Martin Dempster: Name of game must be fair play

Suzann Pettersen has made a public apology following the Solheim Cup 'gimme' incident. Picture: Getty
Suzann Pettersen has made a public apology following the Solheim Cup 'gimme' incident. Picture: Getty
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ON the Golf Channel in America on Sunday morning, they showed a promotional clip for the Payne Stewart Award that warmed the cockles of this correspondent’s heart.

It was about two youngsters out on the golf course and was a terrific advert for the sport. Not only were they having fun but it also showed them displaying good etiquette by first raking a bunker, then replacing a divot.

It was a timely reminder about the importance of etiquette in the sport given that the clip was shown during a commercial break as Brandel Chamblee and David Duval, the channel’s two splendid analysts, picked over the bones of the Solheim Cup “gimme” controversy that has now led culprit Suzann Pettersen to issue a public apology.

“I’ve never felt more gutted and truly sad about what went down Sunday on the 17th at the Solheim Cup,” wrote the Norwegian on social media in reference to her part in a tearful episode that cast the darkest cloud to hang over the game since the “Battle at Brookline” in the 1999 Ryder 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.”

She should be because Peterssen let her sport down, as did Stuart Deane, an Australian based in Texas, a few hours later in another team tussle on the other side of the Atlantic. Despite being among the 20 players involved in the last-day singles at the PGA Cup at CordeValle in California that were told on the first tee about the unsavoury Solheim Cup incident, he claimed a hole after his opponent, Englishman David Dixon, picked up his ball believing a three-inch putt had been given and the referee actually announced the hole had been halved in 4s.

Thankfully, this instance of shocking sportsmanship was nipped in the bud as Allen Wronowski, the US captain and the PGA of America’s honorary president, showed his disgust over Deane’s actions by handing Dixon, who was representing GB&I in the club professionals’ equivalent of the Ryder Cup, a hole without having to play it. “I said in the opening ceremonies that somebody is going to walk away with the trophy, but the ultimate winner has to be the game of golf,” said Wronowski after becoming the first US captain to suffer defeat on home soil in the event. “It has to be played with the utmost sportsmanship and integrity and all the values that we cherish dearly.”

Most of the time those values shine through in the Royal & Ancient game, but following two such incidents on the same day it is surely time for something more definitive than hearing your opponent mumble “that’s fine” being introduced in these events and Sandy Jones, the PGA chief executive, has a good idea. “Picking the ball up and handing it to the player is the definitive move and then there is absolutely no doubt,” said the Scot, who once witnessed Seve Ballesteros and Curtis Strange get embroiled in a row over a concession when he was refereeing at a Ryder Cup.

Insisting she had learned a “valuable lesson about what is truly important in this great game of golf”, Pettersen is hoping she’ll be forgiven in time by both the US players and fans. I can’t see that happening, though the only good thing to come out of her leaving an opponent, Alison Lee, in tears was that it fired the US up to the extent that justice was done as they came from 10-6 down heading into the singles to clinch a dramatic victory.

A genuine contender, Pettersen can say “cheerio” to her chances of leading Europe in the event. For the next match, in two years’ time at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in Iowa, the visitors now need someone at the helm to take the heat out of the event, as Sam Torrance and Curtis Strange did after Brookline in the 2002 Ryder Cup. Catriona Matthew? Quite possibly – though it would be great if she got that opportunity on home soil by Scotland winning the battle to stage the 2019 event – and one wonders if she was making her own statement by conceding a three-foot putt to Morgan Pressel in losing to her in the singles on Sunday.

Thrilling Cup contest deserves bigger crowds

IT’S not just the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup that throws up drama when golfers from either side of the Atlantic lock horns. The 27th PGA Cup came down to the last putt in the last game at the end of a thrilling three-day match at CordeValle in California, where GB&I created history by winning on US soil for the first time.

Helped by Tartan Tour duo Graham Fox and Gareth Wright, the visitors triumphed 13.5-12.5 after Irishman Niall Kearney produced a sensational up and down at the last to beat Alan Morin in the

deciding match as the bar in the event was raised to a new level.

On a far from easy golf course – it has staged the Open in the past and is preparing to host next year’s US Women’s Open – the standard of golf was truly exceptional, with the GB&I players mixing skilful play with grit and determination to create history. “All that was missing was 40,000 fans,” said Jon Bevan, the winning captain, and, though that comparison to the Ryder Cup will no doubt be scoffed at by some, he certainly had a point because the two sides traded eagles and birdies from start to finish and the tension and drama felt

exactly the same.

Having both made significant contributions, Fox and Wright did the Tartan Tour proud. The win was witnessed by David Murchie, the Crieff professional, in his role as the PGA chairman, but no one in the GB&I camp was happier than Sandy Jones, the PGA chief executive. He’s put his heart and soul into this event over the years and, therefore, was delighted to finally get the chance to celebrate on American turf. “I kept saying this is the strongest team we’ve ever had and if we didn’t nail it here, then I was thinking we might never do it,” he said.

The win, of course, means that the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and PGA Cup all now reside on this side of the Atlantic.