On Conceding Putts

Maybe we all need to take a step back and consider that Suzanne Pettersen got this one right.

Hear me out.

At first, I was outraged, too. Charley Hull turns her back and starts walking off the green. Allison Lee picks up her ball. Ref announces match is all square. Except, no one actually said, “Pick it up” or “That’s good”. Lee thinks she heard it, but it was not certain.

I’m on record on Twitter saying karma was served. That golfing gods don’t like dick moves. That using the rules of golf as an argument is being on the wrong side of common sense. But the more I think about this, I think Pettersen was right, Allison Lee and Charley Hull assumed too much, and that at the highest level of match play golf competitions, each putt should be seen.

The only thing comparable to a conceded putt in other sports I can remotely think of is the intentional walk in baseball. Even then, you still have to throw 4 pitches outside the strike zone to advance the batter. Also, it’s done more in defensive approach. Either you don’t want to pitch to that batter; or, you want that runner on base to give you more options of potential outs. A true comparison to the conceded putt/hole would be spotting an out or a run, and that doesn’t happen.

I did very quick research on the subject of conceding putts. USGA Museum historians Michael Trostel and Victoria Student outline a short version of the origin. From 1909 to 1933, it was mentioned in the USGA Rules book that they did not recommend conceding putts to an opponent.

In a casual game setting, I’m completely fine with conceding most putts unless there’s some slope or speed considerations. This act is primarily for speeding the game up (something the game needs desperately), while adding a level of camaraderie. However, if there’s money or a club championship trophy on the line, I have no problem with having most putts seen.

Jack Nicklaus gets equal praise and flack for conceding Tony Jacklin’s putt at the 1969 Ryder Cup. By conceding the putt, the matches ended in a tie. But, But, But, this meant the United States retained the Cup. I assure you if that halve would’ve assured GB&I’s retention, or it was for GB&I to win the Cup, it would have been seen.

So, where do we go from here? The Rules of Golf give no definition of a concession (as far as I can see). Verbal gestures such as, “Pick it up.” and “That’s good.” are commonly used. Sometimes there is non-verbal communication, such as a thumbs up, or a “Let’s go” kind of hand motion. Charley Hull walking towards Pettersen was assumed by Allison Lee as a non-verbal concession. Clearly, Hull and Pettersen were not on the same page.

I do think Allison Lee picked that ball up way too casually. In the situation she and her team found themselves in, she should have made damn sure her putt was being conceded or not before picking up. At least mark the putt first if you’re not sure. I was a part of a similar situation in a 2-ball match many moons ago. Coincidentally, on the 17th hole. Player had made putt and assumed it was good. However, it was clear the putt was not conceded. That turned a 1up lead into All Square going into 18. Thankfully for that player, they halved the match with allowed their team to win the competition’s trophy.

Pettersen did the right popular thing and formally apologized for her actions, and the controversy has pretty much died. But I hope it serves a reminder to up and coming golfers playing in Match Play competitions. Stay in the moment. Don’t assume anything is good. When it doubt, mark your ball, stone up and putt out.

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