AMIDST ALL THE HYSTERIA of the reaction by golfers and journalists to Suzann Pettersen’s refusal to give a putt from two feet at St Leon-Rot in The Solheim Cup no one has asked a pertinent question. How much does the spirit of the game override the rules?
When professional golfers are putting in match play however far they are away from the hole their first reaction is to mark the ball. Talking to some pros about their reaction to expecting concessions their response was that it shows weakness.
However far the ball is away from the hole you should expect to putt it and, if on the way down to placing a marker, your opponent says that the putt is good you pick up and move on. The reason they do this is because it is the rules of the game. They do not expect any concessions and pick up. Lest we forget Alison Lee made no attempt to mark her ball, she picked it up.
Would the reaction have been the same at the Solheim if Lee had been standing in the rough and, whilst addressing the ball, had accidentally moved it? Even if she had said she had accidentally moved it and the match referee awarded her opponents the hole, should Pettersen have said that she would be perfectly happy to replace the ball and play again?
At Loch Lomond in the Solheim Cup in 2000 Annika Sorenstam holed a chip shot from off the 13th green for birdie which she thought had won the hole for her and her fourball partner, Janice Moody, against Kelly Roberts and Pat Hurst.
Despite being on the green Robbins pointed out that she was further away than Sorenstam and, after discussion with her captain, Pat Bradley, demanded that Sorenstam took her shot again. Just as in Germany floods of tears followed and the aggrieved party was part of the winning team.
Captain Bradley defended the decision, saying they “have only the greatest respect for the rules of the game” and that they “followed the rules as written”.
That was 15 years ago and there was not the world of Twitter with which to register moral outrage and we have certainly had plenty of moral outrage this time around. And an awful lot of unwarranted vitriol from people, especially professional golfers, that has been as muddled as it has been unwarranted.
Pettersen has been vilified for her action and, doubtless, having been sternly spoken to by the PR team of whoever handles the purse strings, released a fulsome apology. Ironically Pat Hurst was one who led the sympathy for Lee in Germany having clearly forgotten what happened at Loch Lomond.
It can certainly be argued, and has been, that Pettersen provided team USA with a rallying call and did much to inspire a team that had previously looked out of contention. For this she can possibly be criticised, but surely not for playing the game by the rules.
When Jack Nicklaus famously handed Tony Jacklin his ball marker at Royal Lytham in 1969 thus ensuring their match and the Ryder Cup was halved he received two reactions. From the public and press he was lauded for a magnificent act of sportsmanship whilst many of his team mates were outraged at his generosity.
But Jacklin had marked his ball and Lee had not. She picked it up without marking it which is breaking the rules of golf. If the professionals can break the rules of golf to maintain the spirit of the game and burst into floods of tears it presumably means that we all can. And if there are no rules then we no longer have a game.