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Erica Shepherd and the Unconceded Putt

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Erica Shepherd holds the trophy after winning during the final round of match play at the 2017 U.S. Girls' Junior at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo. on Saturday, July 29, 2017. Photo: USGA/Steven Gibbons

The rules of golf always provide interesting fodder for this blogger and the case of Erica Shepherd and Elizabeth Moon storming through Twitter is a great example. It’s a relatively simple situation. Moon moved her ball when it was still in play and was assessed a one stroke penalty which cost her the match.

Despite the fact Moon clearly broke the rules, it is Shepherd who is taking all the heat and, while I understand the confusion, I think the rage is badly misdirected. I’ll explain the situation in more detail so you can fully understand why everyone is angry at Shepherd.

The two young women were in the semi-final match of U.S. Girl’s Junior Championship, which is a match play event. In match play the total number of strokes in the round is irrelevant. The match is based on the outcome of single holes over the course of the round. Basically, if one golfer has a lower score on a hole they get a point. If the two tie a hole, no one gets a point. The two golfers finished 18 holes tied and went to extra holes where if one person gets a lower score the match is over.

During a match play one player can concede during a single hole at any point. Perhaps one player has already taken seven shots while the other has only taken three. The first player might concede the hole meaning the second player wins one point. A player can also concede a short putt in the assumption their opponent will make it. That is what happened, or more particularly, didn’t happen here.

Moon had a relatively short putt to win the match but missed it, leaving herself only a foot or so to tie the hole. Shepherd would normally concede this putt and the match would go on. However, after missing the putt, Moon moved the ball back to its original position to hit it again. That would be fine if Shepherd had verbally conceded the putt, she hadn’t. Therefore, Moon incurred a penalty, lost the hole, and thus the match.

People aren’t angry that Shepherd didn’t concede the putt, she simply didn’t have time to do so. She was almost certainly planning on conceding. People are angry Shepherd didn’t retroactively apply the concession. They suppose she could have simply said, “I meant to concede that, let’s play on.” The fact is she would be in violation of Rule 1.3 if she did so. I’m certain there was a referee on hand when the violation occurred, so there is no getting around this fact.

Rule 1.3: Players must not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule or to waive any penalty incurred.

The penalty for violating rule 1.3 is disqualification. It’s pretty simple. Shepherd had to agree to enforce the rule or both players would have been disqualified and the winner of the other semi-final would have been declared champion. There was no going to the next hole under any circumstances.

I can understand why people think the outcome was unfair, they simply don’t understand the rules of golf. Who I do not forgive are those spewing vitriol on Twitter toward Shepherd. She is a 16-year-old young woman. How anyone can think such hate is justified is beyond my comprehension. What does it say about the person’s character that they have to attack Shepherd? Nothing good.

By the way, Shepherd went on to win in the finals. Good for her!

By Tom Liberman

Tom Liberman is a regular fellow from St. Louis, Mo., who enjoys spending time with his wonderful family and great friends. He writes Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels in his spare time. 

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