Pettersen Following the Rules Questioned for Sportsmanship
What is Sportsmanship?
Things certainly got dramatic at the Solheim Cup last week, with tears and growls coming from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The excitement of the golf should have been enough. The Europeans, threatening to run away with another Solheim, were upended by a furious American rally on the final day. It is generally thought that the rally was sparked by the controversy over Alison Lee picking up her ball near the end of a foursome match, assuming that the putt was conceded. She suggests to have heard someone concede the 18-incher, but cannot guarantee that it came from her opponents. For all we know, it came from the stands. Iâ€™m going to call the course official the ref, because this thing had all the earmarks of a boxing match. Had it happened on the PGA, it might very well have erupted into a real donnybrook.
After Lee picked up the putt, Pettersen called her on it, denying that she and Charley Hull had conceded the almost tap-in. Charley was walking off the green, but says that she was heading toward Pettersen to consult on a possible concession. Lee felt horrible, Pettersen was in Viking mode, Hull was in tears, even though she and Pettersen won the hole and the match, and the golf world drew up battle lines for the ensuing intercontinental argument.
Despite being an American who found the U.S. victory thrilling, I can only find fault with Pettersen or her decision if her public demeanor was in any way ugly. In a game where penalties have been assessed because a TV viewer saw a wedge touch the sand when no one else did, whatâ€™s so bad about the real player mentioning it, if the attitude in which it is couched remains civil? Are we going to be super-picky about the rules of golf or not?
A day later, Pettersen really shocked me by apologizing for a poor display of sportsmanship. But to me, sportsmanship isnâ€™t based in surrender or spinelessness. Itâ€™s simply a private and public display of respect for an opponent, which includes appropriate on-course behavior. Sportsmanship doesnâ€™t require timidity or overlooking the rule book. Itâ€™s not based on cowering or suppressing an important point, of which Pettersen is largely incapable anyway. After following her around a lot of tournament rounds from the gallery, you can trust me on that point. I have never seen her exhibit unbecoming tournament behavior, despite her not being an overly warm-and-fuzzy public figure. Did she do something inappropriate in her tone or physical language at the Solheim? Somebody tell me, and Iâ€™ll change my tune.
Sportsmanship is the partner of fierce competitiveness. It is the behavior in which the wholly acceptable desire to win is couched, and requires a certain appearance and sound, regardless of the outcome. But, this is not 1920. We live and play in an outspoken era, in which anyone can comment on anything, qualified or not. Tattling on rules violations are commonplace, whether they come from someoneâ€™s living room, the broadcast booth, or from a course official. It is not unusual for a competitor to cite a violation, and in most sports, it barely raises an eyebrow in terms of â€˜sportsmanship.â€™ In this age, Pettersen does not need to blush and turn away like a 1910 coed on a first date. She saw it, she called it, and unless she did it rudely, I say no harm no foul.
This is not a case of the big bad olâ€™ Europeans putting one over on the simple and trusting Americans. Apparently, everyone on both sides felt badly about this, and would have preferred to win the event without this glitch. Iâ€™m moving on, and I hope that Suzann Pettersen will receive â€œsportsmanlikeâ€ treatment from behind the ropes when she returns to the states for LPGA events.