The opening day of the Solheim Cup matches was marred by a rules controversy yesterday afternoon that arose in a four-ball match between Americans Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson and Europeans Suzann Pettersen and Carlota Ciganda.  American Captain Meg Mallon expressed frustration both with an incorrect ruling that allowed Ciganda to play from an incorrect spot and with the fact that it took officials 27 minutes to resolve the matter.  

On the par-5 15th hole, with the match all square, both Ciganda and Pettersen hit their second shots into a lateral hazard on the right of the hole.   Ciganda elected to drop out of the hazard under Rule 26-1c, which provides two options:   the ball may be dropped within two club-lengths of either (i) the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the hazard that is equidistant from the hole.      

Ciganda apparently determined that dropping on the opposite margin of the hazard provided her the best shot to the green, and a rules official spent considerable time surveying the situation with a laser in order to determine the point on the opposite margin of the hazard that was equidistant to the hole from the point the ball last crossed the hazard line.  (During the delay, fans were chanting “while we’re young,” the USGA’s slogan in its videos promoting faster play.)  Once that point was established, Ciganda should have dropped the ball within two club-lengths of that point.  

However, inexplicably, Ciganda was permitted to drop the ball about 40 yards behind that point, on line with the flagstick.  From there, she hit her fourth shot (having taken a penalty stroke) onto the fringe and made the putt for par to earn a halve for her team.  She and Pettersen went on to win the match 1-up. 

The controversy continued well into the evening, as team captains met with LPGA officials to dissect exactly what occurred on the 15th hole.   Ultimately the LPGA issued a statement that confirmed that the rules official had made an incorrect ruling that permitted Ciganda to play from an incorrect spot.   The official seemed to have confused two separate rules:  Rule 26-1b, which allows a player to drop behind a hazard on a line demarcated by the point the ball crossed the hazard margin and the hole, and Rule 26-1c (the applicable rule in this case) which requires the player to drop within two club lengths of the relevant point on the opposite margin of the hazard.   

“We regret that an incorrect ruling was given and we apologize for any confusion that was caused on the course for the players,” said the LPGA.   The statement explained that the error did not affect the result of the match since Ciganda dropped in accordance with a ruling from an official.  Rules decisions provide that a player is not penalized in such circumstances.  

Lewis was upset by the incident.  “It took way too long,” she said.  “It killed the momentum of our match, it killed the momentum of the matches behind us, and it’s just not what you want the rules officials to do.”   Mallon agreed.   “The thing I’m most unhappy about is that it took about 25 minutes for this to happen,” she said.  “And from our perspective, the momentum, which was coming in our favor at that point in time, obviously stopped.  If you know anything in sports, you know momentum is everything.”

This morning, the Americans were gearing up to rebound from a 5-3 deficit and trying to put the incident behind them.  “We’ve got to get over it now,” said assistant captain Dottie Pepper.   No doubt, the rules official who made the call would like to put it behind him as well.

Jack Ross is the editor of Ross’s Rulings.