On day one of the 2021 Solheim Cup, golf once again hit the headlines for the wrong reasons

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Day one of this year’s Solheim Cup should have been remembered for all the right reasons as some of the world’s best female golfers displayed copious amounts of skill and courage at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.

Europe led by three at the conclusion of the Saturday morning foursomes after securing three-and-a-half points from four matches that were all decided on the final green, and although that advantage was consolidated in the afternoon fourballs, the contest was marred by controversy that will rumble on should it prove decisive in the eventual outcome. 

In the afternoon’s opening encounter, World No. 1 Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing took on the Scandinavian duo Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Madelene Sagstrom

A back-and-forth battle for supremacy reached the par-5 13th green tied, with Korda sizing up a 20-foot eagle putt that would have put the Americans one-up at a crucial stage, only for her effort to sit agonisingly on the edge of the hole. 

On such things can major tournaments be won and lost, so it’s little wonder the 23-year-old sank to her knees in despair. 

Sagstrom, all too aware of such margins having come up agonisingly short at last month’s AIG Women’s Open, picked up her opponent’s ball and threw it back to her in what is a semi-typical match play method of concession. 

Most, if not all, assumed the hole had been halved in birdies and that the game would rumble on as it was to the 14th. 

That is, until match referee Missy Jones decided to intervene and adjudge that Korda’s ball had in fact been overhanging the lip of the hole and therefore should have been given adequate time to fall in as per rule 13.3b of golf’s often perplexing ruleset. 

Related: What’s the ruling when your ball is overhanging the hole?

As Sagstrom pleaded her case – “the ball was never going to drop,” she said – the writing was already on the wall. 

No matter the outcome of the incident, this match – and perhaps the match – was going to be the latest chapter of golf’s horrible histories. 

“The chief referee, match referee, observer and TV observer all deemed that Nelly Korda’s shot on No. 13 was overhanging the hole and was picked up by her opponent before the waiting time had ended. Therefore, her third stroke was treated as holed,” the official and final verdict read. 

Korda and Ewing, obviously, went on to win one-up after the final five holes were halved, with both parties probably feeling aggrieved in some way. 

Related: “Shocking” – Golfers react to Solheim Cup controversy

For the ‘culprit’, Sagstrom was understandably emotional at the conclusion, saying: “I believe in integrity and the honour of the game of golf and I would never pick up a putt that had a chance to go in. 

“I personally don’t agree with the decision but I didn’t follow the 10-second rule, so it sucks right now because I feel like I let my team down.” 

And on the right side of the decision, the Americans both described the incident and the ensuing action as “awkward,” with Korda admitting “you don’t want to win a hole like that.”

Not that it counts for anything tangible on the scoreboard, but the Europeans, and Sagstrom in particular, could perhaps take some solace in the fact that the outcry on social media was largely in her favour.

But what does it say about golf that it continues to shoot itself in the foot even now, in 2021?

Former Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn summed it up perfectly on Twitter, saying: “Let’s be clear, as a player you know instantly if the ball has a chance of dropping. The American players made no claim so this is solely on the referees. 

“Not clear enough for me for the ref to make that decision.”

In a later tweet, Bjorn added: “Do rules officials in golf realise how unbelievably stupid they make our game look.” 

It appears not, Thomas.

Perhaps, to the absolute letter of the law, Jones made the right call. After all, even now it’s hard to make out whether a dimple or two was or wasn’t hanging over the edge of the hole. 

But such rigid application does nothing but drag golf’s reputation through the mud – again! When can we apply a modicum of common sense to a game that’s crying out for it in situations such as this?

A brief trip down memory lane brings into focus the regularity of such pedantic rules-based controversies. In fact, an analysis of Dustin Johnson’s brushes with the golfing law tells you all you need to know.

It’s put a dampener on what has been an incredible Solheim Cup to now. In the short-term, one can hope that at the conclusion of Monday’s all-important singles matches the margin of victory negates the significance of Jones’s dubious call.

And in the long-term, I pray that golf and its refs can learn from this latest episode and maybe adopt a more common-sense approach when the situation calls for it.