Solheim Cup points precious but must honour golf’s standards

‘Suzann Pettersen and European team must learn after golfing etiquette was forgotten’

Suzann Pettersen of team Europe ponders during the singles matches of The Solheim Cup at St Leon-Rot Golf Club. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Suzann Pettersen of team Europe ponders during the singles matches of The Solheim Cup at St Leon-Rot Golf Club. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

 

Of the multitude of questions which arise in connection with the behaviour of Suzann Pettersen, which overshadowed if undoubtedly fuelled a Solheim Cup success for the United States, two stand out.

Had Alison Lee not lifted her ball in error on the 17th green of a now infamous fourball match, would the remaining and tiny putt have been conceded? Were the roles reversed, whereby Europe were the victims of a misunderstanding, would Pettersen and her team-mates have exhibited reasonable grievance?

If the answer to either, let alone both, is yes then the subsequent American triumph is all the more worthy of celebration. If Pettersen did, indeed, seize upon a moment of miscommunication in the name of one Solheim Cup point then she should be eternally grateful that Europe didn’t actually win. As things stand, Pettersen will get off lightly.

For the tournament itself, there was a notable spike in attention. Sky Sports’ viewing figures rocketed, in endorsing the theory of no such thing as bad publicity. For all the exaggerated nonsense attached to such scenarios, this was an epic golfing spat. It was also one far removed from the complexities of the game; this was a straightforward scenario, which had an instant and straightforward solution.

Golf’s occasional stuffiness is an easy target but there remains an inherent decency and integrity over what should and shouldn’t happen within the parameters of competition. That unspoken standard sets golf apart as such a valuable pastime. It is also why Pettersen’s stance caused such a furore. Laura Davies, steeped in golf and the Solheim Cup, was among those absolutely scathing in their criticism.

The cold, borderline offensive lack of self-awareness shown by Pettersen and her colleagues after dust had settled in Germany reflected dreadfully on the European Solheim contingent.

Eight of that defeated team joined the US in celebration later in the evening; Pettersen, unsurprisingly, was not among them. During post-event media duties, the Norwegian had played with her mobile phone, giggled, shrugged her shoulders and essentially asked “What is the fuss about?” It was a stance better recognised among spoilt school children. They, at least, don’t know any better.

On Monday morning, the realisation finally hit Pettersen of what had taken place. She took to social media to exhibit remorse, insisting she was “so sorry for not thinking about the bigger picture.” Pettersen added: “I was trying my hardest for my team and put the single match and the point that could be earned ahead of sportsmanship and the game of golf itself! I feel like I let my team down and I am sorry.”

Better late than never, Suzann.

There are golfing fundamentalists who will insist Lee was the one in the wrong in picking up a putt which hadn’t formally been conceded, thereby triggering scenes of chaos. Technically, they are correct.

Yet the American player believed she heard a concession, a point she has no reason whatsoever to invent. There have been blatant exaggerations as to how long the putt in question actually was. Both the US and European camps denied rumours that players and Lee in particular had earlier been warned about picking up prematurely.

Whereas Pettersen and her side are perfectly within their rights to question the incorrect lifting of a ball, from the moment Lee’s belief was stated and the level of imminent fallout was realised, sensible action should have been taken. Even the immediate concession of the 18th hole, halving the match, would have painted Pettersen and Europe in an endearing, positive light.

At 9 1/2 to 6 1/2 ahead and, crucially, without the United States being afforded a fighting cause, Europe should still have retained the trophy. It could even have been Europe on the moral high ground, if sensing Lee had been done a favour.

Although there will be no public admission of as much, it seems inconceivable that nobody on the European staff quietly urged Pettersen and her partner Charley Hull to do the right thing. Not in the letter of the law, not in obeying golf’s sticklers for protocol, but on the basic grounds of sporting behaviour. In doing so, an entire narrative of the 14th Solheim Cup would have changed.

The later approach of Pettersen, Hull and the European captain Carin Koch when in public view was a gross misjudgement. Nobody in the wider world suspected Lee of cheating. Instead, the “rules are rules” sentiment of the Europeans inflamed an already volatile situation and endorsed the theory of them being rightful losers. There was not a hint of remorse nor, it has to be said, apparent care that a winning Solheim Cup position and opportunity to make history had been tossed away during post-even media duties.

The situation was “unfortunate”, they said. Should it have been handled differently? Don’t be silly.

It was a quite staggering public relations blunder in the context of a wider mood. If an attempted deflection tactic, it was clumsily thought out, let alone executed. It took until the next day, apparently, for this to dawn on Pettersen.

Lee’s role in this storm shouldn’t be understated. She was not only the sole debutant on the US team but had been bed-bound by food poisoning in the early part of Solheim Cup week.

To their credit, the American players seemed to make a special point of rallying around the youngster whereas a more senior competitor may have been left to fight her own battle.

Lee’s emotion was borne out in the aftermath of the closing ceremony, sitting alongside her team-mates, when she burst into tears.

“I have been really quiet and just kind of watching from the sidelines,” Lee admitted. “But I want to say I feel like that’s because I’m still star struck being on this team. Not even a year ago I was watching them on TV. I was watching them from outside the ropes.

“I really wanted to be here. And the fact that I’m here, I still can’t believe it.”

It was a moment worthy of a smile in any company. Lee had emerged unscathed, unharmed, celebrated and victorious.

If belatedly, at least Pettersen has now acknowledged the cloud she cast before that silver lining.

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