Conceding putts: Good manners, or good strategy?

A few things to consider about the practice of conceding putts as you watch the Solheim Cup, watch the Ryder Cup or compete in your club match play championship.

Image of putt near hole

Golf great Nancy Lopez recently gave me a whole new perspective on the accepted match-play practice of conceding putts. This highly competitive yet gracious Hall of Famer believes that a nice person concedes short putts without considering the difficulty.

“When you have a putt of 1 foot or 1 1/2 feet and you give that putt, that’s called sportsmanship,” said Lopez, the U.S. Solheim Cup assistant captain. “I don’t think I would sit there thinking, ok, she might miss this, if she misses it I would win. That just would never come into my mind. It’s more about being a good sport.

Lopez was on the scene of the 2015 Solheim Cup brouhaha and drove off in her cart to the next hole when she heard someone say, “That’s good,” meaning that the European pair of Charley Hull and Suzann Pettersen had conceded Alison Lee’s short putt. When Pettersen then said the putt had not been conceded, controversy ensued. The U.S. lost the hole but found motivation in what most considered to be an unsportsmanlike gesture, and ultimately won the Cup.

In 2017, at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, an unconceded putt cost a contestent her match. Elizabeth Moon, 17, barely missed a 4-footer that would have won her the 19th hole and match. Then, disgusted at herself, she swatted the ball away before sinking the gimme-length putt that would have tied the hole. Her 16-year-old opponent, Erica Shepherd, announced that she had not conceded the putt (though, she said, she would have). Moon thus lost the match. Check out the USGA explanation of Rule 18-2.

Here are a few things worth knowing about the practice of conceding putts.

  • Putts are never conceded in stroke play, even in a sudden-death playoff between two players. Every putt must be holed. The conceded putt is strictly a match play convention.
  • Players are not supposed to ask, “Is that good?” in an effort to encourage their opponents to give them a putt. They may walk slowly to the ball and listen carefully.
  • A player may concede an entire hole, although you probably won’t see that in Solheim Cup or Ryder Cup competition. It’s an energy-saver when a high handicapper isn’t on the green in eight shots and the opponent is putting for five.
  • In match play, one may ignore a rules transgression by the opponent. See Gail Rogers’ great explanation of what to do when a match-play opponent breaks a rule. So Pettersen could have zipped her lip in 2015 and moved on. So could Shepherd have in 2017.
  • Unlike Lopez, some players use the gimme as a match-play strategy. They give the opponents short putts early and then grow quieter as the match wears on. The thinking is that the opponents will not have gotten accustomed to making short putts and may have trouble when forced to make them later in the round.
  • There is not a commonly accepted length for conceding putts. It all depends on the perceived skill of the putter, the score of the match and the niceness of the competitor.

There are dirty tricks employed in Solheim, Ryder and match play championships.

Nancy Lopez would not approve. I thought about what she said in my own club match, and on the 10th hole I gave my opponent what looked to be a straightforward putt.

She said, “Are you sure?”

There’s nothing in the rules permitting one to renege on a conceded putt. I just laughed and we went to the next hole.

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