Commentary

No middle ground on Pressel penalty

Updated: May 20, 2012, 11:10 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

In July 2005 when Birdie Kim holed a 30-foot bunker shot for a birdie at the 72nd hole to win the U.S. Women's Open at Cherry hills Country Club in Colorado, Morgan Pressel watched from the fairway and cried like a baby. She had a temper tantrum earlier that year at the Fields Open when her rival, Michelle Wie, beat her by 5 shots when they played together for the first time as professionals.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Pressel
AP Photo/Julio CortezEven after her semifinal controversy, Morgan Pressel still managed to defeat Vicky Hurst 2 and 1 to take third place at the Sybase Match Play Championship.

Pressel had made a big fuss out of the 16-year-old Wie getting an exemption. Embarrassed and hurt after getting beaten by her nemesis, Pressel cried for 15 minutes near the scorer's tent.

Pressel was 18 then, still a child, but she's 23 now and old enough to know how to handle herself like a professional.

But on Sunday at the Sybase Match Play Championship in Gladstone, N.J., she acted as if she hadn't evolved a bit emotionally from the little girl who burst on the golfing scene in 2001 when she qualified for the U.S. Women's Open as a 12-year-old.

In her semifinal match against Azahara Munoz, the two-time LPGA Tour winner was penalized with a loss of a hole for taking 39 seconds more than the allotted 90 seconds to play her three shots at the par-3 12th hole at the Hamilton Farms Golf Club. Munoz and Pressel had been warned about slow play on the ninth hole. So instead of taking a commanding 3 up lead on the 13th tee, she was just 1 up. Pressel appealed the ruling, but it was upheld by an LPGA Tour official.

Then, before Munoz's birdie putt at the 15th hole, Pressel stopped play to question if the Spaniard had touched the line of her putt before making her stroke. After the rules officials found that Munoz didn't touch her line, she made her putt to draw the match square. From there, Pressel totally unraveled. She bogeyed 16 and 17 to lose the match 2 and 1.

Later in a tearful interview with the Golf Channel, she called the events of the day "disheartening" and said that the back-nine controversy had "knocked the wind out of my sails."

Golf is an emotional game. Pressel might have thought going into her match with the 24-year-old Arizona State grad that this was her moment to end a four-year winless drought. Her disappointment is understandable. A slow-play penalty could not have come at a worse time. But the rules are the rules.

Tournament officials can't have one set of rules for big tournaments or unique moments in an event like match play and another for ordinary occasions. Referees never want to decide the outcome of the game, but it's their job to carry out the rules.

The LPGA deserves credit for enforcing a slow-play penalty, something the PGA Tour has been reluctant to do over the years. The last time the men's top tour penalized a player came in 1995, when it gave Glen Day a 1-stroke penalty for slow play at the Honda Classic.

Slow play has become one of the most talked about subjects in the game. At The Players Championship, it came to the forefront with Kevin Na, who at least for last week was the poster child for what many in the game consider a festering sore that threatens to ruin the game.

The Pressel case represents one of the game's great dilemmas over slow play. Pressel was in the heat of the moment in a pressure-packed situation in one of the LPGA Tour's biggest events. She was taking her time around the green, where even the fastest players slow down. Show me a player who hasn't slowed down in a difficult situation in a tournament, and I'll show you a golfer who hasn't won much.

In golf, players call penalties on themselves. Other sports have overseers who take the rulings out of the hands of the athletes. A defensive interference call or holding penalty made by a referee has determined many big football games. The same goes for a close foul in basketball, but seldom have golf tournaments ever been sorted out through penalties.

Everybody has an opinion on the subject. Earlier this week at the Byron Nelson, Matt Kuchar proposed putting players on a shot clock. Tiger Woods wants a penalty to come with no warning.

No one defends slow play. It's like defending smoking on airplanes.

Pressel was an emotional wreck after losing her semifinal match. She has to grow up if she ever wants to be a great champion. It's not the LPGA's fault that she made bogeys at 16 and 17 to lose that match. But the LPGA and the game have to consider what enforcing these penalties could do to championship golf.

Ultimately, the rules are the rules and perhaps there is no middle ground on the matter. But wouldn't it have been nice to see Munoz beat Pressel without the stink of a slow-play penalty overshadowing the tournament?

Dufner a cinch to make Ryder Cup team

In a low-key, sleepy manner, Jason Dufner has in less than a month with two wins become a lock to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team that will host the Europeans in September at the Medinah Country Club, outside of Chicago. With his win on Sunday at the Byron Nelson, Dufner jumped to third in the standings.

[+] EnlargeJason Dufner
Darren Carroll/Getty ImagesA month ago Jason Dufner likely only dreamed about representing the United States at the Ryder Cup. After wins at the Zurich Classic and the HP Byron Nelson Championship, he will likely be fitted for Team USA gear in the coming months.

What kind of teammate will the 35-year-old Auburn grad be to established Ryder Cuppers like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods? Who should Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III pair him with?

Of the top eight in the standings who get automatic spots on the team, Dufner and Keegan Bradley would right now be the only first-timers on the squad.

