Solheim Cup Controversy
But the crescendo of criticism has reached a level that hasn't been heard since, oh, the last time the United States and Europe got together for a similar sporting match. Then, it happened when Americans bounded onto the green for a celebration of unrestrained joy before Jose Maria Olazabal had a chance to putt. This time it was the ladies. Annika Sorenstam chipped in for the Europeans, but the Americans said she was out of turn. Sorenstam had to chip it over, she missed this time and she wound up losing the hole.
Here's where things get touchy. All of Europe - and half of America judging by the newspapers - feel Sorenstam got cheated. Of course, the rules state that it is the aggrieved party's option when confronted with such a situation. That is what is so confounding. U.S. captain Pat Bradley was the woman on the hot seat here. It was she who said, 'Replay the shot.' Now she is taking criticism from all corners.
Why? Well, some say Americans Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst both assumed it was Sorenstam's turn and let her chip away. Others say Sorenstam played too quickly, while Robbins and Hurst were discussing the putt. We won't consider that in this discussion. We'll consider that Robbins and Hurst figured it was Sorenstam's turn, they stood by quietly until she had chipped, and then froze when it became apparent that something wrong had happened.
Bradley didn't see what happened, either. But Robbins, upon realizing the mistake, sent word to her captain. Bradley appeared and made the decision to enforce the replay option.
Bradley was in a can't-win situation. If she had allowed the match to progress with no action, she would have been vilified from the American side. She didn't allow the chip, and she was vilified anyway. What gives here?
It's a predicament that gives both sides the right to criticize. The Europeans were right to criticize - and oh, how they have criticized - because neither Robbins nor Hurst spoke up until the shot was played. But had Sorenstam not been forced to replay the shot, the American women would have been agitated.
Golf is a gentleman's - or gentlewoman's - game. If you and a friend are playing, you are a hardhead if you want to be a stickler for the rules. Nearly everyone allows 'gimmes.' If you discover a ball is lost, rarely will your partner make you go back to the tee and hit again. Seldom is anything more at stake than $5 and the group behind you is waiting, too. So you relax the strict interpretation of the rules, right?
But you don't do that when a match has the weight of the Solheim Cup behind it - especially when one team, America, is already down. Someone is going to have become the heavy, and unfortunately, Bradley was it.
The rules say Bradley could have ignored the error and continued the match. But that undoubtedly is what the rulesmakers were trying to avoid. Their intent was to make the party as uncomfortable as possible. What if Sorenstam had mistakenly skulled the shot over the green? Would she have gotten to replay it then, many asked with that `Gotcha' inflection? The answer would be `no,' because it was already the worst possible scenario. That puts teeth into the ruling.
So many of golf's rulings make little sense. But that is part of what makes the sport. It's unfair to me that a person can be out-of-bounds by an inch and have to take distance-and-penalty, yet a person who whiffs simply takes another swat. Under one you take three strokes, while another, more serious occurrence, you take only two. A ball wriggles on the green, a player's son hides a 15th club in his bag, a player unwittingly signs for the wrong number of strokes . any number of infractions incur and, while certainly they are seemingly unsporting, they are called. And the consequences are far more serious than they were for Sorenstam, whose side eventually won the matches.
The European press rails against the Americans and says Jack Nicklaus would have never done it. Nicklaus, they remind, once conceded a short putt to Tony Jacklin that meant the Ryder Cup would end in a deadlock.
That is light years apart from what happened here. Here, the players were trying to decide a tight match in the second round instead of the deciding match of the third round. The Americans were in real danger of losing - which they eventually did. It was quite simply the wrong time to play Santa Claus. Do you think Nicklaus would have given Jacklin the putt if it had been for the British Open? I hardly think so.
At any rate, the bleating from the European side has been loud and constant. It's understandable. But it's the fault of the rulesmakers for not being more clear. The option of whether to ask Sorenstam to replay the shot was not intended to excuse her. It was to put some teeth into the rule.
Annika Sorenstam will remember this Solheim Cup for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, so will Pat Bradley.
Lexi involved in a(nother) rules controversy at LPGA Thailand
Jessica Korda stole the show this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand, winning the star-studded event by four strokes in her first start since undergoing serious jaw surgery to address a significant overbite that led to ailments ranging from facial cramping to headaches to sleep apnea.
But just four strokes behind Korda finished Lexi Thompson, who may have challenged for the win on Sunday if not for another rules controversy during the second round of the event.
Thompson, who was famously assessed two two-stroke penalties last year at the ANA Inspiration that ultimately cost her the title, was hit with another two-stroke penalty on Friday in Thailand after she moved a sign out of her swing path at Siam Country Club.
