The first stage of LPGA Q school in Rancho Mirage, Calif., ended with fireworks last week after two playing competitors and their caddies alleged that Abbey Daniel mismarked her ball on their 16th hole of the final round, with her score hovering around the cut line. The violation resulted in a post-round two-stroke penalty, and the controversy played out on Instagram after the round when a player in the group, Gabby Lemieux, posted about the issue.
Lemieux said she first thought she saw Daniel marking her ball to the side of her coin and then replacing it in front when she set down her ball on a green on the first nine. "I thought it looked off,” Lemieux said, “but I wasn't sure." On the third hole (the group's 12th), Lemieux and her caddie/husband, Jared again watched Daniel mark her ball on the side. Gabby returned to the cart, but Jared stayed behind. He alleged that Daniel again replaced the ball in front of the mark.
On the next tee, Lemieux alerted the third member of the group, Sara Ericsson, and her caddie of the situation. On the 16th hole, Daniel putted from the fringe and faced a short par putt. Lemieux called it two feet. Daniel said it was six inches. According to Lemieux (and confirmed by Ericsson and her caddie in scoring), Daniel marked her ball to the side, wiped off some mud and replaced it in front of the mark. Ericsson and the two caddies confirmed this.(Ericsson declined comment for the story, but both Daniel and Lemieux she stated she did) Lemieux returned to the cart and called the head rules official, without alerting Daniel.
The rules official arrived as the group approached the 17th green and watched Daniel mark her ball on the last two holes without issue. Daniel made a five-foot putt on the last to finish at what she thought was 2 under, three clear of the 1-over cut.
In the scoring area, the rules official first asked the players about the situation. Then the caddies were brought in to share their version. Daniel’s father was on the bag for her. At the end of the discussion, Daniel was assessed a two-stroke penalty for improperly marking her ball. She advanced to the second stage of Q school.
Daniel is a 22-year-old who played collegiately at Mississippi State. Asked for an interview, she declined, saying she was traveling and didn’t have time for a call but that she would email her version of the events. She didn’t hold back.
In a lengthy email, Daniel said she "values honesty" and that she has “marked by the ball the same way…and never once has it been called into question." She added that because she was around the cut line and a penalty could have affected how she played the closing holes, Lemieux should have told her she was concerned about a potential rules violation.
Addressing her reluctance to alert Daniel, Lemieux said she and Ericsson called for the rules official immediately after the mismarking was confirmed by others in the group. Adding that Daniel had a good round going and didn't want to interrupt her momentum. The rules official said the issue would be handled in scoring. After the round, Lemieux posted on Instagram, “I did my part to save the field from a cheater…We need more honest people and better professionals to hold themselves to higher standards so we don't have to worry about this."
With the Daniel issue resolved, Ericsson reviewed and attested to Lemieux's score. Lemieux signed for what she thought was a 75, which put her 72-hole total at 7 over. She missed advancing by six. When she met Jared at their car, they discussed the leaderboard. That’s when she noticed she had been credited with a 74. She immediately headed into the tournament office and reported the discrepancy. On the 15th hole, Ericsson had mistakenly written down a par when Lemieux had made bogey. The penalty was disqualification, and as a result she lost her Epson Tour status.
It marked the second week in a row Lemieux had called a penalty on herself. Last week at an Epson Tour event, she had 15 clubs in her bag; she noticed on the 4th hole and immediately alerted a rules official. It resulted in a four-stroke penalty, and she missed the cut by nine shots.
Abbey Daniel's full email explaining the incident:
This is my account regarding the situation that occurred at q school. Following the round I went to the scorers room and my playing partner had called a rules official. She then proceeded to tell me that her caddie thought I marked my ball strangely on my 12th hole of the day. The player told my other playing partner to watch out for it without my knowledge. On my 16th hole I putted a ball from the fringe to no more than 6 inches and marked it to clean mud off and so I wouldn’t step in my playing partners line to finish. I supposedly replaced my ball 1/2 inch off of where I marked it and tapped it in. My playing partner then called a rules official to come monitor it the last two holes, again without my knowledge or bringing anything to my attention. I made a 6 footer on my 17th hole and a 4 footer on my 18th. Obviously there was no issue with how I was marking my ball even though I had no idea I was being closely watched, or it would have been called on me. I was given a two stroke penalty on my 16th for allegedly replacing my ball 1/2 inch off of where I marked it on my 6 inch putt.
As someone who values honesty and has always played the game with integrity, hearing someone call me a cheater both to my face and on social media hurt. My opinion on the situation is that I have marked my golf ball the same way through countless USGA events, college golf, and pro tournaments. Never once has it ever been called into question. I had even played with my other competitor in multiple rounds of competition, even the first round of q school this year, and this never came up. If a player had a problem with how I was marking a ball I would have appreciated her bringing it to my attention during the round so I could be mindful of it. Which I stated after the round in the scorers tent. She claimed that she didn’t want to mess up the good round that I had going. To me it seemed that she was hoping for me to “mismark” my ball on the last few holes I could be assessed more penalties and miss the cut because of it. While she claimed to be “protecting the field” I think she forgets that I’m also a player in that field. It’s like watching someone take an improper drop, knowing it’s wrong, and then calling them on it after the fact. She watched me unknowingly replace my 6inch putt “incorrectly” and instead of bringing it to my attention before I tapped it in, she let me finish so she could then penalize me for it. This player repeatedly called me a cheater, which implies that she thinks I was giving myself an advantage making a 6 inch putt. In a tournament with such a meaningful cut line, not knowing your competitor has every intention of assessing you a two stroke penalty could have ruined my chances of advancing, because that can change how aggressively or safely you play your final holes. I played the last two holes one under and under the impression that I had a 3 shot cushion, not simply 1. To my knowledge I didn’t replace my ball incorrectly, and if I did then there was obviously no intention there as I am fairly confident I can make a 6inch putt without the help. In regards to her DQ because of a wrongly signed scorecard, I hate to see that happen to any player especially on this stage.