Solheim Cup Blog

Shona McRae, Assistant Director – Rules writes about her experience as a referee at the recent Solheim Cup at Colorado Golf Club.

Match play is a form of golf played regularly by golfers around the world.  However, in the professional game, it is rarely played with the notable exceptions being the biennial team competitions such as the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.  After an unforgettable Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012, this year it was the turn of the American and European ladies to battle it out for the coveted Solheim Cup.

The venue for the match was Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Denver, close to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.   Opened in 2005, the Club has also hosted the PGA of America’s Senior Championship, so were no strangers to the infrastructure required to facilitate such a big event.

As a referee, it is important to know the course well before stepping out with the first match and knowing the importance of the event, I wanted to be as prepared as possible for all eventualities.  So armed with a copy of the draft Local Rules and course notes, I headed out to explore.

The first thing that hit me was the difference in atmosphere on the course.  It was only the practice day but already hoards of fans were lining the fairways supporting their respective teams.  Singing patriotic songs and chanting encouraging rhymes, it was not the usual hush from the crowd that surrounds a golf event! And this was only to gain in momentum as the week went on. 

The players were encouraging their supporters to sing and cheer as they played and it was clear that they enjoyed the support.  In fact, when Lexi Thompson teed off in each of her matches, she encouraged the crowd to cheer while she hit her driver from the tee and the crowd did not disappoint!

For the first day of the matches, I was assigned an observer’s role.  My job was to walk ahead of the match and to alert the match referee of any possible Rules situations that might occur.   I was of use when we came to the 16th hole when the American pairing of Pressell and Korda put their tee shot into the lateral water hazard.  I was able to highlight to the referee where it had entered and finished up – something the referee would not have been able to see from the tee.  However, Saturday was different as I was the referee for the very first foursomes match.  Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwell were playing Jessica Korda and Morgan Pressell in the alternate shot format. 

I met the sides at the practice putting green behind the first tee and ran through a few Rules points before we got going.  I reminded their respective caddies to count their clubs (no more than 14 is allowed, Rule 4-4a) and asked them to be clear as to when they were conceding a putt so that there was no confusion, Rule 2-4).  I also advised them that if there was any concerns over who was to play first, they should ask me to ensure no one played out of order. 

So we were ready for our 7.40am tee time and walked down the tunnel under the grandstand out onto the 1st tee.  Nothing could have prepared me for the noise that greeted us as we stepped out there.  It was incredible!  I could not hear myself think and have to admit to feeling slightly apprehensive.  At least I didn’t have to hit a golf ball in front of all those people - I can’t imagine what the players were feeling when they had to tee it up and play in that cauldron of noise.

In terms of Rulings, I often helped the sides determine who was to play first.  In match play, if a side plays out of turn, there is no penalty, however, the opponents can recall the stroke immediately and ask the side to play in the correct order (Rule 10-1c).  A side may choose not to recall a bad shot, but they take a different view when a good shot is played out of turn – it’s all part of the tactics and nature of match play.

Then on the 11th green, a very steep sloping green, Hedwell was preparing to putt.  Before she grounded her putter immediately behind the ball, it moved.  She called me over for clarification.  I asked her to show me what she was doing when the ball moved and she demonstrated that the club had not been grounded.  This eliminated Rule 18-2b (Ball Moving After Address).  However, the question still remained; did she do anything else that could have caused the ball to move?  After some discussion we established that she had not done anything, so there was no penalty, and no requirement to replace the ball.  I confirmed that she should play the ball as it now lay and could mark it and realign it if she wished.

Nordqvist and Hedwell went on to win the match 2&1, courtesy of a hole-in-one by Nordqvist on the 17th hole.  It was a fantastic way to close out a match and another point for Europe.

In the afternoon fourballs, I was again observing for the match between Azahara Munoz and Carlota Ciganda  (Europe) and Gerina Piller and Angela Stanford (USA).   The match was still alive on the 18th hole where Munoz’s ball came to rest behind the green close to spectators.  I was close by so and as I went to see if the ball was lying ok noticed a spectator pick up the ball.  The spectator immediately put it back when the crowd alerted him to his mistake. 

Under the Rules, if an outside agency picks up the ball, there is no penalty but the ball must be replaced (Rule 18-1).  I advised the referee what had happened as he approached and as we were not sure of the exact spot where the spectator had picked it up from, the player was required to drop the ball in accordance with Rule 20-3c. 

Sunday was singles day and Europe went into the final day with a commanding 5 point lead.  I was the referee for the 8th match – Guilia Sergas (Europe) versus Jessica Korda (USA).  I was called into action on the 2nd hole when both balls landed in the bunker at the back of the green.

Rule 22-2 (Ball Interfering with Play) applied so I advised Korda to mark the position of her ball and reminded her that when she picked it up she could not clean the ball.  Sergas played her shot and in doing so altered the lie of Korda’s ball.  The Rules provide for this situation as the player is entitled to the lie which her stroke gave her.  Therefore, the lie had to be recreated (Rule 20-3b).  The bunker-raker smoothed the sand and when we were satisfied it was in the same condition as to before Sergas played, Korda was then able to replace her ball. 

The match continued relatively incident-free and Sergas sank a 4 foot putt for a birdie on the 18th green to gain a half point for Europe. 

It was fantastic to see Europe win on American soil for the first time in the 23 year history of the Solheim Cup (final result, Europe 18 – USA 10).  To return home to Europe with the Solheim Cup for another two years is something I am sure will be celebrated from some time to come. 

For me, the memory that will stay with me of the Solheim Cup in Colorado will be the noise from the crowds.  They loyally and sportingly supported their teams from dawn to dusk and even gave the referee the odd cheer when the ruling was over!

Shona is pictured above with, from left to right, Gavin Caldwell, Mary Bea Porter-King and Jim Reinhart of the USGA.