Pettersen sorry but question remains: What would she have done differently?

By Randall MellSeptember 30, 2015, 10:20 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Suzann Pettersen’s apology was delivered in heartfelt fashion.

It came across as sincere Wednesday on Golf Central.

It rang genuine in communicating her regret in how she handled that phantom concession at the 17th green on that controversial Sunday morning at the Solheim Cup a little more than a week ago.

It was also sorely incomplete.

Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte asked Pettersen three times what she would do differently if she were able to go back to the 17th green when American Alison Lee was penalized for scooping up her ball after thinking she heard the Europeans concede her 18-inch putt, but Pettersen couldn’t answer the question.

Rosaforte's 45-minute interview of Pettersen was edited before being aired on Golf Central, but he gave her three chances to answer the question as they sat in front of cameras in Pettersen’s Orlando home. With each query, Pettersen was unable to offer a specific explanation of how she could have or should have or would have handled what happened on the 17th green differently.

“I don’t know,” Pettersen said the final time Rosaforte asked.

I’m sorry, but there’s no moving on without an answer to that.

The answer is absolutely vital to the credibility of an apology.

That’s because the answer is vital to understanding the complex nature of what went wrong on the 17th green, of how Pettersen could be completely within her rights as a player to hold Lee to the letter of the law within the Rules of Golf and yet somehow be guilty of a breach of etiquette and sportsmanship so egregious that it violated the spirit of the game.

The answer is fundamental to understanding how what happened on the 17th green threatened the reputation of a world-class player and the integrity of a world-class event.

Golf Central exclusive: Pettersen on damage of Solheim flap

It’s the most important question Pettersen was posed in the interview.

In a crisis-management move to get her contrition out front, an important step was skipped.

Without knowing what Pettersen would have done differently on the 17th green, there’s no real lesson learned for all of us. That’s the thing. That’s important because the answer makes this about more than Pettersen and her need for forgiveness. It makes Pettersen’s and Lee’s pain useful to us in understanding how something as ethereal as “the spirit of the game” would have been better served.

This will easily get misconstrued, so please understand, an answer to that question doesn’t necessarily go to Pettersen’s credibility. An answer goes to the credibility of an apology, of why an apology is even required. That’s an important distinction to make as we put ourselves in Pettersen’s place and wonder what we would have done.

You cannot listen to Pettersen’s interview and not hear the earnestness in her wanting to understand how she could have better served the spirit of the game and the Solheim Cup.

“At the end of the day, the rules are the rules,” Pettersen said. “I must say, there is quite gray [areas] playing by the rules of the game and being the bigger sportsmanship. At the end of the day, it means it’s a very fine line ... I keep having these conversations inside of my head, like, ‘What was right within the game of golf? Did we do what was right within the spirit of the game?’

“The spirit of the game seems to outlast anything else, so that’s the lesson I’ve learned.”

If you’re amid a very large contingent that believes Pettersen did nothing wrong, you aren’t changing your mind without hearing Pettersen detail what she should have done differently.

And if you’re a harsh critic of Pettersen’s, you’re not being fair to her if you can’t definitively answer what she should have done differently after seeing Lee scoop up her putt.

It’s not as simple as saying Pettersen should have conceded the short putt to Lee in the first place.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Pettersen and her playing partner, Charley Hull, requiring that Lee make that 18-inch putt. This did not become complex or controversial until after Lee scooped up her ball thinking the Europeans had given her the putt. It grew complex in how Lee mistakenly came to believe the Europeans had conceded the putt.

After Lee missed an 8-foot birdie chance and started walking to the 18-inch putt she had left to halve the hole, Hull and the two European caddies marched away, as if they were conceding the putt. They were in Lee’s line of sight while Pettersen was behind Lee, on the other side of the green. Lee said she thought she heard someone say the putt was good as Hull and the caddies began marching away.

Standing where Pettersen was, she could see how Hull and the two European caddies may have unwittingly and unintentionally duped Lee into thinking the putt was conceded. That’s not unfair to conclude because even the referee, Dan Maselli, was a victim of misdirection - so much so that he called out “the hole is halved in four” as Lee was picking up her ball. It wasn’t until Pettersen told Maselli that the putt was not conceded that the penalty was incurred and the hole was lost.

Pettersen’s sin, in the eyes of so many, was having the best vantage point of seeing how Lee may have been duped into a penalty. It was in failing to see how it was wrong for the Europeans to win the hole in that manner. That’s where the question of sportsmanship enters. It’s where the question of violating the spirit of the game enters. It’s where critics say Pettersen should have understood there was no honor in winning a match that way.

Pettersen told Rosaforte she still beats herself up wondering specifically what she should have done differently.

“It all happened so quick,” Pettersen said. “That’s kind of what I keep thinking back about, and I keep rewinding the tape, like, ‘But what could I have done differently? ... Obviously, that’s not really how you want that situation to go down ... When I looked back, thinking, ‘Should I have just calmed it all down and not walked off the 17th the way we did straight away? Or should we have had a talk about it?’ I mean, I don’t know.”

So in the final analysis, what’s the answer here? What should Pettersen have done differently in that circumstance that would have honored the spirit of the game?

Only Pettersen can dig out the answer that is right for her, but it leads to questions about what realistic options were available to her within the Rules of Golf. What could she actually have done?

Kendra Graham, Golf Channel’s rules expert and the former USGA director of women’s competitions, laid out some options in an email to three questions this writer posed to her:

1. How could a player in Suzann’s position have remedied or changed the result on the 17th before the next tee shot was struck at No. 18?  

“Immediately upon realizing that Alison Lee had picked up her ball, Suzann could have said nothing,” Graham wrote. “In match play, a player can overlook an opponent's breach of a rule (not the case in stroke play). The ‘official’ way of doing so is by not making a claim (Rule 2-5). Suzann went to the referee and explained that she did not concede the putt, bringing it to his attention. At that point, the referee is obligated to apply the penalty (see Definition of Referee).

“Obviously, Suzann made a split-second decision. In order to have been ‘in the spirit of the game,’ she should have ignored the fact that Alison had picked up her ball, walked off the putting green and headed to the 18th tee with the match all square. The only other alternative would have been for the referee to use equity (Rule 1-4, also see Decision 2-4/3), if he felt that there was reason for Alison to believe her putt had been conceded, i.e., noise from the gallery. In that case, Alison would have been required to replace her ball without penalty and putt out.” (Click here for more on the ref's role)

2. How could Suzann have remedied the result after a tee shot was hit at 18, where a player in Suzann’s position is walking down the 18th fairway and realizes she isn’t comfortable the way she won the 17th hole?

“At any time prior to completing the 18th hole, the European side could have conceded the 18th hole (see Rule 2-4),” Graham wrote.

3. Was there any way to change the result after the final putt was holed at the 18th and the match appeared to be over? Could the captains have stepped in and changed the result when the match was over?

“No,” Graham wrote.

Pettersen expressed remorse in her Golf Channel interview. She communicated earnestness in wanting to be a better caretaker of the game and a deserving future Solheim Cup captain. She pledged a commitment to serving sportsmanship and the game’s larger picture.

“I just wish it never happened, and I wish nobody will ever be put in that situation ever again,” Pettersen said.

Pettersen’s apology is good for her, but knowing specifically what she should have done differently is good for the next player who stumbles in that position. It’s good for all of us in wanting to know how the ethereal “spirit of the game” can so formidably trump the actual Rules of Golf.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.