Ciganda Ruling - Solheim Cup

Suzann Pettersen and Carlota Ciganda (Europe) were drawn to play against Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson (USA) on the first day of the Solheim Cup at Colorado Golf Club in Denver this August. The format was four-ball better ball and the match was all square after 14 holes.

At the Par 5, 15th hole, Pettersen and Ciganda both hit their second shots into the lateral water hazard on the right hand side of the hole short of the green. Ciganda was determined to find her ball in case it was playable so a ball search commenced. Right before the five minute search time expired, the ball was found in the hazard but it was not playable.

Ciganda then had to consider her options for relief. Rule 26-1 provides that if your ball is in a lateral water hazard or if it is known or virtually certain that your ball is in a lateral water hazard, you may, under penalty of one stroke:

  1. play a ball from where your last shot was played, or
  2. drop a ball any distance behind the water hazard keeping a straight line between the hole, the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and the spot on which the ball is dropped
  3. as additional options available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard (red stakes or lines), you may drop a ball (i) outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the lateral water hazard, or (ii) a point on the opposite side of the lateral water hazard equidistant to the hole from the point where the ball last crossed the margin

Under Rule 26-1b or 26-1c, the key to relief is determining the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. As returning to where she last played from was not attractive, a long discussion commenced with the match referee as to where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. This was important as her line to the green was obscured by trees so selecting her best option for relief was imperative. However, determining where the ball last crossed into the hazard was proving difficult as no one had actually witnessed it cross the margin into the hazard.

After further discussion, including the involvement of team and vice-captains, the referee decided to call in a second opinion from the chief referee to establish the point of entry. The option to drop two club-lengths on the opposite side of the hazard (Rule 26-1c) was appealing to Ciganda as the opposite side eliminated some of the challenge of the trees that she was faced with.

In trying to establish the point on the opposite margin of the hazard the referee used a distance-measuring device he was carrying. While the players were prohibited from using such devices in the Solheim Cup under Rule 14-3, this prohibition does not apply to the referee.

After some time the point on the opposite margin of the lateral water hazard was correctly identified and confirmed by the chief referee. Unfortunately Ciganda was incorrectly permitted to drop a ball back on a line from that point, rather than within two club-lengths. The option to drop a ball back on a line must be assessed from the original point of entry and not from the equidistant point on the opposite side of the lateral water hazard.

Ciganda dropped 40 yards behind this equidistant point on the opposite margin of the hazard and went on to find the green with her fourth shot.  She holed a 15-foot putt to save par and halve the hole.

Brad Alexander, joint chief referee at the Solheim Cup explained in the subsequent press conference, “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 hazard, equidistant from the hole,” Alexander said. “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.”

A wrong decision is possibly every referee’s worst nightmare whether it is in match play or stroke play. But mistakes can and do happen, and it should be remembered that the referee’s decision is final (Rule 34-2).

In terms of the Rules this means that players do not have a right to an automatic appeal of a referee’s decision – the referee has made his decision and an appeal can only take place with the referee’s consent – but it does not prevent a referee from seeking another opinion if he is doubtful as to the ruling or even from changing his decision. If an error is identified early enough, the ruling can be rescinded and corrected (see Decision 34-2/7), but it must be identified early enough.

In match play, if after a referee has given a ruling:

  1. either player makes a stroke on the hole, or
  2. in the circumstances where no more strokes are to be made on the hole and either player makes a stroke from the next teeing ground,

the referee may not reverse his ruling (see Decision 34-2/6 ).

In the Ciganda case though, the error was not identified in time. It was not identified until after the match was finished, therefore, there was no possibility to remedy the wrong decision (Rule 34-2).

Europe went on to win the four-ball match 1up.