Should Webb Simpson feel insulted by this no-gimme one-footer at the Presidents Cup?

December 12, 2019

A funny thing happened on the first hole of the Presidents Cup’s most anticipated Day 1 match. The U.S. team of Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed each nestled their third shots (a chip and a putt, respectively) up close to the pin, leaving kick-ins. In the fourball format, there was no question that one of the two would make his putt. Pick ’em up, right?

Not so fast. C.T. Pan made his par putt to secure a 4 for the International Team, his partner Hideki Matsuyama just missed his birdie try, and then they watched in silence as Webb Simpson approached his short par putt. He made it, of course, but it was a fascinating statement for the home team to make out of the gate.

The move clearly rubbed at least one member of Team USA the wrong way. Golf Digest’s Shane Ryan heard Simpson’s caddie Paul Tesori fuming after the action on the green. “You guys had two one-footers up the hill and they didn’t give it,” he said. It wasn’t clear if the move had any effect on the American players, but if it did, well, that was probably the point.

The gimme occupies a bizarre spot in golf, a sport that would like to tar and feather Reed for his antics in the sand last week. Some of the basic maxims of the game — play the ball as it lies, post your score, putt everything out — get thrown out completely once golfers’ balls get within a few feet of the cup. Sure, cheating is among golf’s oldest and grandest traditions, but at the professional level there’s nothing quite like the gimme. Read this quote Ryder Cupper Brad Faxon gave our Alan Shipnuck:

“Match play without gimmes would be a totally different game, and not nearly as interesting,” he said. “I love the mental stress that gimmes impose on both teams. You have to decide if a putt is missable but balance that against what your opponent might think of you if you don’t give it. Should you be a hard-ass or go with spirit of the game? If you don’t give the putt, that raises the possibility of the retaliation non-gimme, where a guy didn’t give you a short putt so you don’t give him one on the next hole. Or, do you give a lot of putts early so your opponent thinks you’re a good guy but then give nothing late, just to mess with him? There are infinite scenarios. And that’s what makes match play special—it’s all about getting inside a guy’s head.”

People get wound up all the time about not being given putts, suggesting it’s a slight and an insult. But there’s really only one response: make the putt. If you miss it, you’re proving you didn’t deserve it in the first place. In the end, it’s well within the rights of Matsuyama and Pan to see every putt hit the bottom of the cup — as long as they feel comfortable doing the same on their end. Gimmes are a negotiation, whether in your weekend game or Team USA’s weekend game. Unless you’re playing Boo Weekley, that is: Weekley had no idea you could concede putts on Tour until midway through the 2008 Accenture Match Play.

“It’s very strange,” he said. “It’s just strange to walk up there and just pick up your ball, you know what I mean?”

Things worked out okay for the Internationals, who held off Reed and Simpson to claim the final point of the first session 1-up. Time will tell if they get to return the favor later in the weekend.

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