Tour Confidential: Could the Sergio Garcia-Matt Kuchar concession controversy have been avoided?

April 1, 2019

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss (surprise, surprise) more rules hiccups, the USGA fighting back, Tiger Woods’s return to Bay Hill, overrated and underrated golf courses and more.

Kevin Kisner won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, but in yet another case of a bizarre rules controversy hijacking a tournament, the most buzzed-about drama of the week revolved around a missed tap-in by Sergio Garcia. On the seventh hole of his Saturday match with Matt Kuchar, Garcia tried to scrape in a short putt that Kuchar admitted later he would have conceded. But Garcia acted so hastily that he hadn’t given Kuchar a chance to concede. That led Kuchar to call in a rules official, who informed the players that Kuchar could not concede the hole retroactively. The match went to the 18th hole, where Kuchar won 2 up. Afterward, Kuchar said that Garcia had suggested that Kuchar could have made things right by conceding another hole. Presumably the whole bit of awkwardness also would have/could have been avoided if Kuchar had in effect ignored the gaffe and proceeded to the eighth tee. Should Kuchar have felt obligated to make things right?

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@dylan_dethier): It’s tough knowing where to start with this one. Here’s a list of what should have happened: Garcia should have waited for Kuchar to give him the putt. Kuchar, who may not have been watching very closely (to see how short the putt was, etc.) shouldn’t have raised the issue to a rules official. Once the deed was done, Sergio should have dropped the issue. Instead, he couldn’t let it go, because that’s just who he is. I think both would do it differently if given a mulligan, but it was a revealing moment.

Sean Zak, assistant editor (@sean_zak): Answer the question, Dethier! No, Kuchar should not have felt obligated to “make things right.” It’s an athletic competition, and his opponent made a stupid mistake. Perhaps, could Kuchar have ran in and yelled to Sergio, “IT’S GOOD!” Yeah, he probably could. But Sergio is the child here. He made the mistake. It begins and ends with him.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@jeff_ritter): Agreed, Zak. This wasn’t gamesmanship from Kuchar. This happened in a flash. Kuchar may have been looking another direction, pondering his score, or his next shot or his upcoming lunch. Either way, it’s on Sergio to wait for Kooch to snap to attention and offer a concession before swiping at his ball. Garcia has played enough match-play to know that. To be honest, I’m surprised this has turned into the controversy it has.

Josh Sens, writer (@joshsens): First El Tucan. Now El Tap-in. Under the rules, Kuchar did nothing wrong. It was a refereed match, and the ref, fulfilling his role, was there to ask if the putt had been conceded; Kuchar, answering honestly, said it hadn’t been. By the letter of the law, the stroke counts. But this wasn’t a great look for either player. Sergio came off as childish and tempestuous, and Kuchar, if you go by his own account of what transpired (“I said, Sergio, I didn’t say anything; I’m not sure how this works out”), came off as coy and passive-aggressive. I dunno. They say that golf reveals you for who you are.

Zak: So does tipping 😉

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Time for Sergio to man-up. (Is that phrase still permitted?) He missed a putt that was not conceded. In everyday golf, even country-club golf, we’re going to break the rules and say the putt was good after the fact. In fact, I didn’t know until today that that you can’t actually do that. But at this level? Garcia rushed, Garcia missed, Garcia has only himself to blame. As for the murky claim that Garcia said that Kuchar should concede a subsequent hole, that makes absolutely no sense. I have to think something was lost in translation here.

In situations like this one, where both parties are in agreement, should the rules allow a player to retroactively concede a hole?

Dethier: My first instinct is “yeah, of course,” but I’m not sure you want the door open to giving putts that have already been missed. I mean, golfers already do that all the time (halfheartedly swipe at a two-footer, then mutter “that was good”) but formalizing the process feels unnecessary. Still, maybe there’s room for some sort of tacit understanding in situations like this.

Zak: Similar to Dylan, I’m going to take a stand. No, there should be no retroactive concessions. Match play of the highest order — WGC, Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, etc. — should require golfers to play as if it’s stroke play: your ball is not holed until it is. If your opponent decides that you are “good” from a specific distance and situation, concessions are allowed. Know what’s not allowed anymore? ASSUMPTIONS.

Sens: Definitely not. Big can of worms that doesn’t need to be opened.

Ritter: No. But as the rules of the game slowly bend toward players being allowed to use the shrug emoji to explain away violations, I could almost see it happening someday.

Bamberger: I’m with my brothers-in-arm, carrying the book here. As much as possible, for the good of the game, the rules try to tell you what you must do. Otherwise, there is ensuing craziness.

This Sergio Garcia-Matt Kuchar exchange will be long remembered.
This Sergio Garcia-Matt Kuchar exchange will be long remembered.
Getty Images

Garcia has become infamous for his mid-round tantrums. Admittedly it’s a hard to thing to quantify but how much do you suspect Garcia’s inability to temper his emotions has hurt him as a player?

