This week, Lexi Thompson, leading the field in a women's major golf tournament, was penalised four strokes, after a freakishly observant viewer at home spotted a breach of the rules, and ratted on her to the LPGA.

Thompson's infraction took place on the second-to-last hole of the third day, but the penalty wasn't imposed til day four, after she'd already played 12 holes.

Put it this way: if the LPGA had imposed the penalty overnight, she'd have had a lot more opportunities to pull back the damage.

And who knows: psychologically, it might have been tougher for her opponent to be front-running all of day four, rather than chasing.


Let's agree that Thompson broke the rules. How is it fair for her to get away with it, simply because it was spotted by a viewer, rather than an official?

The strongest argument I've seen is this: it's unfair for viewers to call in breaches, because camera scrutiny isn't equal.

Leading players, or famous ones, are on TV much more often than the rest of the field.

Certainly, Jack Nicklaus never had to deal with this. Even if golf was live on TV in his day, the blur of back-in-the-day TV gave everything a fringe, like a psychedelic effect.

Nobody at home could tell for sure whether he'd placed the ball right up to the coin or not.

Nowadays, in HD or 4K, viewers can read the year on the coin, identify the species of grass, and determine whether the golfer bites their nails.

TV pixels in the 70s were big, like flares and lapels. Big and vague. Flattering, impressionistic.

The human brain assembled the image, the way we conjure shapes in clouds.


There was none of today's sci-fi level, bottomless zooming, where the science officer says "Enhance!" and the tricorder magnifies right up to follicle.

Go back further, and the golfer's life was even sweeter. Film had to be sent, via an economically thriving postal service, perhaps aboard a romantic propeller plane, to a laboratory, for developing.

A script had to be drafted, on a manual typewriter, and a narration recorded, by a crisply enunciating broadcaster - no doubt wearing a fedora - before the film was cut by hand, spliced, photographed to another piece of film, then duplicated many times, for delivery, by prop plane again, to cinemas across the Empire, ancient and modern, as a cheery highlight on a newsreel.

And naturally, the newsreel included the trophy ceremony.

If a viewer in the cinema spotted a breach, they'd have to hand-write a letter and lick a stamp, not just fire off an email.

God knows how much cheating was going on, but as long as everyone was doing it, the playing field was level.

Before Hawk-Eye, it was the line judge's word against John McEnroe. As a viewer, you just had to go on your own personal prejudices against the player.

There wasn't a computer simulation of the ball's life story, taking into account wear and tear of the fuzz, like some episode of CSI: Wimbledon, seeking an incriminating fibre on the baseline.

Imagine if today's technology had been around for the JFK assassination. We wouldn't be relying on a few blurry frames of Zapruder. Between Google maps, face recognition and Tinder, there'd have been an arrest the next day. (Of the right person.)

Who really knows if Hillary and Tenzing climbed Everest? We took their word for it. It was a time when a man's word meant something.

Can you imagine someone writing a letter to the Queen, months after his knighthood, saying the photos from the summit looked a bit like they'd been taken at his home?

Don't get me wrong. The best technology available should be used for sport. We've all seen those goals in World Cup soccer, when the replay showed otherwise.

Technology should be used, as far as possible, not just for fairness, but also to prevent viewers at home having an embolism.

Nowadays, with the money at stake, each golf ball could easily have a tracking chip installed. Let the NSA or Five-Eyes track golf while they're surveilling the rest of us.

The sobering lesson is that women's golf takes independent video scrutiny more seriously, than our Government does when faced with possible war crimes.

Imagine if the Hit-and-Run video from Afghanistan was played to worldwide audience of golf enthusiasts, instead of just to Bill English.

I'm not sure we'd be saying decisions should be left to officials on the day.