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.

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This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:39 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.

His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.

“This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”

The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.

There was also one other similarity.

“Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.

“It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”

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Sunday drama won't overshadow USGA's issues

By Randall MellJune 18, 2018, 1:30 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It looked like a British Open.

It was playing like a U.S. Open.

Through two rounds, Shinnecock Hills was double trouble in the best kind of way.

It was a hybrid in the most appealing sense of golf course architecture’s ancient allure and its modern defenses.

Halfway through, the USGA was nailing the setup, with Dustin Johnson the only player under par in one of the toughest but fairest tests in recent U.S. Open memory.

This looked like it was going to be remembered as USGA CEO Mike Davis’ masterpiece, but even a Sunday to remember couldn’t trump a Saturday to forget.

Sunday’s drama - with the history Brooks Koepka made becoming the first player in three decades to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, with Tommy Fleetwood’s 63 equaling Johnny Miller’s final round record - could not restore faith being lost in the USGA’s ability to set up and manage this championship.

This U.S. Open ended with footnotes the size of headlines.

The issues arising Saturday with the USGA losing control of the course raised even more troubling questions about why this organization’s heavy hand can’t seem to avoid becoming as much a part of the story as the competition.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

The controversy that was ignited Saturday when Phil Mickelson intentionally incurred a two-shot penalty by making a putting stroke on a moving ball also raised questions about the organization’s ability to fairly administer its own rules.

It’s a shame, because Davis has some good ideas.

His reimagined vision of this championship as the “ultimate test” makes sense as a better and more complete event.

His ideas are designed to identify the game’s most complete player on America’s best courses better than any other major.

It’s just not working.

This year’s failure in the wake of the ’04 debacle at Shinnecock Hills is especially worrisome. Davis vowed it wouldn’t happen again. Somehow, some way, he let it happen again.

Maybe the old standards we’ve come to judge the U.S. Open upon are too high, impossible to meet with today’s more athletic player, high-tech coaching and space-age drivers, shafts and balls.

Nobody ever protected par better than the USGA, but maybe par can’t be properly protected anymore, without tricking up a course.

Because if USGA officials can’t make its exacting formula work at an architectural treasure like Shinnecock Hills, where they had it absolutely perfect for two days, you wonder if they can make it work at all.

The testament to how the USGA was nailing its formula wasn’t in what we heard the first two days. It was in what we weren’t hearing. Only one player was under par through Friday, but there wasn’t a complaint to be heard in the locker room or on the range.

They were wiping the smiles off players’ faces without infuriating them.

In that regard, the USGA was delivering a miracle.

The wonderful appeal Shinnecock Hills held as a U.S. Open/British Open hybrid at week’s start ended up being twisted into something else by week’s end. It stood as a symbol of the championship’s confusion over its proper identity.

Even with Sunday’s compelling storylines unfolding, players were still frustrated over setup.

Saturday was over the edge, with Davis admitting “there were parts of this, simply put, that were too tough.” He said winds were stronger than expected, but the winds weren’t that much different than were forecast.

So USGA officials softened the course for Sunday, with more overnight watering and more friendly hole locations.

That turned Shinnecock Hills into Jekyl and Hyde on the weekend.

Scoring told the story.

Rickie Fowler shot 84 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday.

Fleetwood shot 78 and 63.

They weren’t alone, even though the weather wasn’t as dramatically different as the scores would indicate.

This wasn’t about the weather.

It was about the course being manipulated in ways that frustrated players.

“They soaked the hell out of it,” Pat Perez said after tying for 36th. “They’ve got all the pins in the middle.

“It is supposed to gradually get to where it was Saturday afternoon. You don’t lose it on Saturday and then try to make up for it, soak the course and make it totally different.”

Brandt Snedeker was equally befuddled playing drastically different conditions in weather that wasn’t so drastically different.

“The thing that is unfortunate is that the guys that were playing the best golf this week took the brunt of it yesterday, when it should have been vice versa,” Snedeker said. “Some guys got robbed of a really good chance to win a golf tournament yesterday afternoon, which is not fair.”

There were other issues that continued to challenge faith in the USGA.

Despite later acknowledging it set up the course too tough in spots on Saturday, the USGA put players on the clock for slow play.

