Newsmaker of the Year, No. 6: Gimmegate

By Randall MellDecember 14, 2015, 1:00 pm

The controversial phantom concession at the Solheim Cup may be remembered as the defining moment in the reinvigorated international team competition.

When American Alison Lee scooped up her putt at the 17th green at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club in Germany on that Sunday morning in September thinking that it was conceded, she set off a dispute that promises to reverberate through the competition’s history. She also elevated the event’s profile, putting the sporting world’s focus on European star Suzann Pettersen and how golf’s honorable traditions make the game so curiously different.

Ultimately, what did we learn from it all?

Maybe nothing.

Three months after the controversy blew up, nothing has been resolved.

Nobody has definitively found Pettersen guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct. Nobody has absolved her, either. The rigorous debate over whether she violated the “spirit of the game” or was unfairly vilified for correctly upholding the Rules of Golf remains divided. In the end, there seemed to be as many commentators and fans defending her as criticizing her.

That’s the continuing fascination of what happened on that 17th green in Germany. A university ethics professor could probably spend a full semester deciphering the principles of right and wrong conduct exhibited there, and of how etiquette can conflict with adherence to the letter of law. The right and wrong of what happened may be debated through the history of the Solheim Cup.

Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list

Pettersen’s apology didn’t resolve the problem, either.

After initially defending her decision at event’s end, Pettersen said she was overwhelmed by the public backlash against her on social media. She said she cried in the team room that night and later issued a nearly 300-word written apology on her Instagram account. She also went on Golf Channel to explain her apology.

“I've never felt more gutted and truly sad about what went down Sunday on the 17th at the Solheim Cup,” Pettersen wrote. “I am so sorry for not thinking about the bigger picture in the heat of the battle and competition. I was trying my hardest for my team and put the single match and the point that could be earned ahead of sportsmanship and the game of golf itself! I feel like I let my team down and I am sorry.”

While Pettersen apologized for not being more mindful of sportsmanship, she also acknowledged her confusion over what she should have or could have done differently.

“I must say, there is quite gray [areas] playing the rules of the game and being the bigger sportsmanship,” Pettersen said in her Golf Channel interview. “At the end of the day, it means it’s a very fine line.”

Lee and Charley Hull played large roles in the confusion that played out on the 17th green in Germany, but Pettersen walked away the most damaged in the aftermath. Lee was responsible for making sure the putt was conceded. The fact that playing partner Brittany Lincicome shouted to Lee, warning her not to pick up her ball was telling. If Lincicome was uncertain, Lee should have been. Hull’s actions complicated matters. She and the two European caddies standing beside her began marching away from Lee as if they were conceding the putt. There was confusion in that. So much so that even the referee was misdirected, calling out that the hole was halved when it was not.

Pettersen’s position on the green also contributed to the confusion. She was at the very far end of the green, behind Lee. After Lee scooped up her 18-inch putt saying she thought she heard the Europeans concede, Pettersen moved into the center of the maelstrom. Pettersen did so telling the referee that the putt was not conceded after the referee called out that the hole was halved. The Americans were penalized and lost the hole and a vital fourball match, but they used the controversy to fuel a record comeback victory in singles.

“How Suzann can justify that I will never, ever know,” Hall of Famer Laura Davies said on Sky Sports 4, analyzing the action as it unfolded. “I am disgusted. I know she is angry and justifying everything, but she has let herself down and she has certainly let her team down.”

American captain Juli Inkster called Pettersen’s move “B.S.” and Hall of Famer Judy Rankin also took Pettersen to task on the Golf Channel telecast.

Pettersen had a legion of defenders, though.

“I thought she did the right thing,” Marilynn Smith, one of the LPGA’s 13 founders, told the New York Times. “I don’t understand why people criticized her.”

Smith’s question is one of many that promises to linger through Solheim Cup history.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.