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“Are you effing kidding me?”: The ins and outs of conceding putts

September 21, 2023
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PA Images

Match play brings out a sentimentality of sportsmanship. Handshakes and hats off at the conclusion of the match and putts generously conceded during it. Yet if the last Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in 2021 set a tone, it’s that you might not see much of the latter.

Ironically, in a year when the Nicklaus-Jacklin Award was created to celebrate perhaps the most famous conceded putt of all time that created a tie in the 1969 Matches, several players got lock-jaw when their opponents were inside three feet.

On the eighth hole of the first morning’s Foursomes, Viktor Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger stayed silent when Justin Thomas hit his putt two-and-a-half feet from the hole. Incredulous, Thomas held his putter horizontally to show it was “inside the leather,” the unofficial but traditional mark for a concession. In the afternoon Four-Ball session, the Americans administered a little payback by making Shane Lowry putt a two-footer on the first hole. Continuing the tit-for-tat, Hovland (this time partnered with Tommy Fleetwood), refused to give Bryson DeChambeau a two-and-a-half footer, eliciting a glare from Bryson where one could almost see the thought bubble above his head saying, “Are you effing kidding me?”

The beginnings of the conceded putt

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Matt Sullivan

That behavior ran against a passage in the 1909 issue of the USGA Golf Bulletin where Horace F. Smith, president of the Southern Golf Association, wrote “Custom has created a sentiment favoring such concessions among enthusiastic golfers, courteous and chivalrous young men who delight in fair play and the observance of generous liberality towards an opponent.”

Perhaps no such conceded putt was as generous as when Sergio Garcia gave Rickie Fowler a 17-footer (yes, a 17-footer) on the seventh hole of their quarter-final match in the 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play. Garcia, who had about a seven-footer, offered good-good for a halve. Garcia’s reasoning was that he felt bad about taking so long on the previous hole but the move backfired when he lost 1 down.

Garcia, for his part, did not regret the decision. “This is a gentleman's game, and lately it hasn't felt like it's been like that,” he said. “This is the way I was brought up by my dad, you know, playing golf.”

Hard feelings can be had

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Stuart Franklin

The same could not be said of Suzann Pettersen at the 2015 Solheim Cup. Partnered with Charley Hull and all square on the 17th hole against the U.S. pair of Alison Lee and Brittany Lincicome, Lee ran her putt maybe 18 inches to two feet past the hole. Hull began walking off the green and the others followed. The score was announced as all square. Pettersen, however, claimed the putt was never conceded, the U.S. lost the hole and the match, and Pettersen was vilified for her stance, ultimately apologizing.

Clearly, Pettersen was taking the stance of H.S.C. Everard, who once wrote “Some feel preternaturally aggrieved when asked to hole out a short putt; it should be scarcely necessary to say that they have absolutely no grounds whatever for annoyance at such a request. … In ‘serious golf’ the reply should be the courteous one: ‘Putt it out, mine enemie.’”

While conceded putts are generally considered good sportsmanship, sometimes it turns into a form of gamesmanship instead. It is often considered strong strategy to liberally give putts early in a match only to clam up when the heat was on. It was a move Walter Hagen employed during a quarterfinal match with Leo Diegel in the 1925 PGA Championship. Hagen consistently gave Diegel putts then at the last refused to concede a two-footer. Distracted by the sudden turn of events, Diegel blew the bunny and eventually lost the match.

A golf lifer’s thoughts on conceding putts

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coffeekai

All of which begs the question, what is the proper etiquette regarding conceded putts? As a long-time golfer that has played a fair share of competition, here’s a few thoughts.

First, never, ever, EVER expect a putt to be given. My mindset has long been that if it’s good then it should be no problem to knock it in.

Don’t be overly generous. An 18-incher or even a two-footer is fine, but routinely picking up three-footers or longer is simply not golf.

Be aware of the rules regarding conceded putts. For instance, once you concede a putt, it’s conceded. There is no taking it back.

Be decisive and be clear. Firmly and quickly state “that’s good” or “pick it up.” If you’re waffling at all, then don’t give it.

Don’t offer “good-good.” If you’re offering it, you’re showing you’re afraid to putt. Your opponent doesn’t need that information.

Don’t delay marking your ball in the hopes of getting a concession. When I see players doing that I’m tempted to say, “That’s not good—and neither is the one coming back.”

Also, you cannot retroactively concede a putt. I once caddied in a women’s club championship semifinal. My player, 1 up playing 17, hit her approach on the green and her opponent found the bunker. Walking to the green my player said, “I can’t win—I’m not going to be here next week for the final. I never thought I’d get this far.” I told her that she had to concede the hole and match immediately because if she won the hole and won the match, it would be too late.

It wasn’t quite Nicklaus-Jacklin, but it was the right thing to do nonetheless.