On our buddy trips, we often pair up and face off in fourball match play, just like the American and European women did at the Solheim Cup this weekend in St. Leon-Rot Golf Club in Germany.
One year, when playing a close match at Butterfield Trail Golf Club in El Paso, Texas, I had an 18-inch par putt to win the 13th hole. I looked around, waited and heard nothing from my close friends on the other side. My partner and I even joked about the silence, but no "pick it up; it's good" came. They knew I could be shaky.
Sure enough, I whiffed, made bogey, we halved the hole, and I went to the next tee seething -- at myself mostly and, of course, a little at our opponents for making me putt. But were they wrong to make me? Was it good sportsmanship or gamesmanship? Does it matter?
Did it matter at the Solheim Cup Sunday when the U.S. pair of Alison Lee and partner Brittany Lincicome lost a fourball match in controversial fashion to Suzann Pettersen and Charley Hull when it wasn't clear whether or not a putt had been conceded? Did a perceived lack of sportsmanship by the Europeans fuel the Americans' furious comeback in singles? Did the Euros feel bad about the way that match ended and let up? Who knows?
Did non-concession concession doom Europeans?
The controversy came on the 17th hole with the match between Lee/Lincicome and Pettersen/Hull all square. Lee had just run a birdie putt 18 inches by the hole, and while the European team started walking away (that's right; they were already leaving), Lee scooped up the ball with her putter, thinking the putt had been conceded. It wasn't, which meant that the Americans wound up losing the hole and ultimately the match. Pettersen staunchly defended her actions or nonactions (update: Pettersen has since apologized for the incident ); Lee claimed she heard someone concede the putt; and even the referee can be heard initially saying, "The hole is halved in four."
But this may have been a move that ultimately doomed the Europeans. Hull, in fact, was so upset with the way she and Pettersen won that she was in tears after the match. And with the Europeans leading 10-6 going into Sunday singles, they would only win three of 12 matches (with one halve) as the Americans stormed back for a stunning 14 1/2 - 13 1/2 victory. Did the Euros feel bad, or did this fire up the American comeback?
Or was it simply karma?
Don't walk away while we're putting
In that match I had four years ago, my partner and I ultimately rallied for the win. Maybe my opponents felt bad about the miss, though I doubt it. My partner was the one who stepped it up on the last five holes, so I don't think it really motivated us. Maybe it was karma. Maybe it just happened.
What I do know is that my guys didn't walk off the green the way the European players did. At the very least, etiquette says the European players shouldn't even be moving (just as they ask the fans not to) while play is being completed.
But if the Americans are upset with the way things went down, is it really any different than what occurred at the 2000 Solheim Cup in Scotland when U.S. Captain Pat Bradley insisted Annika Sorenstam replay a chip that she holed for birdie because she went out of turn? (By rule, the Americans could have let it go, and they wound up losing the Solheim Cup, anyway.) Was turnaround fair play here? Doubt that one, too.
Perhaps we need a match play rule change
Rules are rules, right? But as I said in a previous article, maybe some of the rules should be changed .
Perhaps to prevent these sorts of shenanigans in the future, the Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup and match play at the higher levels should just simply require that everything be putted out. After all, is anything really automatic? Just ask Doug Sanders about the 1970 British Open at St. Andrews, where he missed a 2-and-a-half footer on the 72nd hole that would have given him his only major. Or, better yet, though not a household name, I.K. Kim missed a 1-footer on the final hole that would meant triumph at the 2012 Kraft Nabisco, the LPGA's first major of the year.
To further turn this controversy on end, while many thought Jack Nicklaus' famous "concession" of a "missable" 2-footer to Tony Jacklin on the 18th hole at Royal Birkdale Golf Club was great sportsmanship -- resulting in a draw at the 1969 Ryder Cup -- U.S. Captain Sam Snead was less than thrilled with the move. Winning was more important. So it's impossible to make everyone happy.
So, again, although it would be less interesting, maybe we should putt them all out.
But only at the highest level, not in recreational play.
In my matches, I'll take as many as they'll give me. And I'll give as many as I can, hoping they return the favor. And I hope you and everyone else does the same. Anything to speed up the game and make us feel better about ourselves.