Dethier: Sergio has always acted like the Golf Gods are targeting him specifically. But this is microcosmic of the sort of self-inflicted wounds he’s dealt himself. The very next hole, he missed another putt and was so enraged that he made a full-swing lash at the ball. You could see smoke coming out his ears. I’m not here to moralize; I’m not offended by him showing off his frustration. But yeah, it definitely seems to hold him back.

Zak: Think about his One Shining Moment ™. When Sergio faced off on Sunday at the 2017 Masters, he had a very up-and-down round. He struggled in the middle of it, and got behind Rose. Did he curse the sky? No. He kept cool, and you know what? That might have been the most important (and overlooked) facet of his major victory. Deep breaths could do him some good.

Sens: It cuts both ways. The fire has felt like a big part of his Ryder Cup success. It’s when the passion mutates into self-pity that it hurts him. As long as we’re armchair psychologizing him, that seems a good way of assessing Sergio: team play makes him better because he’s forced to look beyond himself.

Ritter: I don’t think Mopey Sergio has ever surfaced at a Ryder Cup. He’s all fire and fist pumps and positive energy, and look at his career record there. Now look at the majors. His Masters win was epic, but there’s a lot of meat on the bone from the prime of his career, and I’ll always believe that attitude played a huge part in it.

Bamberger: Sergio is on my personal list of the 250 best players of all-time. In a good mood, he is an absolute delight, but he’s often not. He’s a moody man who plays moody golf. You can’t ask him to be Nick Price. As the great man says, he is who he is, or something like that.

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge Kisner, who was left off Ryder Cup team (Lee Westwood took a Twitter jab about it). Should Kiz need a pick, is there any chance Tiger leaves him off the Presidents Cup team?

Dethier: It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but wow was Kisner rock-solid. I got to caddie in his group last week at the Valspar; his ball-striking was incredibly consistent and every putt he hit had a chance to go in. This week, those putts went in. Kisner is clearly a match-play killer; his current form makes him a threat at any course with fast greens and a demanding setup.

Zak: I certainly think people could get caught up in this performance in September. Should they? I’m not sure. There always seems to be a player on the outside looking in who had some great victory earlier that year. What matters most for captain’s picks is *some* positive form and experience. If he’s playing like trash, you can’t expect him to be picked. If he’s playing alright, this week will bode well for him.

Sens: There’s always a chance. Golf is streaky. Guys catch fire. And there are only so many spots. But smart money is on Kisner to have one of them. Let’s face it, though, Tiger could put me and Zak on the team and the U.S. would still be close to even money to win.

Ritter: Kisner is a steady driver and gritty competitor who can pour in a putt from anywhere at anytime. Sounds like the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to face, no?

Bamberger: Kisner could go of-for-the-summer-and-fall and be not deserving of a spot. But I don’t see that happening.

Tiger Woods advanced to the quarterfinals of the Match Play, where he fell to Lucas Bjerregaard.
Tiger Woods advanced to the quarterfinals of the Match Play, where he fell to Lucas Bjerregaard.
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Woods had a solid week in Austin, ousting Rory McIlroy in their Sweet 16 matchup before losing in the next round to Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark. With the Masters just two weeks away, are you more or less bullish about Woods’ chances at Augusta after his Match Play campaign?

Dethier: I’d say about the same. Despite Woods’s Friday rally and blockbuster takedown of McIlroy in a super-fun Saturday morning matchup, we saw plenty of inconsistency. The short misses with the putter are worrisome, and he hasn’t been fully dialed in with stock iron shots. Will Augusta be the first time he puts a full week of top-tier golf together?

Zak: I doubt he puts a full week of top-tier golf together there, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win. Look at it this way: he beat Aaron Wise, Patrick Cantlay, a whimpering McIlroy on Saturday morning and lost to a really great round from Bjerregaard. Take that form alone and I think he’s feeling good-not-great. Good-not-great for Tiger at Augusta is T15 or T20. He’ll use this week in between to carve that game into contention. In short, yes, I’m more bullish.

Ritter: I didn’t see Tiger getting out of the group stage, and even though his putting remains an issue I’m a little more bullish. I see him being a big factor at Augusta. Also, congrats to Bjerregaard for beating him, and congrats to us for spelling Bjerregaard correctly all week.

Sens: I already told you all: Tiger’s gonna come in second to Justin Rose at Augusta. I have so decreed it. They don’t even have to play the tournament.

Bamberger: He lost to a golfer from Denmark named Lucas Bjerragaard by missing a five-footer. Less bullish. He could win at Augusta, if the days are warm and relatively still, but he’d need every card to fall his way. In other words, he’d need help. This is not the Tiger of yore or lore in any way. But his golf is still very impressive, and for him to be where he is in his life, all things considered, is more impressive yet.

