ROME — Rickie Fowler conceding Tommy Fleetwood a two foot, eight-inch putt for the win on the 16th hole was a strange technicality that both ended the Ryder Cupaand sparked some controversy with viewers at home.
Their argument was simple: It’s a putt to win the Ryder Cup, so make him putt it!
I get that, but I also don’t agree with it. I was on the 16th green when it happened and to be honest, I thought Fowler made the right move. The concession was a little surprising from the ground, but not notably so—at least not based on my read on the situation. But clearly it was hyped as a big moment on the broadcast, so it created something of an outrage gap between those on site and those at home.
Naturally, some of the details have been lost along the way, so let’s review: Europe had just secured its 14th point and was now a half point away from winning the Ryder Cup. At that point, there were four potential half points on the course.
Sepp Straka, 1 down in his match with Justin Thomas, was in a greenside bunker in two on the par-5 18th hole. Getting up-and-down would’ve given him a great chance of securing the half point.
Shane Lowry was potentially sitting on the winning half point, too. He was tied with Jordan Spieth on the par-3 17th.
Robert MacIntyre, tied in his match with Wyndham Clark on the 15th hole, was the third iron in the fire.
And then, of course, there was the Fleetwood-Fowler match. One up coming into the reachable par-4 16th hole, Fleetwood lasered his drive onto the green, within 30 feet. But that was just after Fowler flared his drive into the water. From the drop zone, Fowler then wedged his third shot to six feet and was due to putt next.
The situation was that if Fowler missed his putt, Europe wins. If Fowler makes and Fleetwood makes, Europe wins. If Fowler makes and Fleetwood misses, the hole is halved and Fleetwood remains 1 up with two holes to play, so the half point is still floating between these four matches.
All of this happening at once must have been very exciting to watch on television, but let me tell you: From the context of the course, nobody knew where the winning half point would fall. The European and U.S. team players were scattered around the sidelines in each of these matches.
The fans at home had the perfect vantage point to see it all, and digest it in a way that made more sense that those actually in it. Justin Rose and Jon Rahm, for example, sprinted through the crowd from the 18th hole after Matt Fitzptrick’s match, so they could get to the 16th hole to see Fleetwood’s match, then wondered if they should’ve stayed on the 18th to see Straka potentially get the winning point.
If Fowler doesn’t concede that putt, the delayed proceedings would’ve simply meant the half point formality would’ve been completed elsewhere. In an alternate universe, Lowry sticks his shot into the par-3 17th close and secures the half point as Fowler is reading his par putt. Or Straka drops his birdie putt as Fleetwood begins reading his two-footer.
“When Fleetwood, closed it out, I was on 18 green. He robbed me a chance of my moment,” Straka said. “I’m joking, the feeling was pure joy. I was ecstatic."
DataGolf at the time pegged the chances of the U.S. team flipping all four of those matches into the win column at 0.1 percent. It wasn’t going to happen.
So rather than a needless delay, Fowler was the chess grandmaster who toppled his own king after seeing the inevitable outcome.
Well played, and see you in two years.
It ended an emotionally charged Ryder Cup not with an American miss, but a gentle moment of sportsmanship. It brought the momentary confusion to an end and allowed Fleetwood the richly deserved honor of securing the Cup. Given the way he played all week, no European fan would’ve dreamed for anything different.
“I was quite pleased when he gave me the putt,” he said.