Sporting Advent Calendar #13: Suzann Pettersen’s Solheim Cup controversy

Players from both teams in tears after Pettersen holds Alison Lee to the letter of the law

Suzann Pettersen of the European team trying to explain to her captain Carin Koch the length of putt that she did not concede to Alison Lee on the 17th green. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images

Suzann Pettersen of the European team trying to explain to her captain Carin Koch the length of putt that she did not concede to Alison Lee on the 17th green. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images

 

Where do you find the balance between the extreme will to win and the etiquette that is such a central part of golf? At the Solheim Cup in September, Suzann Pettersen missed that balance by quite a distance.

When rain and darkness brought a suspension of play on Saturday evening, the fourball matches were scheduled to be completed on Sunday morning before the final session of singles that afternoon.

After missing a putt to win the 17th hole, American player Alison Lee thought she had heard Pettersen, or her teammate Charlie Hull, concede the short putt to halve the hole. Lee picked up her ball. And chaos ensued.

Pettersen immediately said that she had not conceded the putt and neither had Hull, who had already walked towards the next tee box. In the atmosphere and noise of the crowd, Lee must have thought she heard it. Yes, she should have made absolutely sure before picking up her ball but, with the putt only a matter of inches, it was perfectly fair that she assumed it would be conceded.

A rules official was called and the verdict was that the Europeans had won the hole as Lee had already picked up her ball. Although golf’s occasional stuffiness and pompous nature can hinder the game, there is one major element that must always come to the fore - etiquette. Unfortunately, that was what Pettersen discarded on that Sunday morning in Germany.

In fact, she discarded it twice. After reaching the 18th tee box the situation could have been resolved by the Europeans simply conceding the final hole and halving the match. Both Pettersen and European captain Carin Koch refused to do so. Instead the hole was halved and Europe won the point.

Pettersen has since come out and apologised both on social media and in an interview with the Golf Channel. There is no doubt that it’s better late than never and she deserves credit for doing so. But the fact remains that she incited huge controversy when she just as easily could have said that the putt had been given and nobody would even remember it had happened. It’s a long way from the incredible sportsmanship shown by Jack Nicklaus in conceding a putt to Tony Jacklin on the final green of the 1969 Ryder Cup to halve the competition at 16 points each.

But, as it does on so many occasions, sport won out in Germany as the American team used the earlier controversy as motivation to win the singles session and steal the Solheim Cup from the Europeans with a 14.5 to 13.5 win.

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