Woods lost his match to Bjerregaard by missing a four-and-a-half putt on the 18th green. Woods has drained more clutch putts than we can count, but short misses in big spots from the 14-time major champ are a rare sight. Over Tiger’s career, what single-shot (or putt) miscue most stands out?

Dethier: At the 2009 Barclays, Woods faced a seven-footer for birdie at No. 18 to tie the lead. He always made these; it felt like a foregone conclusion. But this one sailed past the left edge, leaving him looking truly shocked. Seriously, check out the look he gives in the clip below. Combine that with his loss to Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship a few weeks earlier, and Woods was showing signs of mortality.

Zak: [ponders for 20 minutes] His missed eagle putt on 15 at Augusta in 2011. We’re going to talk about this on a great podcast called A Pod Unlike Any Other, so stay tuned for that in just one week. For now, just watch the YouTube clip, from his epic approach to the missed shorty.

Sens: I have distant memories of Tiger missing a putt early in the final round of the 2009 PGA Championship, (the fourth hole, I think), when he was paired with YE Yang. There was a Buster Douglas-over-Tyson quality to that round, and that putt seemed like the beginning of it. Wait a minute. What? He can be beaten?

Bamberger: I’m going with 2009 in New Jersey as well. I was standing there, watching Tiger’s playing partner, Zach Johnson, who was sitting on the end of his bag at the end of a long work week. When Tiger missed, Johnson looked like he had seen a ghost.

Ritter: The chip-yips are still hard to forget, but for one shot I’ll go a little earlier — the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he came up one shot short to Angel Cabrera. Tiger’s putt to tie him on 18 was a tricky 30-footer, and it was a stretch to think he’d actually make it … but he still had that aura back then. He lost that tournament in a few other spots on the back nine, but I still remember sitting on my couch watching him miss that putt on 18 and thinking, “He’s human after all.”

With the match-play format taking center stage this week, fans were reminded that included in the recent revisions to Rules of Golf were some terminology changes. For example, players don’t “halve” a hole anymore, they “tie” it, and instead of inquiring about the “score” of a match, golfers should now ask about a match’s “status.” (The rules makers also dashed from the golfing lexicon the term “dormie.”) Your suggestions, please, for *other* golf terms that should be replaced or retired?

Zak: All I know is some people [cough, cough Doug Ferguson] really hate the phrase double eagle used in place of Albatross. I don’t disagree with him, so perhaps we could get a distinct ruling from the USGA on that one.

Sens: Mulligan. Just call it what is is: cheating. And to be clear, I cheat that way a lot.

Dethier: “Grow the game.” Gah! Make it stop.

Ritter: Rub of the green. Just say you got lucky or unlucky. There are probably a few others. I wonder if Bamberger will come up with anything.

Bamberger: The rules are the rules but the rule book cannot dictate the language we use. I don’t care for “caddy” because as we all know its roots are French (cadet) and “caddie” just seems so much more Frenchy. I like “trap” over “bunker” but not always. I like “pin” over “flagstick.” I don’t like “hole location” or “green complex” and I despise “signature hole.” Also, I don’t care for “one-shotter” for a par-3, as it implies you should make an ace or whatever. Speaking of which, I don’t like caddies or hosts to tell me that, quote, “Hogan said this was his favorite par-3 in the world.” Please. I don’t like “cover.” It’s pretentious, 220 to cover. Caddie is not pretentious, it just honors “cadet.” Going back to the man, I don’t like “Mr. Hogan.” Hogan, or even Ben, is fine. I actually once heard a person criticize Tiger calling Hogan “Ben” and not Mr. Hogan. Please. There’s nothing wrong with “tie” but I’m sticking with “halved.” The use of the word “dormie,” also from the French, always leaves me feeling unsure of myself, so if it dies I will not sit shiva for it. A far better question for “What is his GHIN index?” is this: What can he shoot? I don’t like “4-par.” Par itself is becoming obsolete and will die a slow death in the next half-century, I believe, just as the niblick did. There will be no par and clubs will be stamped by loft. In don’t like “penalty area.” I like “hazard.” I like lake for any body of water, unless it is an ocean or a burn. The USGA does not have a representative on our copy desk. Thank god for that. I reserve the capital G version for more important occasions. I don’t like “patrons” at Augusta. They’re fans. The “practice tee” of course is a driving range for most of us. I don’t like “track” for a course. I don’t like “links-style.” I do like the question marks on John Huh’s golf bag. I do like downswing. Forward swing sounds absurd. Overseeding is really more seed so why don’t people just say that? The master of golf language is Trevino. He grew up on courses with barancas but I’ve never heard him use the word. When his ball was in one I’m sure he had a more descriptive word.