The nature of the penalty is that Lexi "played from the wrong place". OK shit happens right? She played from the wrong place by about 1 inch total if that? Let's look at the whole here..... This was snapped from a video analyzing the move with a black square placed on the video at a fixed point, showing the move.
To me, yes, it's clear that she moved the ball after marking. It could be reasonably assumed that she put the coin down, had a brain fart when aligning the ball, but then took care to put it back down in front of the coin on line with her target. There's no arguing that this is the wrong place but does it REALLY give her an advantage. Let's blow up her 2 foot putt....
This is the after-image. Nowhere on this line of putt does it look like she's going to gain any sort of advantage by moving the ball left or right, even up to a putter head-width!! If anything she moves it INTO A WORSE SPOT with what appears to be a mark or dark bit right there in front of the ball now. She also does not move the ball closer to the hole nearly as much as Rahm did, so basically she was penalized not for the intent to cheat, just for losing focus and placing the ball incorrectly. But what about Rahm???
Looking at Rahm's video - it's raining. The greens are getting traffic and it's kind of ugly. Here we can see that he clearly places his marker to the right side of the ball. Everyone seems to agree with that...
Would you look at that? Right there, in front of his ball and right on the line of his putt... holy spike mark, Batman!!! Clearly a huge issue in this weather, and it's a confidence building short putt to boot. Could you imagine if he missed it? With the weather as it was and a short fuse temper - there's no amount of a lead that can predict what would happen at this point. Rahm marks to the right, lifts the ball and moves his mark, clearing the way for his playing competitor to sink his short putt which is on a line just outside this spike mark towards the camera. Now, let's look at Rahm's replacement of the ball. He has already moved the mark back quite precisely if you ask me, then goes to put the ball back down......
|I'm just gonna put this right here....|
Ruh Roh, Shaggy! By moving the ball to the FRONT of the mark, rather than replacing it at the side, he has given himself a clear advantage by making an unobstructed line to the hole. That friends... is motive. The video doesn't lie.
|You can't handle the truth!!!|
The USGA is looking at "intent" in the rules right now. I'm a member of a number of forums and a person on there had an interesting thing to say. When exactly does intent stop and responsibility to follow the rules begin? You don't INTEND to hit a ball out of bounds, yet there's still a penalty for it. Bernhard Langer doesn't INTEND to anchor the putter to his chest, yet it still looks like it from an outside perspective and it surely brushes his shirt - which the USGA lets go as part of it's new initiative. Lexi presumably didn't INTEND to move the ball either, she was just lining up the putt as some say Rahm was. Being a little too focused on one thing and not on another. Here's where I draw the line though.
The opportunity for mal-intent exists and THAT'S where a penalty should happen. This was backwards. If you look at Lexi's putt, there was no advantage to be had by moving the ball and in equity it could have been said that it was an accident and therefore a no-call situation would have been OK as it wouldn't be reasonable to say that she intentionally cheated when there was no gain to be had. It's entirely plausible to be a "brain fart". In Rahm's case, you can look at it and SEE there's an issue that in fact DID IMPROVE his situation when the ball was moved. I don't for a second believe that he had that much of a fart where the ball is moved exactly enough to clear an impediment. THAT warrants a penalty. In fact, it may be the most clear definition of cheating. The thing is - it's over and done with and the call is made. Rahm is adamant in his explanation that he took due care in placing and replacing his ball. Basically staying positive and not wavering. Sell it to the end, so to speak.
In either case, there will be arguments on both sides for weeks to come. People in their weekend beer matches are going to be watching each other like hawks and ribbing the entire foursome every time someone marks a ball - all in good fun of course. Still, this raises serious questions about both the clear application of the rules, and the opportunity for creative cheating on tour and wherever the cameras aren't looking especially. From Tiger Wood's ADMITTED incorrect drop with no penalty to the slow-mo replay of a grain of sand being touched by Anna Nordqvist resulting in a win for Brittany Lang, there are just too many instances and inconsistencies that have sent the USGA back-pedaling to try and "re-apply" the rules properly. I think that "intent" is a good thing to look at in the case of the rules, but also keeping in mind the "opportunity for mal-intent" (let's face it, cheating is an UGLY word until you're proven to have done it). What do you think?