The Mickelson penalty also raised issues.

He got a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5 (playing moving ball) when there was some outcry over whether he should have been penalized under Rule 1-2 (exerting influence), which would have opened the door to disqualification for a serious breach.

The USGA rigorously defended 14-5 (playing moving ball) as the proper call.

John Daly wasn’t disqualified for striking a moving ball in a similar instance at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. He also got a two-shot penalty, but there was a difference in the situations that might have justified Mickelson’s disqualification.

Daly said he intentionally hit a moving ball out of frustration, as protest over the USGA’s unfair hole locations.

Mickelson said he intentionally hit a moving ball on the 13th green Saturday at Shinnecock Hills to try prevent his ball from rolling off the green. He said he knew the rules and was intentionally breaking them to gain an advantage. He compared it to using the rules to get a better lie with a drop, but there’s a difference between using the rules to your advantage and breaking them to gain an advantage.

The difference in those motivations, as Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee pointed out, opened the interpretation of the violation as a serious breach worthy of disqualification.

The question of whether Mickelson’s manipulation of the rules was serious enough to invoke disqualification as a breach of etiquette under Rule 33-7 was dismissed by the USGA as inappropriate.

It should be noted here that the USGA and R&A should be applauded for its monumental overhaul of the Rules of Golf, a rules modernization going into effect next year. It’s a welcomed simplification of the rules that required an exhaustive review.

This week’s complications show the unrelenting challenges they continue to tackle.

We leave this U.S. Open with history being made, with Koepka joining Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange as just the third players since World War II to win the title in back-to-back years.

We also leave hoping the USGA can deliver four days of next year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as free of controversy as it delivered the first two days at Shinnecock Hills, because this year’s championship felt half baked.

Will Gray contributed to this report.

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Brandel rips USGA: 'There's no obvious leadership'

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 18, 2018, 1:29 am

The 2018 U.S. Open will certainly be remembered for Brooks Koepka's successful title defense.

But there's no doubt that it will also be remembered for Phil Mickelson's decision to hit a moving golf ball on Saturday, for the USGA's decision not to disqualify him, and for the governing body once again losing control of Shinnecock Hills over the weekend.

Speaking on "Live From the U.S. Open" on Sunday night, analyst Brandel Chamblee took the USGA and its leadership to task for more than just the inconsistent playing conditions this week.

His comments - edited and condensed for clarity - appear below:

"Something was amiss in a big, big way [at Shinnecock Hills]. I think the USGA has lost a lot of the trust of the golf world. They've done it for numerous reasons.

"On their watch, they missed COR – the rebound effect in drivers. They missed the rebound effect and the combination of the rebound effect [with] the ball. They missed it, on their watch. And now, the feeling is that they’re crying foul, even though it was on their watch. And so, essentially, the equipment companies got it done, by [the USGA’s] standards, legally.

"On their watch, there have been huge mistakes in major championships. … We well know this one (Shinnecock in 2018) – a colossal mistake all the way across the board. The golf course was bumpy the first day; they didn’t quite get that right. It was awful the third day. And today, in a different kind of way, it was far too easy.

"And then there’s penalties that they levy that make absolutely no sense, penalties that they don’t levy – not disqualifying Phil Mickelson yesterday. …

"There seems to be no obvious leadership, you know, to me. No obvious leadership heading in the right direction."

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Koepka reveals he injured his ribs last week

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:19 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – There was a time when Brooks Koepka didn’t even know if he was going to be able to play this week’s U.S. Open as he recovered from a wrist injury that had sidelined him for 3 ½ months.

He didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, which he missed, and returned to the PGA Tour in late April at the Zurich Classic. His return to competitive form accelerated from there with a runner-up finish last month at the Forth Worth Invitational.

But if Sunday’s victory at Shinnecock Hills, where he became the first player to win back-to-back U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange in 1989, appeared to be an official return to full strength, it wasn’t exactly that seamless.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka, who closed with a 68 for a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood, revealed that he suffered a rib injury last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

“My rib kind of came out last week. It bugged me a little bit,” he said. “Right when we got here, [Koepka’s trainer] worked on it, knew what it was. It was pretty sore, but I had no problems since then.”

In 2015, Koepka withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a similar rib injury.