A leader has to balance a number of factors when making decisions. One of the most important is weighing up a short term gain versus longer term impact. An example of how this can go wrong occurred last weekend at the Solheim Cup, the ladies’ equivalent of golf’s Ryder Cup, which was played at St Leon-Rot in Germany.
Early on Sunday, on the 17th green, Allison Lee missed a putt to win the hole for the US team. The European pair of Suzann Pettersen and Charley Hull walked off the green, Lee picked up her ball assuming the tap in had been conceded. Pettersen claimed she had not conceded the putt and the referee awarded the hole to the Europeans. In the events that followed, Carin Koch, the European Captain played a crucial role.
There was an opportunity to waive the penalty, as this seemed to be a misunderstanding, The spirit of golf suggested that this was the right thing to do. The decision not to subsequently waive the point was made by Koch, having spoken with the players. She decided to take the point which would give Europe an even bigger lead going into the afternoon.
In an interview just before the final round of singles started she made it clear that she was only playing by the rules. Technically, she was right. However, her choice of action had enormous consequences. By the end of the day the US had overturned a 10 points to 6 point deficit into an historic 14 ½ to 13 ½ victory and relationships between the two teams were severely strained.
How much Carin Koch’s decision affected the outcome, one can never accurately measure but the choice to ‘apply the rules’ instead of ‘doing what was right’ will have affected the morale of both teams in opposite ways.
For the Americans, the sense of injustice was hugely motivational. Nothing could have fired them up more, now unified by an insult from the Europeans. In the interviews before the afternoon singles, the US leadership said as much. Performance may have been raised by a few percentage points only but each player was more determined than ever. In an elite performance environment that may be all that’s needed to tip the balance.
Crucially, one should not underestimate the probable negative impact Koch’s decision would have had on the European team. On hearing the details of the incident, a number of players may have felt awkward, embarrassed and disappointed. Likely impacting performance, even by a very small margin. As with the US team, those small margins count.
A TV commentator said “the moral high ground had been handed spectacularly to the US”. Doing what was right in the eyes of the majority and making the call to retrospectively give back the point to the US would have ensured the European team went into the afternoon singles with a clear conscience, a decent lead and confidence in their leadership’s judgement. I note that Suzann Pettersen, the player involved, has subsequently apologised for her actions. It is interesting that Carin Koch has not also acknowledged her role as the Captain in the whole affair. Moral courage?
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