Solheim Cup: Europe Leads 5-3 After One…Rules Imbroglio

In a day of significant surprises, Team Europe edged out to a 5-3 lead over the Americans after Friday’s matches.

Two big surprises from the morning Foursomes were Stacy Lewis not playing well, but her partner Lizette Salas playing very well for a rookie. Their birdie on the first hole was the only one of the match while Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall teamed for four in the 16 holes it took them to win, 4&2. 

The same sort of malaise descended over Lewis in the afternoon when she was paired with Lexi Thompson in Fourball. She made two birdies on the day. But then, so did Lexi. But a 25-minute rules imbroglio late in the round played a significant part in the match. And, indeed, the outcome of the day’s final tally.

Suzann Pettersen’s partner, Carlota Ciganda, wildly inconsistent all match long, launched another high right shot, this time a fairway wood trying to reach the par-5 15th in two. This one was well astray and disappeared in the red-stake lateral hazard right of the green. A creek runs through the bottom of the rocky, reed-filled scrub area, an extension of the creek that crosses the fairway about 60 or so yards from the green.

Pettersen also hit it in the hazard and was soon out of the hole, so it fell to Ciganda to work her way out her distressed situation. The best thing that happened for her was that she found her ball, unplayable, in the reeds. So she called for the group’s official to help her sort it out. Where should she take her drop?

After 25 minutes, he got it wrong. But at least he admitted it after the dust settled:

The point the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard was accurately established and one of the options, under Rule 26-1c, is for the player to drop her ball on the opposite margin of the [red-staked, lateral] hazard, equidistant from the hole. That point was also accurately established. The rule allows the player to drop within two club lengths of that point, on the equal and opposite margin. However, a mistake was made, and the player was allowed to drop behind that point, in line with the flagstick.

This was a monumental mistake for such a senior official. You can go as far back on the line from the flag on a yellow-staked, water hazard — just as you would in the case of an unplayable lie — but not in the case of a lateral hazard. It’s within two club lengths of those two spots, the one where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard and the one on the other side of the hazard. (Correction: See footnote at the end of the post.)

So with the concurrence of the official, Ciganda marched back on the opposite side of the hazard until she found a reasonably level lie that also gave her a clear shot at the flag.

In the course of determining the nearest points, the official had used a laser to obtain yardages on both sides of the hazard and revealed those yardages. So when Ciganda took her drop, her caddie merely paced back from the announced yardage to effectively obtain a laser yardage to the hole when he would not be permitted to laser a yardage in the normal course of play.

The official later said that his announced laser yardages had become “public knowledge” and as such, could be utilized by anyone in consideration of a shot. The Golf Channel’s Judy Rankin, said that she had seen instances of officials using caddies shouting back and forth to determine who was away, but nothing like this.

Ciganda hit it to 15 feet and made the putt to save par and halve the hole. Buoyed by this 25-minute miracle par, she and Pettersen went on to win the match, 1 UP.

This infuriated Lewis for a number of reasons. First, she and Lexi were cooling their heels while this was going on with both in position for possible birdies. Second, by the time it was all settled, there were three groups all waiting on the hole. Third, after losing 3-1 in the morning, the American team was mounting a charge whose momentum was snuffed out by all of this. And, finally, Stacy Lewis said that she had protested the ruling immediately after the hole was completed, but the official denied her claim.

Given Stacy Lewis’ spunk, this could prove to be quite a motivator for her on Saturday. She’ll be playing in the second pairing with Paula Creamer and facing Azahara Munoz and Karine Icher.

Here are the complete pairings:

Nordqvist/Hedwall vs. Pressel/Korda

Munoz/Icher vs. Lewis/Creamer

Matthew/Masson vs. Lincicome/Salas

Pettersen/Ricari vs. Wie/Lang

Footnote: A reader wrote to point out that the player does, indeed, have the option of dropping as far back as she wants on a line from where the ball crossed the margin of the lateral hazard, just as in the case of a water hazard. Here is the rules Decision, complete with a clarifying diagram. It makes clear that you cannot go back on the line through the point on the opposite side of the hazard, which was the error in this instance.
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