the concession, part II

Ryder Cup 2023: Rickie Fowler conceded the Ryder Cup’s clinching putt and the golf world has questions

October 01, 2023

Richard Heathcote

It either makes no sense or perfect sense that a Ryder Cup that had turned openly antagonistic on Saturday ended with a gesture of exceeding sportsmanship on Sunday.

That Rickie Fowler conceded a short putt to Tommy Fleetwood on the 16th hole to assure Europe the half point it needed to win the Cup was no doubt classy. The lingering question is whether it was smart.

First, the situation: In need of a Hail Mary in Sunday singles from the start of the day to pull off a comeback victory, the U.S. had to win all four of the final matches still on the course just for a tie overall by the time Fowler and Fleetwood arrived on the tee of the drivable par-4 16th hole. That’s when Fowler flared his tee shot into the water, and Fleetwood drove the green. At that point, the outlook for the Americans was exceptionally grim. But when you’re talking about clinching the Ryder Cup, you might as well make it official, right?

Actually, no. This was the weird part. After Fowler dropped and got up-and-down for par, Fleetwood lagged his eagle putt to two feet, eight inches. As the ball came to rest, NBC’s Paul Azinger even remarked that Fleetwood would certainly be required to make the subsequent birdie putt given the stakes.

Azinger was wrong. Fowler told Fleetwood the putt was good, and the Englishman quickly snapped up his ball, and thrust his hands into the air. The most important trophy in golf was secured by … a somewhat decent lag putt.

It so happens that Azinger had spoken to us earlier this summer about never giving a putt to win the Ryder Cup. “Giving a putt like that would be the rarest of rares in most instances when you have the match on the line,” he said then. But if the announcer was one stunned witness, he had plenty of company on social media.

Now, in Fowler’s defense, the stats say PGA Tour players make more than 99 percent of putts from inside three feet. But the counterargument is that a putt to win the Ryder Cup probably falls in the 1 percent range of most difficult three-footers to make.

Yes, a lot still needed to go right for the Americans to have a chance. Fleetwood would have needed to miss the putt, and Fowler would have still needed to win the next two holes PLUS have everyone else remaining on the U.S. side win their matches (which didn’t happen). This was the longest of longshots, but at that point, you can only play the cards you have.

For his part, Fowler didn’t discuss the concession in his post-round remarks, but Fleetwood did. Maybe others didn’t agree with Fowler’s decision, but he certainly wasn’t complaining.

“I was quite pleased when he gave me the putt,” Fleetwood said.