Tour Confidential: To concede or not to concede?

July 31, 2017

Every Sunday night, GOLF.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Erica Shepherd raised more than a few eyebrows when she refused to concede a four-inch putt to Elizabeth Moon on the first playoff hole of their semifinal match at the U.S. Girls’ Junior — a bizarre sequence that handed the hole, and ultimately the match, to Shepherd. Moon had scraped away the putt before Shepherd had a chance to concede but, regardless, Shepherd quickly indicated that she had not given Moon the putt, which led a rules official to step in and award the hole to Shepherd. (After the match, Shepherd said she regretted the situation and that she had made an effort to retroactively concede the putt.) Keeping in mind that Shepherd is only 16 and that she was clearly caught up in the heat of the moment, what’s your read on how this episode played out?

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, GOLF.com (@Jeff_Ritter): Shepherd was absolutely caught up in the heat of competition when she blurted that she hadn’t conceded that putt. And shortly thereafter she felt guilty and tried to convince the official to back off. A very tough situation, especially for young players. Shepherd no doubt learned to stay alert when your opponent is putting, and Moon probably won’t rake away another putt for the rest of her life. I feel bad for both of them. It wasn’t a great look for golf, either.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): Great, great take, Jeff. You crystallized it. I got all caught up with the early social media stuff, which depicted Shepherd’s act as borderline criminal. Once I watched the entire series of events, and got the follow-up on Saturday’s telecast, I could see that it was more complicated. I still can’t fathom how Shepherd could take such genuine joy in winning in such an unsportsmanlike manner—but there’s some nuance here that must be factored.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: They’re kids and haven’t played long enough to know the conventions. The putt of course should have been conceded. But no putt can ever be assumed conceded. A tough but useful lesson for them both.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Agreed, Joe. Jeff nailed it. At first blush it looked bad and the digital age has made it so easy for us all to rush to withering judgment. A painful lesson learned for both players, and another reminder for the rest of us adults that we shouldn’t always jump online and shout like children before taking a few deep breaths.

Josh Berhow, GOLF.com (@Josh_Berhow): Caught up in the moment is the perfect way to describe it. Shepherd obviously said what first came to mind and didn’t realize her words were about to carry huge weight. I don’t think for a second that as soon as she saw her rake the ball she thought, “Got ya!” It’s just an unfortunate learning process. But Shepherd shouldn’t also be looked at as the villain in all of this. Her playing partner’s error put her in a tough spot and she reacted the same way 9 out of 10 other golfers in that tournament would have.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@Johnwould): Not having seen it live, I’ll trust it happened just as Jeff said, and I’ll agree that he nailed it. I know there are strict rules regarding concessions in match play, but I’m wondering if the official could have retroactively accepted the concession and let the match continue. A tough if not impossible situation for both players and the official involved. We had an incident at the last Ryder Cup at Hazeltine where a caddie tried to concede a putt to a player on the opposing team (caddies cannot concede putts). Luckily the player asked the opposing team before picking up the putt, which was not conceded by the other player. With what went on at the last Solheim Cup, it’s so important for both sides to be absolutely clear with any concession given or received.

2. With all that was on the line in that high-pressure situation, what would be a socially acceptable length putt NOT to concede? Eighteen inches? Two feet? Three feet?

Ritter: It all depends on the ebb and flow of the match, and the fact that it’s up to the opponent is a big reason why match play is so compelling. In general, I think anything “inside the leather” should be given in a friendly game.

Passov: More cogent analysis from Mr. Ritter. For me, it’s totally situational. If I’m three down with four to play, I’m going to make you putt that two-footer (but not an in-the-leather putt). And at any time, I’ll factor in the difficulty of the putt. A two-footer down the hill with a touch of break—hey, you gotta putt that. From two feet, slightly uphill, mostly straight, pick it up. If we wanted to make this “fair,” just make everybody putt everything out, period. But Jeff’s right. The psychology of “concessions” is part of what makes match play compelling and relevant.

