Rickie Fowler’s generous Ryder Cup concession? Major winners weigh in
After nine Ryder Cup appearances and one more, in 2018, as the U.S. captain, Jim Furyk knows a thing or two about golf’s most charged event. He understands how emotions can heighten, how momentum can quickly swing and how difficult it can be during Sunday singles to know exactly when and where the decisive putt might drop.
Furyk was back in the Ryder Cup mix in Rome last week, this time as an assistant captain under Zach Johnson. Late on Sunday, with only four matches still on the course, the U.S. was in a deeply precarious position — though not quite dead. Having started the day in a daunting five-point hole, the Americans had played well enough in the first wave of singles matches to give their second-wave teammates an oh-so-slim chance to pull off a Miracalo at Marco Simone.
Assistant captains aren’t permitted to advise their players mid-match but they can hoot and holler for them, which was Furyk’s role on Sunday. With the Americans hanging on by a grass blade, Furyk joined the final match of the session: Wyndham Clark vs. Robert MacIntyre. By the time that contest reached 15, Clark had seized the momentum, having won the previous two holes to pull even with his Scottish rival. If each of Clark’s teammates still on the course delivered a full point, the U.S. Open champion was positioned to become the U.S. hero.
Clark had no such opportunity, because the Ryder Cup instead was decided by the match ahead of his: Rickie Fowler vs. Tommy Fleetwood. Fleetwood, who was 2 up through 15 holes, needed just a half-point to secure the Cup for Europe, and he would earn it in bizarre fashion.
After Fowler splashed his tee shot on the drivable par-4 16th, he took a drop and then hit a tidy wedge that left him about 6 feet for par. Fleetwood, meanwhile, had blistered his tee shot to the back-middle of the green, which set up an eagle try that he left 2 feet 8 inches short. Fowler’s only hope of the Cup not being decided on this green was to make his putt and hope Fleetwood missed. An unlikely scenario — so unlikely to Fowler that he decided to concede the putt, and the Cup, to his opponent.
It undoubtedly was a sporting thing to do, but was it sensible? On the NBC telecast, analyst Brad Faxon was surprised by Fowler’s generosity, while a legion of American fans on social media was outright salty. For the Cup?! Make him hole it!
Neither Fowler nor his teammates were asked about the concession afterward, and Fleetwood said only, “I was quite pleased when he gave me the putt.” But on Tuesday, Furyk did weigh in, on a press call for the World Champions Cup, a senior event inspired by the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup; later this year Furyk will captain a U.S. team versus squads from Europe, captained by Darren Clarke, and the rest of the world, helmed by Ernie Els. The event is slated for Dec. 7-10 at a Florida course called — how ’bout this! — The Concession, which was named in homage to the Ryder Cup-tying two-footer Jack Nicklaus gave to Tony Jacklin at the 1969 matches at Royal Birkdale.
Given Furyk was a hole behind Fowler’s match at Marco Simone, he said didn’t get a real-time sense for what was happening ahead of him. But Furyk did say Fowler’s concession wasn’t much of a discussion point for the American players at day’s end.
“We didn’t talk much about it at all actually as a team,” Furyk said. “And at the end of the day the other matches didn’t work out, so I’ve got no fault with Rick there and I got no issues, but I need to kind of go back and see [the replay].”
Also on the conference call with Furyk was Els, another major winner with much international team competition experience. At the 2003 Presidents Cup in South Africa, Els, then No. 2 in the world, famously dueled Tiger Woods, the world No. 1, in a sudden-death playoff for all the marbles. After Els and Woods tied the first three holes and darkness was setting in, U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus and International captain Gary Player agreed to call the match a draw.
When asked about Fowler’s concession, Els said on the call, “Listen, you’ve got to ask Rickie that. How far was Tommy’s putt, you say?”
“Two feet 8 inches,” a reporter said.
“I mean, 2 feet 8 inches, I think the guy’s going to make it nine out of 10 times and he goes to 17 2 down.”
Actually, if you look at Fleetwood’s 2023 putting stats on the PGA Tour, his make-rate from 3 feet and in is even better than that, at 99.70 percent (or 669 for 771). That range, of course, includes many teeny-tiny tap-ins, but even when you zoom out slightly to 3- to 5-footers, Fleetwood’s stroke is still nearly a sure thing. Of the 186 putts he has taken from that range in 2023, he made 165 of them, or 90.86 percent. Ryder Cup pressure can make putting strokes do wacky things, but in that moment — with Rome (figuratively) burning around him — Fowler felt raising the white flag was the noble thing to do.
Qualms? You won’t hear any from Els.
“The Europeans were at 14 points, so they just needed basically a half a point,” he said. “It was going to be very, very — nearly impossible for Rickie to turn that match around. If he makes that putt, Fleetwood makes his birdie, the match is over. He goes dormie, 2 up with two to go. Europe’s got a half a point at least. It’s tough to get on to Rickie saying that he might have cost [the U.S.] — it’s just not true.”
However you feel about Fowler’s gesture, there will be no such weird conclusion to the World Champions Cup. That’s because the Sunday singles matches in the three-day event will be conducted as stroke play.
“No gimmees,” Furyk said. “So get to watch the old guys shake it in from 2 feet, 8 inches.”