Ivan Morris Column - Solheim Cup brought ‘nastiness and confusion’ to new level

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
THERE’S nothing like team golf for changing a bland golf match into an emotional rollercoaster. Down the years, I have witnessed and been involved in many a ‘barney’ over rules’ issues in inter-club and representative matches. The Solheim Cup should have been a great competition celebrating and showcasing the wonderful, athletic talents that exist in women’s golf today. Instead, one small, petty action turned the event upside down and killed the positive mood.

THERE’S nothing like team golf for changing a bland golf match into an emotional rollercoaster. Down the years, I have witnessed and been involved in many a ‘barney’ over rules’ issues in inter-club and representative matches. The Solheim Cup should have been a great competition celebrating and showcasing the wonderful, athletic talents that exist in women’s golf today. Instead, one small, petty action turned the event upside down and killed the positive mood.

There have been occasions when a Ryder Cup match has become tetchy too but, the recent Solheim Cup between USA and Europe brought ‘nastiness and confusion’ to a new level. I have no problem with displaying a strong will to win but when things go too far, it’s time to call: Stop! Etiquette trumps the rules. What’s the point of winning by ‘technicality?’ The rules do not override the spirit in which the game must be played.

No one is denying that Alison Lee was completely wrong to pick up her ball without the permission of her opponents - especially as she was warned the previous day not to do it. However, it was downright bad manners and incorrect etiquette to begin moving towards the next tee as soon as the American’s putt missed the hole, UNLESS THE PUTT WAS BEING CONCEDED. Being still while your companions are in the process of playing a shot, even if it is ‘only’ a tap-in, is one of the first rules of basic etiquette. The act of moving away as decisively as Charley Hull did indicated without a shadow of doubt that she ‘intended’ to concede the 18-incher.

For some unexplained reason, Suzann Pettersen who was on her way to the next tee made a spontaneous decision to claim the hole after some busybody made her aware that Lee didn’t actually finish out. (Probably, her caddy?) It was a temptation that should have been quelled as quickly as it arose for the selfish reason that it never feels good to win that way. This self-righteous and churlish act, entirely within the rules, was not in the true spirit of the game. It galvanized Team USA and it brought the wrath of the Golf Gods descending upon the heads of a suddenly, disorderly European team that until then was coasting to victory.

Was it another example of the ‘win at all costs’ attitude that tends to sully the modern game? Pettersen’s fulsome apology on Monday indicated that somebody had explained where her bread is buttered and her money is earned - in the USA. By not being more sporting, she had bitten the hand that feeds her! If only she had remembered that etiquette is paramount?

From day one, I was taught: Mark your golf balls individually? Count the number of clubs in your bag. During the game if you have a claim be sure it is done in a timely fashion. Play at a brisk pace and if you make a concession, BE SURE IT’S LOUD AND CLEAR SO THERE ARE NO MISUNDERSTANDINGS! That sure nipped a lot of potential trouble in the bud.

In 40-years of playing competitive matches I made plenty of concessions but never claimed a hole. Suzann Pettersen did not muck up a concession; she messed up in the etiquette department. You don’t walk to the farthest edge of the green, turn your back to the action. It’s downright bad form!

Regarding the conceding of putts, there ARE psychological mind games involved. The late, Jackie Harrington used to give the putts that passed the hole but see the ones that were short ‘down.’ He regarded the former as a confident putt, the latter timid. He said: If you hear a concession, pretend not to hear it. It cannot be withdrawn. Go ahead and bang it in with bravado to show a bit of harmless intimidation. Only concede on the early holes - never with the finishing tape in sight.

In the early days, conceding putts was frowned upon to the extent that it was written in the rules book: “The Rules of Golf Committee recommends that players should not concede putts to their opponents.” This was mentioned in each subsequent Rules book until 1933.

The famous British golf writer, Bernard Darwin, was a notoriously bad putter near the hole. It is he who is credited with popularizing the gimme. Single-handedly, he developed the idea of chivalry towards opponents. Darwin contended: “the holing out of putts which cannot affect a match, but which are holed purely for private satisfaction, is a bore. According to Darwin, “Some golfers make a fetish of keeping individual scores. This insistence upon scribbling little figures on a card is not only a waste of time but actually defeats the sporting spirit which is a fundamental principle of match play.”

Not holing out cultivates a sloppy attitude but ‘sensitive golfers’ will fear pillory and lean over backwards to concede miss-able putts rather than have his sportsmanship questioned. After all, do you see concessions in other games? The big mistake that Pettersen and Hull both made was not standing still to see Lee’s ball down. Walking away and then claiming the hole almost as an afterthought is what rankles - concede, or don’t concede but do it positively and decisively.

Words of the Wise

Holing out all of your putts breeds confidence and puts the stamp of finality on one’s game.