Bamberger: If the match is serious, not casual, anything over eight inches should not be conceded, in my opinion. I’m not sure conceded putts improve the game at all.

Sens: There is no one-size fits all rule for match play concessions except maybe this one: you should always be prepared to putt out everything. If it really is a gimme in your mind, then it shouldn’t bother you to have to tap it in.

Berhow: This of course all depends on the specific match and if you are playing with friends, your boss, or, in a specific case when you should be very generous, your father-in-law. It’s a tricky topic. When I was in college and played in a nine-hole Monday night league I remember one 50-something guy not being too pleased with what I was (or wasn’t) giving him. He let me know about it afterward. I think he shot 51. Anyway, like Sens said, if you can’t make those putts you don’t deserve to get them handed to you anyway.

Wood: If you have to wonder, it’s not a gimme. There is no hard and fast rule. A dead straight three footer on perfect greens would be much preferable to, say, a 14 incher on late in the day poa annua or spiked up greens. There is so much more involved than length. Conditions, break of putt, the moment … all contribute to whether a putt is good or not.

3. Bernhard Langer won his 10th senior major title (and third major of the season) at the Senior Open Championship on Sunday. Langer is the first player since Jack Nicklaus to ring up three senior majors in a year, but is his accomplishment in any way tainted by his continued use of a long putter that — depending on your view — is either anchored or very close to anchored?

Ritter: I have mixed emotions. What Langer is doing is remarkable, and his stroke has been green-lit by the Tour, so, nothing to see then, right? I still find myself wishing he could find a stroke that pushes him away from the knife’s edge he’s currently riding.

Passov: I’m in awe of what Langer is getting done at age 59. Incredible for him to dominate guys that are nearly 10 years younger. We’ve discussed his putting method before—and I’m not a fan of that. I’d voice a stronger objection, however, if he were the only guy on the Old Dudes Tour who used it. He’s not. And as Jeff points out, if the PGA Tour continues to sanction how he does it, then there’s no taint by me—just head-scratching.

Bamberger: It’s not tainted at all. The stroke has to be presumed correct or his playing partners and the rules officials have otherwise abdicated their responsibility and I don’t believe they have.

Sens: Maybe I’m biased from my lifelong New England Patriots fandom, but I can’t blame Langer for taking full advantage of the latitude in the rules. It would be even more impressive if Langer did it without that eye-brow raising stroke. You know, like the way the Pats have managed to dominate for a decade no matter how fully inflated the football is.

Berhow: If the governing bodies say it’s OK I won’t argue on this one. And if the ball goes in the hole, the ball goes in the hole. No style points here.

Wood: It is a remarkable feat without a doubt. I just don’t know how a rule can be written like it is. Even if he is using a completely legal method, the rule is poorly written. There is a get out of jail free card with the “intent” wording that I don’t agree with. Apply it to other rules: “I didn’t intend to use that wedge with square grooves, it just found its way into my bag.” Doesn’t matter, you get penalized. “I didn’t intend to ground my club in the hazard.” Doesn’t matter, you get penalized. “I didn’t intend to be five minutes late to the tee.” Doesn’t matter, you get penalized. The rule is horribly written and the word “intent” should be eliminated.

4. Bigger RBC Canadian Open story: Johnny Vegas shooting a seven-under 65 and winning a playoff for his second consecutive Canadian Open title; Ian Poulter posting a final-round eight-under 64 to finish one back; or Brent McLaughlin, the event’s tattooed tournament director, being suspended halfway through the tourney?

Ritter: As Shipnuck chronicled for SI a few years ago, Vegas is a fantastic dude with a compelling backstory that makes him easy to root for. That said, the sudden and quiet removal of the Canadian’s colorful director just screams for a follow-up.

Passov: I’m a big Ian Poulter fan simply because I think he’s one of the true characters in the game—hugely entertaining. I think he’s great for golf no matter how you feel about him. That’s why it’s fun to see him back in the hunt again. Still, this one’s all about Johnny Vegas. Not often a guy defends with a final-round 64 the first year, and 65 this year. Wow! As for the tournament director? Yes, it’s bizarre, but how slow of a news week does it have to be when a tournament director would be the lead story? Solid third place for me.

