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.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

Getty Images

Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

Getty Images

After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

Getty Images

Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.