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.