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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Officials deserve praise for putting down fair marker

The Thursday column

Lexi Thompson
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We all know about golf’s phenomenal ability to embarrass itself by disqualifying a player or ruining their chances of victory by handing out a penalty based on the evidence of a TV viewer, and most of the time these incidents are ridiculous and unjust.

So on Monday when I heard Lexi Thompson had been denied a win in the first Major of the year because someone had emailed officials with a clip showing she had replaced her ball fractionally away from the original spot I hunted down the incident with my outrage glands already pumping.

But instead a weird thing happened. I agreed with the officials. I don’t like players suddenly receiving a tap on the shoulder and being told they have received a penalty because someone watching TV in Wichita, Kansas, saw them pick their nose with the wrong finger while they waited on the 11th tee.

There should be tournament officials watching the footage for foul play rather than opening it to the general public like some sporting version of Crimewatch.

But the fact is Thompson put down her marker, picked up her ball and then put it back down in a different spot, not miles from where it was but far enough away to justify the belief she may have been trying to avoid a subtle indentation on the green between where the ball originally lay and the hole.

Phil Mickelson, while careful not to refer specifically to Sunday’s incident, did make the general point that some players try to gain an edge by marking the ball slightly away from its original spot, and whether that was Thompson’s intention or she was just careless, it was an inaccurate piece of replacement that warranted the penalty.

An important side issue to this was that she felt the need to mark the ball in the first place, given it was barely more than a foot from the cup and should therefore have been putted with ease even if someone had put a bar of Toblerone in front of it.

Golf’s main problem remains chronically slow play and marking tiny putts is a contributory factor to the abysmal pace of play. Anyone who marks a putt of three feet or less should be ashamed of themselves. Just knock the thing in the hole.

What was really interesting about the incident was the outrage about the use of video evidence, much of it from the very same people who are so adamant football may as well cease to exist until they allow referees to use replays to make decisions.

Hopefully there will be no such controversy this week as we sit back and enjoy the magnificence of the Masters, a tournament given added spice from a betting perspective this year by some astonishingly generous each-way terms, with a few firms offering a fifth the odds the first eight and Sky Bet taking pride of place with a superb concession of a quarter the first eight.

This obviously doesn’t ensure you will win, but it is one of the most eye-catching offers of recent years and a tremendous incentive to get involved, which I have done by backing Jason Day and Jimmy Walker.

Just don’t complain if your selection finishes ninth – unless they were leading until a TV viewer noticed them inadvertently brushing an azalea petal with their putter head and thus incurring a six-stroke penalty.

Look in the mirror Mourinho

There must be a reason why Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United receive so little criticism for their disappointing season whereas Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal get such a colossal slating for theirs.

Before trying to identify that reason we should remind ourselves that United were around 3-1 clear second favourites at the start of the campaign with Arsenal a general 6-1. The Gunners kicked off their match against West Ham last night three points behind Mourinho’s men with a game in hand.

But the way the media covers the fortunes of the two clubs would suggest things are reasonably satisfactory at Old Trafford whereas Arsenal are a complete shambles who are battling relegation.

Neither club is shining this term but it is massively unfair that Wenger gets a kicking even when his team come from behind to draw against City while Mourinho manages to avoid a mauling however often his players fail to win.

My suspicion is Mourinho manages journalists better than Wenger and his press conference ruses that involve diverting attention from a bad display on to a refereeing decision or anything to do with Luke Shaw actually work.

Wenger snarls less often and it may be that as a consequence writers and reporters are less reluctant to lambast him, which would be a shame if true.

Regardless of why it happens, the fact is Mourinho is getting a ridiculously easy ride when the actual results his sides have achieved since the start of last season make for dismal reading.

In his last 45 league games in charge, 16 of which were while on Chelsea’s payroll, he has mustered a mere 69 points, which equates to a shade over 58 points over the course of a 38-match season.

Fifty-eight points would have been worth only tenth place in last season’s final table so clearly the aura of excellence that sat with the Portuguese for much of his astonishingly successful career is now ebbing away.

His expensive summer recruits have been either mildly useful or a shocking waste of money and the only smart thing he has done in his time in Manchester was persuade Zlatan Ibrahimovic to join United.

It would be easier to feel sympathy for Mourinho if his team’s struggles had coincided with a greater degree of humility and grace in how he deals with the outside world, but if anything he is getting even more objectionable so long may his woes continue.

Course watering should be left to the clerks

Of all the aspects of racing that come under intense scrutiny – and basically that covers everything that happens in the sport – none is quite as puzzling as the obsession with the irrigation of courses.

The simple act of spraying water on the turf in order to create the best and safest possible running surface sparks bizarre levels of outrage.

Listening to armchair clerks of the course on Twitter and in the press you would think the people responsible for watering just turn on the sprinklers and leave them on until they can be arsed to turn them off.

I don’t believe for one minute that all watering is done perfectly but I do believe the utmost care is taken far more often than people would have you think.

And I also believe no journalist or tweeter who has ever delivered an off-the-cuff slating to a clerk when the going isn’t just right – mostly as a result of a duff weather forecast – has ever undertaken a course in turf husbandry.

The fact is Thompson put down her marker, picked up her ball and then put it back down in a different spot
E.W. Terms
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