was that the game’s rulers acted to prevent a repeat. Starting on Jan. 1, armchair referees will mostly be a thing of the past, as will retrospective penalties for a player having signed an incorrect scorecard when he or she was unaware of a violation.
Instead, on the major tours a rules official will monitor telecasts for infractions.
The changes are a forerunner to Jan. 1 of 2019, when a major overhaul of the rules will go into effect in an effort to make them simpler, fairer and more practical.
On the course, 2017 saw three of the four men’s majors won by players in their 20s – 27-year-old Brooks Koepka (US Open), 23-year-old Jordan Spieth (British Open) and 24-year-old Justin Thomas (PGA Championship).
Only 37-year-old Sergio Garcia, who finally won a major when he beat Justin Rose in a playoff at the Masters, was the exception to the trend, but how different the entire major season might have been if not for a stair mishap by Dustin Johnson.
Lurking in the background meanwhile, Tiger Woods issued occasional updates on the condition of his surgically repaired back, and finally returned to action in December at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, where he swung with apparent freedom and played competently, suggesting 2018 might be the first year since 2013 that he will be able to play a full schedule.