Suzann Pettersen’s Apology: My Thoughts

I was initially going to take a pass on Suzann Pettersen’s “heartfelt” apology to Team USA for her conduct last Sunday at the Solheim Cup.  But a conversation this morning on the practice green with some other women who were warming up for our monthly Sandlapper Tournament changed my mind.  (Sandlappers — the South Carolina state bird — also refers to a multi-club league of women golfers in the middle part of the state who gather monthly for a league tournament.)

Just in case you missed it, here’s Pettersen’s apology, as she posted it on Instagram Monday morning:

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.

A photo posted by Suzann Pettersen (@suzannpettersen) on

Commentary on the Sunday drama on the 17th hole of the foursomes match between Alison Lee & Brittany Lincicome v Suzann Pettersen & Charley Hull has focused on whether or not Alison Lee’s putt was actually in the gimme range — apparently not, according to Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee who, as reported by SB Nation’s Emily Kay, went on to fault Lee for picking up her ball without “visual confirmation and audible confirmation” that the putt had been conceded, particularly at that point in a crucial and very tight match.

So, while Dame Laura Davies was “disgusted” and Zach Johnson felt Pettersen’s behavior was a “disgrace to the sport” and Juli Inkster characterized Pettersen’s behavior as “bull shit,” it still seemed to me that when all was said and done Alison Lee had picked up her ball prematurely and that Pettersen’s mea culpa was fueled by intense public pressure and the two incidents really weren’t related except that both were unhappy public missteps.

Then came that conversation on the practice green this morning among a group of women who golf regularly, who are very familiar with the Rules of Golf, who are experienced in both stroke play and match play competition, and who are all very clear about what constitutes appropriate golf etiquette on the green.

They’d all seen the drama unfold on television and they were uniformly appalled by Pettersen’s behavior on the green.

“She just turned her back and walked off the green,” one of them said.  It wasn’t a matter of the length of Alison Lee’s putt and it wasn’t a matter of whether or not there had been a concession.  It was a matter of Pettersen leaving the green before the hole had been completed by all the players. “Very poor form” was how the situation was summed up, “we walk off the green together.”

For those of you not familiar with genteel Southern language patterns, “very poor form” is a much stronger condemnation than Juli Inkster’s “bull shit.”  Suzann Pettersen violated one of the basic unwritten rules of golf etiquette, that protective cloak that makes our sport unique in the world of athletic competition.

Pettersen’s apology, my companions agreed, could not reverse or excuse her violation of the basic bonds of trust among golf competitors.