It’s been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. That even if someone is saying something bad about you, they are still talking about you and therefore it is better than if they never spoke your name. Many different companies and the Kardashians live by this mantra. So when Suzann Pettersen apologized for her role in ConcessionGate, I asked myself if this was really the best decision.
On social media everyone is praising the decision to apologize. Before the apology she was getting roasted by all the American fans, and even a few former European players for her decision. It was hard to find anyone on her side. As the dust has settled a little more now, many people are saying that she was within the rules and Lee was just at fault as Pettersen was. Lee has the moral high ground, but Pettersen was not completely to blame. The action seemed to fuel the Americans and it helped them to produce a Medinah- or Brookline-like comeback to win the event. The incident and ensuing comeback was outstanding theater.
It’s the apology with which I have issues. After everyone saw the apology, they embraced it, lauding it as a great show of sportsmanship. I say poppycock. Her apology was unnecessary. For starters, as many are starting to say now, she was only following the rules and did nothing wrong. Lee assumed, incorrectly, that the putt was conceded and it wasn’t. Yes, Hull and both caddies went running off to the next hole, and that was wrong. I agree that if you want to see a putt made you should remain until the hole is finished. Pettersen’s caddie seemed to be the only one who understood this. If anyone should be apologizing it should be Hull for running off before a putt was conceded. Somehow Hull has escaped this thing unscathed, with Pettersen taking the brunt of the attack, but Hull’s actions were not of someone who thought the hole was still left to play. Again though, if we use the logic that she did not break any rules, she is also not at fault.
Apologizing after the Americans turned the event around was also much easier. It would have been a bigger challenge if the Europeans had won. It may have potentially tainted the win itself. Even more so if it was the deciding half point. Plus she had to know that once she did it the overwhelming reaction was going to be positive so it’s not as though she was going against the grain and it was going to be so tough to admit she was wrong. People in sport and all different sorts of life admit they make mistakes. For referees, umpires, and players in sports it is not as rare as you might believe. I contend that apologizing was the easy thing to do.
Not apologizing would have been the braver action. First the incident would ignite angst amongst the two different teams. Both sides would dislike each other just that little bit more. It would have done the same for the fans of both sides as well. Seve did all sorts of different and questionable things during his matches to gain an advantage. Just ask Paul Azinger. This caused people to want to watch the event and created unprecedented rivalries amongst the players and fans of the Ryder Cup. It created angst that lives on today. This rivalry has ignited the Ryder Cup and caused it to be more popular. In sports, people hate the other team all the time. Hate helps you to cheer harder, because you want so badly to beat the other team. By not apologizing she would have intensified the rivalry and also driven more people to watch the event the next time it was hosted. Just think how everyone would be salivating at a Pettersen-Lee singles match next go ’round with this issue in their past! This would have driven people who might not normally watch women’s team golf to do so. The match-up without an apology and even Pettersen alluding to her actions being justified before the match would have sent ratings higher.
The counterargument is that Pettersen would not and should not want to win this way. The example of sportsmanship I keep hearing is the 1969 Ryder Cup where Jack Nicklaus famously conceded the short putt to Tony Jacklin to tie. That was for a tie and the U.S. retained the Cup. To that I say it was nice, but Jack knew he was going to keep the Ryder Cup, he has stated that numerous times in interviews. It is just not an equal comparison. I can understand that Pettersen wants to win respectfully, but really it is water under the bridge now that it is over. If Pettersen really did feel that way she would have conceded the putt. She wanted to win, and the desire to win will always be justified in sport. She should embrace that desire.
Pettersen should not have apologized and even pushed harder that she was in the right. She should have said she wanted to win and she won’t apologize for wanting to win. Lee made a mistake, frankly a very stupid mistake, and she has to be more careful in her matches going forward. Not apologizing would have the side affect of increasing the amount of eyes that watch the Solheim Cup which is always a good thing. She might have taken a little bit of bad publicity but it would have been all targeted to a greater good. Embracing the villain is tough, and takes more bravery than being the apologist, but she should have considered the bigger picture of what this would do for the women’s game.
Photo credits: © Thomas Niedermueller