Shona McRae, Assistant Director – Rules, writes about her time refereeing at this year’s Solheim Cup.
Three days of superb and intense golf concluded on Sunday 20 September on the 17th green, just as I had shaken hands with the players in the match I had been refereeing. I had been assigned to match 9 in the singles session on Sunday afternoon which saw Angela Stanford win 2&1 to clinch a vital point for the USA team from Suzann Pettersen.
Just then, the news came through that the last game had been won by the USA, resulting in the American side winning the Solheim Cup. The final score – USA 14½, Europe 13½ - resulted in huge celebrations, cheers and emotions from the USA team on the 17th green where I was standing.
I should rewind first to explain how this all came about. Along with 28 others, I was one of the invited guest referees joining the Ladies European Tour and LPGA staff to officiate at the 2015 Solheim Cup. The first thing we did on arrival on the Wednesday was to meet to discuss the course, the format, the Local Rules and the Captains’ Agreement that is established for the Solheim Cup.
The Captains’ Agreement is a very important document as this forms the basis of the conditions of the competition that the event will be played under. So for example, this agreement includes terms and conditions of practice, giving advice, substitution of team members in the event of illness, break times between matches and pace of play. Both team captains agree to these conditions so that there is no ambiguity as to how these situations will be managed.
Due to the many grandstands, public facilities, television and broadcasting platforms there are also specific Local Rules established to handle these situations should a ball end up in one of these structures. It is always useful to know where these structures are positioned on the course and if any special relief procedure will be used.
For example, due to the position of some of the electronic scoreboards, relief was granted under the Temporary Immovable Obstruction (TIO) Local Rule but with the option to drop the ball either side of the TIO. This meant that the player could choose which side to drop the ball rather than go to the nearest side. This is often done because the structure is situated so close to trees or bushes and the nearest side would not provide a realistic option for relief due to the trees.
Also at the Solheim Cup, due to the very large grandstands, dropping zones were provided as an additional option for relief if a ball landed so close to the grandstand that it physically interfered with the lie, area of intended stance or swing.
To get a better picture of all this, after the meeting we headed out onto the course to take a good look. Unfortunately, it was raining and raining hard! But despite this, we donned our waterproofs and headed out to walk the course.
The first tee was situated quite a distance from the clubhouse so immediately we realised that we would have to build in some time to ensure we arrived at the 1st tee in good time to officiate our matches. While Rule 6-3 may apply to the players, the only penalty for a referee being late is acute embarrassment!
After the course walk, the referees were invited to the Rules briefing for the teams, which was conducted by the chief referee. The chief referee ran through the key conditions of the Solheim Cup and gave the players the opportunity to ask questions.
With bad weather forecast, there were concerns over the amount of practice the teams would be able to do on Thursday. However, both sides were able to complete practice rounds, albeit in the rain. Again, I walked the course to familiarise myself with the layout and the best routes to the next tee, etc.
We had a final referees meeting and then it was time for the Opening Ceremony. This was held in the huge Oktoberfest Marquee that had been built especially for the Solheim Cup. Televised live, the atmosphere was electric with fans of both teams singing and cheering for their side.
Then Friday dawned and it was time to kick off play with the foursomes matches. I had been assigned as the referee for the match involving the USA side of Lexi Thompson and Christie Kerr against Europe’s Karine Icher and Azahara Munoz. I introduced myself to the players but it was difficult to say much more due to the volume of cheers and singing around the 1st tee arena. It felt more like a football match than a golf event!
We were off on time and walked up the 1st fairway, where I had my first decision to make. Kerr had a shot from the side of the bunker and Icher was on the fairway but Kerr wanted to know who was first to play. It was a close call so I asked Icher’s caddie what distance she had to the hole. Then I asked Kerr’s caddie what distance she had. It was at that moment I realised that one had given me the distance in metres and one in yards! Quickly I had to get my mind working and calculate metres into yards but that left me with another dilemma – it worked out pretty much the same! So I made the call that Icher had to play first (she had it just by one yard) followed by Kerr.
The match continued without incident until the 16th where I had to give relief to the USA side for interference from the huge hospitality marquee on the left of the hole. At the same time, the Europeans had flown the green and the ball was in front of the grandstand situated behind the green. Munoz was not keen to use the optional dropping zone so I helped her to take relief under the Local Rule using standard TIO relief – a somewhat complicated procedure but luckily one I had reviewed with my fellow referees the day before.
I was fortunate to get to observe for the Matthew/Icher and Lang/Sallas game on Saturday. My role was to radio back to the match referee in the event a ball had ended up in a hazard or in a situation where relief might be sought so that the referee could be prepared for the ruling. Due to the weather delays, the Saturday four-ball games were completed early on Sunday before the singles matches started.
Of course, on the Sunday morning when the four-ball matches were restarted, the situation with Pettersen/Hull and Lee/Lincicome happened. Alison Lee had a putt to win the hole and, having missed the putt, was left with a putt to halve the hole. Thinking that her putt for the half point had been conceded under Rule 2-4, Lee lifted her ball without marking its position. At this point, the European team then made representation to the match referee that the stroke had not been conceded.
After interviewing the players in the match and their caddies, the match referee determined that no statement had been made by the European side that could reasonably have led Alison Lee to believe that the stroke had been conceded.
As Lee had lifted her ball on the putting green without marking its position, she incurred a penalty of one stroke under Rule 20-1, meaning that she no longer had a putt for the half, and that the European side had won the hole.
Decision 2-4/3 describes a situation where the ball has been lifted under the mistaken impression that a concession has been made, and allows for the replacement of the ball without penalty. However, with the match referee determining that no statement of concession had been made, the provisions of this Decision did not apply. In light of this, the referee applied the one-stroke penalty under Rule 20-1.
The sun had decided to put in an appearance for the Sunday singles matches so we were able to leave the umbrellas behind, lightening the load for the walk round the course. I was assigned as the referee for Angela Stanford and Suzann Pettersen match. Both players played some great golf and despite an eagle 3 on the 2nd hole from Pettersen, Stanford had the edge after sinking several birdie putts on the front nine.
I was called on several times to determine who was to play first. This tended to happen when the players were on the putting green. Sometimes it was clear using the eye but twice I had to pace it out to see who would play first. It is also possible to use a bit of string to do this but I was not sure if the string I had would be long enough and did not want to feel foolish if it did not reach from the hole, so I decided to pace it instead. This worked out well and settled any doubts that the players may have had.
Pettersen made a valiant effort and got the match back to all square but birdie putts at 15 and 16 saw Stanford go dormie two. Both players had four on the 17th, giving Stanford her win and cue the emotional celebrations from the USA team.
After the 17th green cleared, the teams headed to the marquee for the closing ceremony. The trophy was presented to the USA team by John Solheim, son of Karsten Solheim, the founder of the Solheim Cup. It also marked the end of a long but enjoyable week as a referee at one of the most high-profile team events in golf.