Claire Hargan, Assistant Director of Rules at The R&A, discusses her experience of refereeing at the 2019 Solheim Cup and some specific moments from a special week at Gleneagles...
I was extremely excited to have the opportunity of refereeing at the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in September 2019. I have been a keen supporter of many aspects of Scottish golf over the last 30 years and have attended two Solheim Cups as a fan, first at Loch Lomond in 2000 and then at Killeen Castle in 2011.
The opportunity to referee at arguably the biggest women’s golf event in the world, and in my home country was therefore a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.
When refereeing at any event, it is extremely important to take the time to prepare thoroughly. I had other work commitments in the days running up to the matches, but Solheim Cup Tournament Director, Davide Lantos and Chief Referee, Joao Paulo Pinto from the Ladies European Tour (LET) were good enough to show me round the course the Sunday before the match began. This allowed me to not only have a first look at the course with all the grandstands, TV towers and other infrastructure in place, but it also allowed me to have a look at the course layout, course marking and an early draft of the Local Rules.
Davide and Joao were still deciding how to deal with some areas of the course from the point of view of suitable Local Rules, and so we discussed the pros and cons of the various options on the way round. Often these discussions relate to parts of the golf course that the golfers will never see, but part of the job of a referee is to expect the unexpected!
In the days that followed, there was lots more reading, including the final Local Rules and the specific Rules for Match Play, there was a final course walk on the Thursday morning and finally I was ready to get started.
And So It Begins…
I have been a walking referee with games at the Open Championship and with matches at the Dell World Matchplay Championship, but this was going to be my first experience of refereeing in the pressured atmosphere of a Professional level team match such as the Solheim Cup.
I was therefore a little relieved that my first assignment was as an observer for match 2 of the Friday morning Foursomes. The referee for the match, Dan Maselli introduced me to the players on the first tee and that allowed me to listen to his introduction and instructions to the players and also to get a feel for the cauldron of noise on the 1st tee. Once the introductions were over, I quickly headed down the left side of the fairway to await the tee shots.
The role of an observer is to walk ahead of the match and to advise the referee if he might have a ruling to deal with. This can be particularly useful in an event such as the Solheim Cup as it allows the referee time to prepare himself for a potential ruling before he has players, caddies and TV cameras staring at him expectedly.
Dan and I had a very quiet morning with just one simple ruling, but it was an ideal Solheim introduction and allowed me to get used to the crowds and to familiarise myself with the likes of the exit routes from greens to tees.
Friday Fourball Match 1: Suzann Pettersen & Anne van Dam vs Danielle Kang & Lizette Salas
There was very little time before I was back out, this time to referee the first Fourball match of the afternoon. The scale of the grandstand, the music, the fireworks and the brilliant crowds all made for an incredible 1st tee atmosphere, so I wasn’t surprised to find my heart beating a little faster than normal as I walked off the 1st tee behind the group.
It didn’t take long before I was called into action, as Suzann Pettersen pulled her second shot at the par 5 second hole into the penalty area. I had a good view of her shot so I was comfortable with where the ball had last crossed into the penalty area, and it was a straightforward drop within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area (Rule 17.1d(3)). It was a good opportunity to settle the nerves early on in the round!
At the very next hole I was called upon once again. This time Pettersen hit her second shot onto a cart path. Normally I start a ruling by saying something like ‘how can I help you’, but in this situation it was rather obvious so there was a brief awkward moment as we looked at each other before Pettersen said, “play it as it lies”? I laughed and said, ‘if you want’, but quickly moved into asking her to find her nearest point of complete relief, by using the club that she planned to use for the next stroke. Fortunately for Pettersen, her ball was relatively close to the fairway side of the path and so it was clear that her nearest point of complete relief would be on that side. The other side of the path was lined with bushes and I expect she would rather have played the ball as it lay than take a drop on that side.
When taking relief from an abnormal course condition such as a cart path, the nearest point of complete relief is just that, the nearest point, not the nicest point! Pettersen was able to drop the ball within one driver length of her nearest point of complete relief on the fairway side and continue with the hole (Rule 16.1b).
After a busy start to the round, the rest of the round was relatively quiet and ended with an impressive 4&3 victory to the European pair.
Saturday Fourball Match 3: Georgia Hall & Celine Boutier vs Ally Mcdonald & Angel Yin
Having walked two rounds on day 1, I was very glad to have the Saturday morning off, before refereeing match three of the Saturday afternoon Fourball session.
I had a feeling it was going to be a busy afternoon as I was called in to decide who was furthest from the hole, three times on just the first hole. Then, as we left the 2nd tee, I received a radio message from one of the two observers with the match, Donna Mummert, to advise that three of the four players were close to sprinkler heads in the fairway.
Donna and I had discussed this situation before the match, and agreed that she would take one ruling if there was a situation where more than one player needed a ruling at the same time. In the end there were only two rulings needed and both involved simple relief from sprinkler heads (Rule 16.1b), but as discussed, Donna took one and I took the other, which ensured the rulings didn’t take any longer than they needed to.
I was once again called into action on the 9th hole. One of the players in the match hit a wayward shot that unfortunately hit a spectator, despite a clear shout of ‘fore’. The spectator was attended to by a medic, but as we were moving other spectators to allow that player to play her next shot, both Celine Boutier and Ally Mcdonald played their second shots, both finding the water.
Mcdonald’s ball had clearly not crossed the far side of the red penalty area, but it looked like Boutier’s may well have hit the far banking before rolling back into the water. When it comes to Fourball matches, you certainly need to have eyes in the back of your head, and I was very glad to have two good observers with me!
Neither observer was able to see where Boutier’s ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area, but as I was dealing with Mcdonald’s back on the line drop (Rule 17.1d(2)), my second observer Laurin Kroesbacher-Pranger determined that the TV spotter with the match had clearly seen the ball bounce on the fairway side of the red line before crossing back into the red penalty area. This was important as it allowed her to drop within two club-lengths of where the ball had last crossed the edge about 60 yards from the flag, rather than having to go back to the other side of the penalty area to drop, around 150 yards further back.
My final ruling of the game involved yet another relief situation from an immovable obstruction on the par five 18th hole. Celine Boutier was standing on a drain cover with her ball lying in relatively thick rough. Interference from an immovable obstruction includes interference to the player’s stance and so she was perfectly entitled to free relief. She wanted to know where her nearest point of complete relief would be and I confirmed that it would be just a few inches from where her ball was lying as that would ensure that she would no longer be standing on the drain cover.
The rough was very thick at that point and it I got the impression that she thought she would also have to drop close to that point as she looked like she might just play the ball as it lay, but I reminded her she would also have a driver length in which to drop. She realised that would allow her to drop in a slightly better lie and so she decided to go ahead and take relief (Rule 16.1b). The better lie allowed Boutier to lay up to a good yardage, and from there she hit an excellent approach shot which she converted to a winning birdie and 2-hole victory for Europe. Sometimes it really does pay to know the Rules!
After a busy two days refereeing fourball matches, I refereed the Sunday singles match between Caroline Masson and Jessica Korda. I had just one simple ruling and the match ended in a win for Jessica Korda by 3&2.
That gave me the opportunity to watch the final few matches come through the 16th and 17th holes and to enjoy the exciting climax to the 2019 Solheim Cup.
Congratulations to Captain Catriona Matthew and the European Solheim Cup team in winning the 2019 Solheim Cup 14.5 to 13.5.