Friday, October 2, 2015

Let's talk rules, sportsmanship, and gamesmanship

It's not even possible to open my web browser to anything golf related and NOT see Suzanne Pettersen in some sort of interview about "the gimme heard round the world (nor not)".   If you're not privy to this information yet, here's the short version:

Allison Lee was lining up a putt to win the 17th hole and put the U.S. 1up in the match. Lee missed the putt, leaving about 18 inches for the half.  European Charlie Hull begins walking toward Suzanne who is standing at the far end of the green near the ropes to go to the next hole. Lee picks up her ball, thinking it was conceded.  Pettersen stops and states that Europe never conceded the putt and under rule 2-6 in match play, since Lee lifted her ball not in accordance with the rules (not marked, and not conceded) it's a general penalty of loss of hole. Europe goes 1up.

OK now you're caught up. Let's talk about the long version right now. This is not a debate, it is a statement of facts, and why it happened. It's also laced with my opinion on the current controversy iron maiden that Suzanne Pettersen is currently enduring for no good reason other than to save face in the court of public opinion - which apparently holds more sway than most things these days.

Currently, the universe is pretty upset with Suzanne. Furious, actually. In most viewers' eyes she is akin to the devil for playing tricks on poor, young, Allison Lee while the rest of the viewers think she's a downright cheat.  I'm going to say this right now, and you can think however you'd like of it. Suzanne did nothing wrong.  It's as simple as that. Gamesmanship - what took place here - happens all the time in golf.  The layman's definition of Gamesmanship is basically doing something a little shady - but not illegal - to get a competitive edge. Very much like "oh that's a big lake over there" or "dont' want to go right here" spewing from your gullet at your buddies while you try to win your weekend $5 nassau. Further, do a Google search sometime and read how Tiger Woods would game guys all the time. Walking fast ahead of someone who's having a bad hole forcing them to quicken their tempo and their game to keep up. Walking slower to get someone out of their pace of good play. That's ALL gamesmanship of one sort or another. Even calling for a measurement of who's away just to get in someone's head or make them putt first.   Questionable actions - maybe, depending what side of it you're on - but all perfectly legal and within the rules. What we have here is that Allison Lee fell for a well played bit of hard gamesmanship. Right down to Charlie Hull walking over to talk to Pettersen. To look at it objectively, there may not have been any gamesmanship at all - the team may just have wanted to converse quickly before the next hole.

Rule 2-4 in match play states:  "A player may concede a match at any time prior to the start or conclusion of that match.  A player may concede a hole at any time prior to the start or conclusion of that hole.  A player may concede his opponent's next stroke at any time, provided the opponent's ball is at rest. The opponent is considered to have holed out with his next stroke, and the ball may be removed by either side. A concession may not be declined or withdrawn".    Pretty straight forward. The key piece of information in all of this is that no concession was made by Europe. Even the act of walking away like the putt is good, is not a substitution for making a statement like "pick it up" or "that's good" or the non-ambiguous "stroke conceded".  It's not even reasonable to believe that would count since nowhere in the rules is a gesture ever acknowledged as an acceptable indication of play (obviously unless you're using sign language - but don't go there).  Intent is big in golf. What Lee should have done was ask "Is this good then?". Even if she thinks she heard SOMEONE say it's good, unless she was absolutely sure it was Hull or Pettersen it is on her to ask. No one but your fellow competitor may concede a putt. Not even their caddy. Even Pettersen can be heard saying "I don't know if it was someone in the crowd, but we didn't say it".

Now, that being said, was what happened moral in my eyes? Nah, not really. Was it in the spirit of the game? Mehhhhhhh......not as I would interpret it. With all that said, still there was nothing wrong with it and she doesn't deserve the flak she's getting. Was it painful to watch... most certainly.  Most people say Suzanne should have showed sportsmanship by allowing the gimme after it was in question. Those people probably hate rules, keeping score, and love when participation trophies are given out for kid's teams too.

Using sportsmanship to get around rules creates a lot of unknowns. It sets a dangerous precedent too.
Is it sportsmanlike to let someone pull their ball off hardpan that's not marked as GUR? I mean, you should really be able to play off grass all the time, even if it's rough. How about letting your competitor rake a footprint from a previous group in a bunker and replace his ball for a good lie. Hell no you wouldn't do that and you know it. You'd take that advantage. Europe didn't agree that she "probably would have made it anyway".  Unknowns don't go well in golf - terms like "known or virtually certain" being in the rule book a number of times.  Still, say Pettersen says "oh yea, it's fine" in an amazing show of sportsmanship to the US and they go on to halve the match or even lose and that gesture turns out to be pivotal. What about her team mates?

Suzanne did you tell her she could have that put?
Well, no, but it was confusing so I just said it was OK after the fact. She thought we did.
So you didn't stand by the facts and just let them back in the match?

Is it sportsmanship to throw one's entire team under the bus just because a competitor had a lapse in judgement? Not in this case. She stood by the facts that she knew. The fact is that it was never conceded. Even in 1999 when Payne Stewart conceded to Colin Montgomerie in the Ryder Cup match because the fans were just DESTROYING Monty and being classless overall-- that could have been a VERY different story. Very different overall in fact, as the US would have already gotten the cup by the time the events of the Infamous 17th hole would have happened. I guess 17th holes are just bad for shows of sportsmanship in general. In the case of the Solheim Cup, however, the only ones to blame are the officials on this one and here's why:

The moment this happened, in equity, we should have jumped to Decision 2-4/3 in match play: Player Lifts Ball in Mistaken Belief That Next Stroke Conceded.  Regardless of whether or not the stroke was conceded, the necessary doubt was there. Lee heard it from SOMEWHERE that it was good - we have to take her on her word on it as golfers.  Couple that with Hull walking away.  While not an indication on its own, that gesture coupled with the words spoken in a loud arena could lead to someone thinking they're in the right without that second thought.  THAT is where the issue lies. Hell, even the official thought for whatever reason that it was conceded when he made the announcement.  As officials, they failed the players in this instance.  This is without a doubt exactly why that decision was put in the rule book. Before you sit there and mouth "nobody can know all the rules, Chris. Not even officials" - HOLD UP - it's 2015. I have the rules on my phone and I don't know about you, but I can look up any situation in pretty much 10 seconds...and do.... very often when something is in question. Why are the officials not able to do this? Basically because nobody wants to take responsibility for anything, I'd wager. My question is: Why don't they just KNOW this. You're an official in the match play championship. Brush up, son. It's akin to knowing what to do with white, yellow, or red stakes. Second nature. There's  no way it should have gone further and no way it should have ended like it did.

Of course... would the US have come back as well without a rallying cry? That's another debate altogether. I'd like to think so, my girls got game!