Why Lexi Thompson wasn’t penalised at the Women’s Open – and why you need to know the rule

Lexi Thompson received no penalties after moving grass near her ball at the AIG Women’s Open. Rules expert Steve Carroll explains why

It isn’t really a major tournament without a rules controversy and it came early at the AIG Women’s Open. TV cameras on the first day at a windswept Royal Troon picked up Lexi Thompson on the 16th hole preparing for a second shot.

Thompson moved grass with her club around the ball before she addressed it to make the stroke.

Rule 8.1 – ‘Player’s Actions That Improve Conditions Affecting the Stroke’ – says a number of actions, such as moving, bending, or breaking any growing or natural attached object are not allowed – except in some limited ways – if they “improve the conditions affecting the stroke”.

The grainy video footage posted on social media caused plenty of debate. But on Friday the R&A issued a clarification clearing up the issue.

“As part of its normal TV review procedures, the R&A viewed Lexi Thompson’s actions prior to playing her second shot at the 16th hole in round one of the AIG Women’s Open,” the governing body said.

“Following a discussion between Chief Referee David Rickman and the player prior to her signing her scorecard it was determined that, although the player had moved a growing natural object behind her ball, it had returned to its original position.

“Therefore, the lie of the ball was not improved and there was no breach of Rule 8.1.”

So what is Rule 8?

Rule 8 covers a central principle of the game – that of playing the course as you find it.

As part of that principle, the rule restricts, except in some limited ways, what a player can do to improve a number of “protected conditions affecting the stroke” for the next stroke a player will make.

These include the lie of a player’s ball at rest, the area of intended stance, the area of the player’s intended swing and the player’s line of play, as well as the relief area where they will drop or place a ball.

There are a host of actions that are not allowed if, and this is the key, “they improve the conditions affecting the stroke”.

We’ve already detailed subsection (1) of Rule 8.1a, which is move, bend or break any growing or attached natural object.

It also applies to immovable obstructions, integral objects or boundary objects, as well as tee markers for the teeing area when playing a ball from that area.

Other prohibited actions include removing or pressing down sand or loose soil, removing dew, frost or water and moving a loose impediment or moveable obstruction into position “such as to build a stance or to improve the line of play”.

The penalty for breaching Rule 8.1 is the general penalty – two shots in stroke play or loss of hole in match play.

But if the actions do not improve the conditions, there is no penalty.

Rule 8.1c even gives a player who has “improved the conditions affecting the stroke by moving, bending or breaking an object” the chance to avoid a penalty if “before making the next stroke, the player eliminates that improvement by restoring the original conditions”.

There are a number of ways cited that could be done and one of those includes “returning a tree branch or grass, or an immovable obstruction to its original position after it had been moved”.

But the player cannot avoid penalty if the improvement is not eliminated.

If you have any questions about the rule, let me know in the comments below, or you can tweet me.

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