EDITORIAL – WAS SUZANN PETTERSEN REALLY WRONG?

By Mark Harman, USGTF National Course Director

She has been vilified by most golf observers, including European Solheim Cup stalwart Laura Davies. Suzann Pettersen’s actions and sportsmanship at the 17th hole during the final four-ball session at the Solheim Cup were called into question, to say the least.

A recap: American Alison Lee’s birdie putt at the 17th went about 18″ by the hole, and she thought she heard the European team of Pettersen and Charley Hull say the putt was good. Lee picked up her ball, but the problem was that the Europeans never did concede the putt. What Lee actually heard is anyone’s guess.

The situation was presented to referee Dan Maselli, who said that under the Rules of Golf, Lee’s actions called for a one-stroke penalty, thereby turning her par into a bogey and giving Pettersen/Hull a 1-up lead going into the 18th. Pettersen was adamant that the Rules should be followed, and she and Hull won the 18th hole to win the match. European captain Carin Koch and assistant Annika Sorenstam agreed that Pettersen did the right thing.

What followed was Pettersen getting excoriated for what she did. Under the Rules, she and Hull could have agreed to concede a halve of the hole and moved on, but they didn’t. They also could have allowed Lee to replace her ball with no penalty and putt out, but again, they didn’t. Poor sportsmanship, the naysayers cried, especially from Pettersen, as Hull, being a youngster of just 19 years old, largely stayed out of the controversy and thus was spared any criticism.

This is a classic case of letter of the law vs. the spirit of the game. Pettersen, in the heat of the moment, was put into a very difficult situation, but in the end, the correct ruling was rendered. You could argue that the letter of the law is indeed the spirit of the game, and that’s a fair point. After all, what rules do you follow and which ones do you ignore, all in the “spirit” of the game? Where do you draw that line, and how? And if by following a rule you are violating the “spirit” of the game, then why is that rule a rule in the first place?

In regards to Pettersen, had I been in her shoes, I would have conceded a halve, but I have a hard time vilifying her to the same extent everyone else is. She played by the Rules, and for that she has lost a fair bit of her reputation. It’s ironic that a sport so consumed by the honor an integrity of playing by the Rules would excoriate someone for doing just that…which is why I just cannot join the chorus of condemnation.

 

 

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