Call it gamesmanship, poor sportsmanship, or even "ConcessionGate," if you must. But any way you look at it, Suzann Pettersen’s refusal to give Alison Lee a short putt during Sunday’s weather-delayed foursomes was the spark the Americans needed to stage the biggest comeback in Solheim Cup history.
"Walk on them, stomp on them, and give them all we've got," Brittany Lincicome said about how the Americans’ planned to react in singles play to the controversial incident.
What a performance in the singles by USA @SolheimCup2015 . Clearly used the controversy to galvanise and regroup . Congrats .— Paul McGinley (@mcginleygolf) September 20, 2015
And that’s exactly what captain Juli Inkster’s players did after what unfolded on the 17th green in the match that ended in tears, finger-pointing on both sides of the field, the thrilling surge by Team USA, and an eventual emotional mea culpa from the embattled Pettersen.
The row that ensued after the no-gimme also helped Europe enter Sunday’s singles finale with a seemingly insurmountable 10-6 lead.
In the episode that for years to come will likely overshadow the Americans’ dramatic rebound, Lee missed a birdie putt that would have given her and Lincicome a 1-up edge over Pettersen and Charley Hull. The 10-footer went some 16 inches long and Lee picked up her ball after believing her opponents, already walking off the green, had conceded the putt.
Except Pettersen, who has been vilified for her actions, insisted no one gave Lee the putt and the rules official confirmed the Euros won the hole. After Lee’s rookie mistake, the home team took the 18th hole and the match, leaving Lee and her opponent Hull crying and Pettersen the object of harsh castigation.
English legend Laura Davies to Sky Sports on concession debacle: "I am disgusted. Suzann has let herself and her team down."— Steve Elling (@EllingYelling) September 20, 2015
"She’s been very unsporting. We’ve got the point, but they’ve got the moral high ground." – Laura Davies on Pettersen— Beth Ann Nichols (@GolfweekNichols) September 20, 2015
Laura Davies on Pettersen debacle: "She let herself down and certainly let her team down. I'm so glad I'm not on that team this time."— Steve Elling (@EllingYelling) September 20, 2015
This is tough. It's not the spirit of the Solheim family. This is a game and somehow we lose perspective in these matches. #sad— Meg Mallon (@MegMallonUSA) September 20, 2015
"I'm telling you right now, it's just not right," Inkster said before her squad won nine of Sunday’s 12 singles matches to complete the comeback. "You just don't do that to your peers."
But that’s pretty much what Inkster and her teammates did to Annika Sorenstam in 2000 at Loch Lomond. Ms. 59, Inkster seemed to forget, chipped in for birdie and seemed to halve the 13th hole of a fourball tilt against Kelly Robbins and Pat Hurst.
When Robbins realized she was away, captain Pat Bradley made Sorenstam replay the shot because she went out of turn. What followed was weeping, acrimony, and the Europeans’ second Solheim Cup victory.
USA made Annika Sorenstam play again in 2000, captain Pat Bradley defended the decision saying "followed the rules as written" #SolheimCup— Paul Higham (@SportsPaulH) September 20, 2015
Despite the abundance of vitriol, not everyone painted Pettersen as this year’s villain.
"That putt was not in tap-in territory," Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said after the U.S. reclaimed the cup, 14.5-13.5. "On the 17th hole with the match all squared, you don’t pick that putt up ... You’ve got to have visual confirmation and you’ve got to have audible confirmation that that putt is conceded. She didn’t have those and it was a mistake on her part ... This is a mental error ... clearly it was a mistake by Alison.
"A lot of the blame’s going to go on Suzann and I think it’s a bit unfair," Chamblee observed.
Chamblee’s colleague, David Duval, agreed, but noted that the Norwegian’s actions ignited Team USA’s miraculous resurgence.
"It was [unfair] and it’s a shame but it might be exactly what the USA team needed to rally. It was her fault, she picked it up. You don’t pick the golf ball up until you know for certain it’s conceded ... A mistake was made here," said Duval.
"Sometimes you need something like this to get you going," Duval added. "It seemed to rally the team together, rally the players, and they went out and whipped them in the singles and that might be exactly what they needed."
Pettersen, for her part, was immediately unrepentant for what went down, saying she would act in the same way again.
A day later, though, after reflection and under a barrage of criticism, she issued a lengthy apology to Lee, the Americans, and everyone else she offended with her win-at-all-costs gambit, posting on Instagram:
I've never felt more gutted and truly sad about what went down Sunday on the 17th at the Solheim Cup.
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.
To the U.S. team, you guys have a great leader in Juli , who I've always looked up to and respect so much. Knowing I need to make things "right," I had a face to face chat with her before leaving Germany this morning to tell her in person how I really feel about all of this. I wanted her also to know that I am sorry.
I hope in time the U.S. team will forgive me and know that I have learned a valuable lesson about what is truly important in this great game of golf which has given me so much in my life.
To the fans of golf who watched the competition on TV, I am sorry for the way I carried myself. I can be so much better and being an ambassador for this great game means a lot to me.
The Solheim Cup has been a huge part of my career. I wish I could change Sunday for many reasons. Unfortunately I can't.
This week I want to push forward toward another opportunity to earn the Solheim Cup back for Europe in the right way. And I want to work hard to earn back your belief in me as someone who plays hard, plays fair and plays the great game of golf the right way.