Wait, What Happened at the Solheim Cup?

Golf is a great sport. I’ve been promising myself that I’m going to get around to really learning how to play. And the excitement from this weekend may have given me the final nudge I need. As I did my routine check of the sports blogs I learned that there was a big brouhaha at this the Solheim Cup. For a novice, the story created so many questions. What’s the Solheim Cup, a concession, and why is everyone upset? In true Cecelia fashion, I set out to get answers. And once I got them it occurred to me that there might be others who wanted answers, so here’s my effort to share what I learned and educate a few people about some of the rules golf.

 What’s the Solheim Cup?

The Solheim Cup is a biennial professional women’s golf tournament between the United States and Europe. That’s right, one country versus an entire continent. Go USA! The three-day tournament consists of twenty-eight matches—eight foursomes, eight fourballs and twelve singles. Players are selected based on their performances and rankings in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), Ladies European Tour (LET) and Women’s World Golf Rankings.

 Foursomes, Fourballs and Singles, Oh my!

Here are some key terms to help you understand the Solheim Cup and the drama.*

Singles: This is what most people think of when they think of golf. It’s every woman for herself. Each player plays each hole alone, against a single opponent and the person who wins the most holes (by taking the fewest strokes), is the winner.

Fourball: This form of play places two teams of two players directly against one another. Each golfer plays her own ball through the round so that there are four balls on the course at one time. The team’s score on each hole is determined by the teammate who scores the lowest, commonly referred to as the best ball. Each hole is won by the team whose member has the lowest score on that hole, and that team is awarded a point for the hole.

Foursome: This form of play places two teams of two players directly against one another, but only two balls are in play at one time. A hole is played when each player alternates shots with her teammate until the team holes out, or puts the ball in the hole. One teammate tees off at even holes and the other at odd. The team that takes the fewest strokes to hole out, wins the hole.

Concede a Hole: To concede a hole is to stop play on a hole and admit that another player has won the hole. For instance, if my opponent shot two under par (the number of strokes set as a standard for a specific hole) and two shots from par I hit my ball in the woods; I would concede the hole because at that point there’s no way for me to tie or beat her. The purpose of conceding a hole is to speed up play.

 The Thing About Golf

There’s this thing you have to know about golf. It’s considered a gentlemen’s game. There aren’t referees, umpires or line judges. Everyone is expected to self-police and uphold the rules and spirit of the game out of a sense placing sportsmanship over winning. Players self-report their errors because the game is bigger than they are. That works more times than not, but nothing and no one is perfect.

 What happened at this year’s Solheim Cup?

During the last day of fourballs U.S. teammates Alison Lee and Brittany Lincicome were playing the 17th hole against Europeans Suzann Pettersen and Charley Hull. Lee missed a putt and moved on to the 18th hole without completing the hole. She did so because she believed she heard someone say that the hole was conceded. Her belief was confirmed (at least based on common practice) when Hull immediately and briskly walked to the 18th hole rather than wait for Lee to finish. Pettersen later stated that the Europeans had not conceded the hole. The rules provide that a concession has to be clearly stated in order to be valid. When the Americans could not provide evidence that a concession had been given, the Europeans were awarded the point and subsequently won the match. Essentially, Hull and most others understood that Hull walking to the 18th hole signaled a concession. Pettersen (who would later apologize) chose winning over sportsmanship and used Hull’s failure to give a verbal concession to the Europeans’ advantage. Her unsportsmanlike conduct initially paid off, but would ultimately be pointless because the Americans mounted a comeback in the round of singles and took home the trophy. Maybe karma is referee enough in golf.

Hopefully, you learned a thing or two.

*These explanations apply to match play, which is a system where a player, or team, earns a point for each hole where they have beat their opponent. The opposite method of keeping score is stroke play, which counts the total number of strokes over one or more rounds of 18 holes.