The salty tears shed by Madelene Sagström told its own story, only serving to underscore the thin margin between winning and losing; for, in picking up Nelly Korda’s ball in Saturday’s fourballs as the American’s eagle putt finished close to the lip on the 13th hole, and the resultant insistence of a senior referee that she had infringed the 10 seconds rule by being too quick off the mark in not allowing time for the ball to drop, that action in effect decided their match.
The US pairing of Korda and Ally Ewing went on to defeat Sagström and Nanna Koerstz Madsen by one hole, that infringement proving decisive.
But was it the right call? Was the referee, Missy Jones, entitled to do what she did? And, if ultimately the match result comes down to a point or a half-point at Europe’s cost, will the actions of the referee prove as vital as any drive or approach shot or sand save or chip or putt?
Rule 13 allows for the 10 seconds rule, one put in place to allow balls teetering on the edge time to drop. The rule allows for a player to walk up to the ball and wait for 10 seconds for it to drop. But was the ball teetering, ready to drop at any second? Was the ball overhanging? It didn’t look that way. It’s just that Korda didn’t get the chance to wait. And while Korda’s initial reaction was one of disbelief in how the ball hadn’t fallen in, the quickness of Sagström (in picking up) and then the quickness of the referee (in deciding it was overhanging) turned the match.
The ruling – a poor one in my opinion – can be added to some of those other heated controversies which have become part of Solheim Cup folklore in its short history, certainly adding some spice to the match’s development.
“It sucks right now as it feels I let my team down,” said Sagström, adding of the explanation given to her: “I wasn’t following the rules for leaving the ball for 10 seconds... I believe in the integrity and the honour of the game of golf and I would never pick up a putt that had a chance of going in. Personally, I don’t agree with the decision of the ball being on the edge [and ready to drop].”
Could Korda have shown some sportsmanship and told the referee that she didn’t believe the ball would drop? Perhaps. But the world number one instead described the whole situation as “very unfortunate... you don’t want to win a hole like that. We honestly had no say in it. It was all up to the rules committee.”
Still, you’ve got to think that a few words from Korda would have carried some weight.
“I 100 per cent believe Madelene did not for one instance think that ball had any chance of going in the hole when she picked it up, and I don’t honestly believe Nelly or Ally thought it was going to go in either,” said Europe’s captain, Catriona Matthew. “There was no reaction when Madelene picked up the ball and threw it to them. It’s an unfortunate incident, [IT]kind of mars such a great day of good golf, so hopefully we can put it behind us.”
On Saturday night, though, as controversial as the decision proved to be, didn’t seem to matter too much. For, at that point, Europe’s dominance of the opening two sessions had seen them take a strong grip on the destination of the famed crystal trophy. Europe won the opening foursomes 3½ to a half and then shared the fourballs. It meant Europe, the underdogs heading in, held a 5½ to 2½ lead after day one.
But the picture changed following Sunday's foursomes session, which the Americans won 3-1 (the only European winners were Leona Maguire and Mel Reid over Nelly Korda and Austin Ernst), which closed the gap to just one point. Imagine. One point. Imagine if that Sagström pick-up proves to be the decisive moment of this 17th edition of the Solheim Cup. Imagine.