Bamberger: Oh, Vegas, Poulter, biker guy, in that order, and no question about it.

Sens: Vegas’ defense is hands down the biggest story of the three. But I’m going to withhold ranking the other two until we get the full lowdown on the tournament director. Maybe he was busy under-inflating Vegas’ golf balls to give him the decisive edge. As for Poulter finishing close but no cigar in a stroke play event, I dunno. Seems like he’s made a career of that. Not so exciting to me.

Berhow: It has to be Vegas, right? Although Ian Poulter is sure coming alive since he got his PGA Tour card fiasco figured out a couple of months ago.

Wood: My gosh, I’ve no idea what happened, but to me the biggest story is Brent McLaughlin’s being removed mid tournament. It’s just bizarre and begs for a follow up.

5. At the Aberdeen Management Ladies Scottish Open, Karrie Webb said the lack of a scoreboard on the 18th hole left her unsure of what score she needed to make to win the title; as it turned out, Webb needed to make an eagle on the par-5 to force a playoff. (There *was* a jumbo screen near the green that occasionally flashed scores and each group had a walking scorer who had access to the full leaderboard.) Sour grapes from Webb, or fair gripe?

Ritter: Webb is a great player, but she bogeyed 16 and doubled 17 to blow her lead. She was running hot. This one feels like sour grapes.

Bamberger: You gotta have a scoreboard. This is supposed to be the big leagues!

Passov: Anytime you get an actual Hall-of-Fame member, a very popular one at that, on the cusp of winning a tournament after a bit of a drought, it would make for a great story. I’m befuddled why there wouldn’t be a scoreboard on 18 — of all places NOT to have one — but this one’s still on Karrie Webb. She’s a veteran with all the experience anyone could want in that situation but got beat by a combo of her own late mistakes and by a scorchingly low round by someone who was playing with no pressure. Bad luck. Move on.

Berhow: A little bit of both. There should be a board there. But Webb also has nearly 60 professional wins and should have found a way to figure out where she stood regardless.

Sens: I’m with you guys here. This is the information age. If Webb needed to know something, she could have found out. As Jeff says, she was running hot. In the clear light of morning, after a good night’s sleep, I imagine she’ll want to take a mulligan on that gripe.

Wood: Agree with you guys. In that situation you can find out. Your caddie can find out. Heck ask a spectator on the tee to check their phone. Heck check your own phone. There are multiple ways to find out without causing a significant delay.

6. Who wins the career grand slam first: Jordan Spieth, who needs a Wanamaker Trophy, or Rory McIlroy, who needs a green jacket?

Ritter: Augusta is a great setup for Rory but he has bad vibes there, and it feels like they may drag on for a while. If Jason Day didn’t go berserk at Whistling Straits, Spieth might already have a grand slam. I think Jordan gets there first — but not at Quail Hollow.

Passov: Phil Mickelson extracts his revenge on Shinnecock Hills in ’18 to become the next career slam winner.

Bamberger: The question presumes that one will get it first and they both will eventually. Hmmm. Arnold, Snead, Floyd, Watson and others show how hard it is. Phil. As the wise man said, we shall see. Having said that, the Masters is an easier event to win. Simply fewer people to beat.

Sens: Spieth. His highest gear may not rev as fast as Rory’s, but there’s less volatility in his game and there’s no one since Tiger who’s mentally tougher. Plus, he gets first crack at it, which gives him the statistical edge in Vegas, too.

Berhow: Maybe Royal Birkdale is still too fresh for me, but the answer is Jordan. He’s gonna bring his game that’s good enough to get it done more often.

Wood: As someone who unfortunately had a very front row seat to Jordan’s amazing finish at Birkdale, I’d have to go with Spieth. There’s some magic there that can’t be measured by any statistic.