TOLEDO, Ohio – Madelene Sagstrom’s jaw trembled. She was fighting to stay composed while discussing a controversial rules decision that ultimately proved the difference – at least score wise – in her team’s afternoon fourballs loss.
It wasn’t any less emotional for the victors.
Nelly Korda, trying to explain her version of events, teared up while speaking to a small media corps. She backed away from the microphone, teary-eyed and shaking.
“We didn’t want it to happen this way,” Korda said.
The incident in question – one that led to many questions – occurred on the 13th hole of the Korda-Ally Ewing match against Sagstrom and Nanna Koerstz Madsen.
The match was tied when Korda narrowly missed her eagle putt on the par 5. Korda dropped to her knees in disbelief as the ball nestled on the lip. Or maybe a little past the hole. Sagstrom was confident the ball had no chance of eventually dropping and quickly picked it up and tossed it back to Korda.
The time from Korda’s ball coming to rest and Sagstrom scooping it was 5, maybe 6 seconds. But not 10.
According to Korda and Ewing, the two were approached while walking off the 13th green by on-course rules official Missy Jones, who told them the rules officials monitoring the telecast were reviewing the matter. And upon further review, multiple rules officials determined the ball was close enough to the lip of the hole that, by Rule 13.3a in the Rules of Golf, Korda should have been allowed 10 seconds to approach the ball and see if it might go in.
“It was picked up so fast," Korda said. "I fell to my knees and my ball was already in my hands. I honestly didn't even get to see it."
Because Sagstrom was deemed to have violated Rule 13.3a, Rule 13.3b came into play: Korda’s putt was declared made, an eagle-3. That won the hole and gave the Americans a 1-up lead, the same advantage they held over the remainder of the match.
Though Sagstrom, Koerstz Madsen and even European captain Catriona Matthew pleaded their cases, the Euros were informed on the 14th tee of the final decision.
"It was a pretty fuzzy picture we were shown, and it was inclusive I would have said," Matthew said after Day 1 concluded.
"I mean, a hundred percent believe Madelene did not, for one instance, think that ball had any chance of going in the hole when he she picked it up, and I don't honestly believe Nelly or Ally actually thought it was going to go in, either."
Said Sagstrom: "We come in and got in that little argument with Nelly on [the 14th] box, because she obviously knew that it was not going to go in, but the rules are rules, so that's what she wants to follow."
Rules are rules, and decisions are final. But the effects lingered.
“It rattled both teams,” admitted Ewing.
The U.S. and European sides said the final five holes were “awkward,” at best. What once was a “cozy” and “chatty” match – maybe too cozy, because they were put on the clock on the 10th hole – turned mostly silent the rest of the way. Except in regards to some attendees, from whom Sagstrom said she heard comments regarding the incident.
“It was more just giving me a little bit of stuff from doing that, for picking up the ball and stuff,” Sagstrom said as her eyes started to well up. “It's already tough on U.S. soil with all the fans not really cheering for you, and when you hear like yourself being in the wrong more, it's hard.”
Both Sagstrom and Korda were adamant that they did nothing wrong. Not in a way of defiance, but in defense. Sagstrom wanted it to be known that there was no doubt in her mind that the ball was dead and stood no chance of moving from its final resting place. She wanted it to be known that there was no gamesmanship in play.
“Obviously, I wasn't following the rules about leaving the ball for 10 seconds, but I do believe in integrity and honor of the game of golf, and I would never pick up a putt that had a chance to go in,” Sagstrom said, noting that both teams were informed of this rule prior to the start of play.
“I personally don't agree with the decision with the ball being on the edge, but I didn't follow the 10-second rule, so it sucks right now because I feel like I let my team down.”
Korda wanted it to be known that neither she nor Ewing had anything to do with the decision. They were approached by Jones. Neither they – nor their caddies, which had been speculated – first brought up a possible infraction. And even though they might not have believed the ball was going to fall in, they can’t override a rules decision.
“I got off the green, and we kind of were talking, and Missy already came up to us and was like, I'm calling it in, I want to check it out. We didn't even have a say, honestly,” Korda said.
“Hopefully [Sagstrom and Koerstz Madsen] are OK with us.”
Truth be told, neither really “wanted it to be known.” They both would have rather taken comfort and healed among their teammates than to have discussed the open wounds with the media. But, as is not always the case in the sports world, they fielded the questions, answering each one asked of them, with multiple TV outlets and with the written press.
If there is comfort for Sagstrom, it’s that her team has a 5 ½ - 2 ½ lead entering Day 2. If there is comfort for both, it’s that there is a Day 2, offering each of them – all four, including their Saturday afternoon partners – a chance to write a different narrative.
“At the end of the day,” Korda said, “hopefully we can put this behind each other and move forward."