Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Paradise Lost

The two-week visit to Hawaii didn’t turn out the way that Cristie Kerr probably hoped it would. She missed her first cut in over a year at Turtle Bay. She was playing pretty well in the opening round at the Fields Open last Thursday when she reached the green at 12. After needing several attempts to get her ball placed in a stationary position, she addressed the putt only to see the ball start rolling and come to rest about 10 feet downhill. Thinking she understood the rules, Cristie proceeded to putt the ball from where it stopped. After the round a Tour official approached her about the incident, ruled that she should have replaced the ball at its original spot and assessed her a two-stroke penalty for playing it from the incorrect position.

Angered and embarrassed, Cristie compounded her mistake the next morning while being interviewed by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Here is the article from that interview:
http://starbulletin.com/2007/02/24/sports/story02.html . To summarize, Kerr insisted that the wind caused the ball to move rather than the grounding of her putter. I was watching when the incident occurred and have also seen it replayed a few times. My opinion is that Cristie is probably right. She mentions in the interview that the rule in question has a provision for external factors moving the ball and she felt that she was covered by that provision, especially after asking for the opinions of her playing partners. The problem is, she should have asked for an official ruling immediately to make certain she was covered. If she had done that, the officials would have (presumably) told her to re-mark her ball at the previous position and she might have had an easier birdie putt to boot.

The biggest mistakes of all in the interview were Cristie’s comments that the official wasn’t interested in hearing her side of the story and “Then I got really upset and started crying because the rules official, basically, was very short with me, I felt like I was being bullied and he was very abrasive." If you are presenting your side of a dispute, steering away from the facts and bringing up emotional distress in addition to diverting attention from the real issue by accusing someone of being close-minded and a bully are NOT recommended tactics. Those accusations merely come across as sour grapes. When I first heard of this interview, I automatically assumed that these were words from the heat of the moment and Cristie had been interviewed just after completing Thursday’s round. Evidently, sleeping on it didn’t calm her down too much. That, or somebody gave her some bad advice on public relations.

Kerr also mentioned in the interview that the official came up to her “and gave me a split second to say what had happened”, as if to give another example of being mistreated. What she doesn’t mention is, if the official had given her time to walk off the green and sign her scorecard, she would have been disqualified from the event for signing an incorrect scorecard. Think of the quotes that would have generated! At least she had the opportunity to continue and she finished tied for sixth place, four shots behind winner Stacy Prammanasudh. My faith in human nature forces me to suppose that Kerr might not be given that courtesy the next time she’s involved in a ruling controversy – not too many folks like being insulted in the newspapers.

In an interview with Brandi Seymour of TGC at the conclusion of her final round, Cristie appeared to have moved on, even mentioning that a similar situation had occurred on the 5th hole that day. In that case, she asked for the official ruling that would have avoided the controversy on Thursday. Lesson learned. I hope Cristie has learned her PR lesson too.