The 23-year-old mistakenly thought a billboard on the 15th hole was a moveable object, when in fact, the local rule deemed this particular advertisement a "temporary immovable obstruction."
The two-stroke penalty was assesed after the round, where the par she made on the hole became a double bogey and what would have been a 66 ballooned into a 68.
After Further Review: JT may face serious Ryder Cup heckling
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On Thomas getting heckler thrown out ...
Justin Thomas polished off a playoff win at the Honda Classic despite the efforts of a fan who screamed for his ball to head for a fairway bunker on the 16th hole.
Thomas signaled for the fan to be ejected after striping his tee shot on No. 16, telling him, “Enjoy your day, buddy. You’re done.” It’s the second straight week that Thomas has had issues with fans, having bristled at some of the behavior he encountered while grouped with Tiger Woods at the Genesis Open.
Thomas’ stance is that golf has earned a reputation as a “classy sport” that should place it above jeering and catcalls from the gallery. It’s a view that is as noble as it is unachievable.
As long as tournaments continue to serve alcohol well into the afternoon hours, there will be outlier fans who will look to get a rise out of players with comments before, during or after swings. Thomas was within his right to ask for the fan’s removal, though I’d imagine the European fans planning to attend this year’s Ryder Cup in Paris might take note of the apparent impact the gallery can have on Thomas while in the heat of battle. – Will Gray
On the debate over rolling back the ball ...
The opening salvos in what promises to be one of the most polarizing eras in golf were exchanged this week. First, USGA CEO Mike Davis, via Jack Nicklaus, announced his arrival: “Mike said, ‘We’re getting there [on the distance issue]. We’re going to get there. I need your help when we get there,’” the Golden Bear explained when asked about the growing drumbeat to curtail how far modern players hit the golf ball.
A few days later, former Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein fired back: “Mike Davis has not told us (Acushnet/Titleist) that he is close and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there.”
Perhaps this will turn out to be a misunderstanding and the game’s rules makers and manufacturers will all end up on the same sideline, but it doesn’t feel that way right now. – Rex Hoggard
On Tiger turning up the notch on his comeback ...
It’s safe to say the Tiger Woods comeback is ahead of schedule. After looking lost with his long game in his first two starts of the year, he led the field in proximity to the hole and third in driving distance. He flighted and shaped shots both directions, seemingly at ease, looking nothing like the player we saw at Torrey and Riviera.
If that form continues at Bay Hill and beyond, this has the potential to be one of the greatest comebacks in golf history. – Ryan Lavner
On Korda's journey from pain to promise ...
Jessica Korda is the leader in the clubhouse for best story of the year in women’s golf. She won her first start of the season Sunday at the Honda LPGA Thailand just a little more than two months after undergoing a complex and painful double-jaw surgery to alleviate headaches caused by her jaw’s alignment.
She did so in record-breaking fashion, shattering tournament scoring records against a star-studded field that included the top six players in the world. If Korda can so quickly overcome the challenges of that daunting offseason, there is no telling what else this determined young American star might achieve this year. – Randall Mell
List loses playoff, may have gained performance coach
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Luke List didn’t win in his playoff with Justin Thomas Sunday at the Honda Classic, but he thinks he may have found a pretty good new performance coach.
The guy’s name is “Moose.”
He’s a former Australian rules football player.
Actually, his full name is Brent Stevens, a friend of List’s caddie, who put them on the phone together for the first time last week at the Genesis Open.
List liked a lot of the performance keys Stevens gave him and posted some of the advice in his yardage book, so he could reference them.
“Effort over result” was one of the ideas List scribbled down.
“I feel like I've got the ability to play at this level,” said List, who was seeking his first victory Sunday at PGA National. “It just hasn't quite happened yet, but the more I think about it, I feel like the worse I do. So I focus on what's in front of me, the effort into the shot. I did a really good job of that this week.”
List said he’s interested in maybe visiting Australia to take Moose’s training to another level.
“He's a very fit dude,” List said. “He's got some clients that he brings down to south of Melbourne, to run the sand dunes,” List said, “and if we keep in contact, which I'm sure we will, I'm going to have to go down there and get my butt kicked.”
Both in contention, Thomas hears 'crickets' from Woods
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods has become a friend, confidant and something of an adviser for Justin Thomas.
Whenever Thomas has been in contention in his young career, Woods has often texted him advice or good luck on the eve of the final round.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night after the third round of the Honda Classic.
“Got crickets last night,” Thomas said, laughing.
That’s because Woods was in contention, too, beginning the final round seven shots off the lead.
“I knew he had one thing in mind, and we both had the same thing in mind,” Thomas said. “I thought that was pretty funny.”
Thomas added that he was “very impressed” with Woods’ 12th-place finish at PGA National.