For Captain Love, having a laid-back and consistent ball striker like Dufner on his team is a going to be a major asset because he can pair him with anybody. I doubt if we'll see from him any of the boisterous displays of emotion that we saw from the Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton pairing in 2010. He could put the ball in the fairway for anybody in alternate shot and he's hot enough right now to beat anybody in the world in four-balls and singles. Dufner's solemnity could bring some calm to the circus atmosphere of the matches.

The Cleveland native won't wilt under the intense pressure because despite his inexperience in match play, he'll be one of the most relaxed players in the field. In the Sunday singles, Love could send him out against Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald or Lee Westwood and he would easily handle their firepower.

I know it's hard to know exactly how Dufner would handle the raucous crowds and the stress of playing for his country, but if the past 10 months are any indication of his desire and ability to compete in prime time, we might have a new Ryder Cup star on our hands.

Colsaerts knocks off GMac
Nicolas Colsaerts beat Graeme McDowell 1 up in the Volvo World Match Play on Sunday at Finca Cortesin in Spain. As a U.S. Open champion and a European team Ryder Cup hero, McDowell is a well-known entity around the world. But who is the 29-year-old Belgian who beat him?

For one thing, Colsaerts likes Volvo-sponsored events. Since taking his maiden victory last year at the Volvo China Open, he has finished third at last year's Volvo World Match Play, fourth at the Volvo Golf Champions and second at the 2012 Volvo China Open.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about him is that he's one of the longest hitters in the game. His 316-yard driving distance average is a yard longer than that of Bubba Watson, who leads the category on the PGA Tour. But Colsaerts is a distant second on his tour to Lloyd Saltman, a 26-year-old Scot.

With the win in Spain, Colsaerts moved inside the top 50 in the world and is close to earning one of the top 10 automatic spots for the European Ryder Cup team. It would be a treat for the fans to see him trade long balls with Watson at Medinah.

Colsaerts is one of many good European players who makes the occasional appearance in the States at the majors and the WGC events. In his two U.S. trips this year, he lost in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and he had a T-35 finish at Doral. But if Colsaerts keeps making noise in Europe, he's bound to eventually join McDowell, Rory McIlroy and others from across the pond as regular faces on the PGA Tour.

A peculiar decision
We've heard it before: a player building his whole year around making a Ryder Cup team.

In 2008, Kenny Perry wanted nothing more than to make the U.S. team that would play in his home state of Kentucky. Even though he had just lost in a playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, all Bubba Watson could talk about was how happy he was he had made the U.S. Ryder Cup team that was headed to Celtic Manor. Perhaps it takes a single-minded approach for some to focus on playing the right tournaments at the right time to earn enough points to earn a place in the celebrated biennial matches.

But few have taken such drastic measures as Paul Lawrie, the 1999 British Open champion. The 43-year-old Scot announced earlier this month that he would skip the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club to focus on European Tour events, where he had the best chance of making his second Ryder Cup team. Instead of playing in the U.S. Open, where he has a dismal record, he'll play in the BMW International Open the week after the Open.

At the Volvo World Match Play this weekend, he was still defending his decision.

"One of the big disappointments of my career is that I have only played once in the Ryder Cup and that's why I'm so keen to get in this time," Lawrie told reporters. "It's the best tournament you'll ever play."

Lawrie could have locked up a spot with a win at the Match Play and he nearly did it, until Graeme McDowell beat him 2 up in the semifinals.

Lawrie is fifth in the standings but he's not taking any chances. He knows that if he doesn't play well over the summer he could get passed.

Still, it's an odd choice to skip a major championship, especially when you're a member of an elite group of major champions. No matter how poor your record is in a particular major, a player should take every opportunity to play in the biggest tournaments. Lawrie's plan might work out in the end, but he might also look back at the end of his career and regret his decision to not play at Olympic.

It also seems a particularly shortsighted decision with the matches being held in the States. What better place than San Francisco in the U.S. Open to prepare for the crowds in Chicago?

The replacements
Brandt Snedeker won his first-round match over Thomas Bjorn 5 and 4 at the Volvo Match Play Championship using borrowed irons, a driver lent to him by John Senden and a putter out of the pro shop at Finca Cortesin. The 31-year-old Nashville native, who won earlier this year in San Diego, flew over to Spain from Miami on Monday night, but his clubs and suitcase never made his connecting flight.

By the time his clubs arrived on Thursday, he was already 3 up on Bjorn with 10 replacement clubs. He stayed with the borrowed clubs through the remainder of the match. After the opening round, he played with his own clubs and made it to the quarterfinals, where he was beaten 4 and 3 by the eventual winner, Nicolas Colsaerts.

Snedeker's decisive win over Bjorn with a loaner set proves that the top players in the world can play well with anything. The only thing more fascinating would have been if he had played with a borrowed golf ball. Distances might vary with irons and drivers, but tour players are very particular about their golf balls. Still, it was an amazing feat for Sneds.

I wonder what would happen, though, if tour players showed up at events and were handed out the same equipment as if they were picking up skates at a roller skating rink. That might really separate the guys with the real talent from the ones benefitting from great equipment.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.

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