Here’s a little background, before I dive headfirst into an ocean of self-loathing: On Friday, in a semifinal match of the U.S. Girls’ Junior event—a match play tournament—a controversy was born. Elizabeth Moon and Erica Shepherd (both high school teenagers) found themselves tied after 18 holes, and on the first playoff hole, Moon had a 4-foot birdie putt to win the match. She missed, and the ball settled about six inches from the hole. I’m sure it is redundant to explain this on GolfDigest.com, but in match play, putts can be conceded by an opponent, and putts within gimme distance are almost always “given” by a nod or a thumbs-up or simply saying “it’s good.” When that happens, a player like Moon picks up her ball and doesn’t have to actually finish out the hole.
Nevertheless, even if a ball is sitting on the lip of the hole, there’s no such thing as an automatic concession. The opponent still has to go through the formality of conceding. After she missed her short putt, Moon didn’t wait for acknowledgement—she simply swept the ball back to its original position to take the four-footer again. Shepherd, seemingly sensing an opportunity, said, “I didn’t say that was good.” The upshot is that because a player cannot retroactively concede a putt, Moon was penalized with the loss of a hole, which also meant she lost the match. (Watch the video here.)
Reaction was swift and severe on both sides. My instinct was to defend Moon—I thought Shepherd had used the rules in an underhanded and opportunistic way to steal a match. I jumped to an immediate conclusion, and posted my thoughts, including Shepherd’s name, on the website JumpToImmediateConclusions.com, aka Twitter. It seemed like an open-and-shut case of cheating—not cheating in the sense of breaking the rules, but rather in the sense of violating the spirit of the rules. Which, to me, was somehow more offensive, and also allegorical—using the rules as a shield to elevate yourself while hurting someone else. It hit a sore spot.
What I didn’t know at the time, and what I should have known before I started firing off keyboard takes, is what happened after Shepherd’s initial move to call out her opponent. The details are a little hazy, but it seems fairly clear that she felt immediately bad about what she’d done, and tried to make the case that she would have conceded the putt, and therefore the match should continue. The rules officials weren’t having it, of course, and while I still think the ideal reaction from Shepherd would have been to ignore what Moon did, or maybe raise the issue with her afterward—“Listen, please make sure I concede the putt before you pick it up next time”—it’s very easy to judge from my couch, and harder (especially for a 16-year-old) to make the right decision in the thick of a very nervous and very public moment. Despite initial appearances, this wasn’t such a big deal, and it certainly didn’t make Shepherd a bad person. She even wanted to do the right thing, and they wouldn’t let her!
Unfortunately, along with many others, I dragged her through the mud on social media before I knew the whole story. Then I read this, about the moments before her championship match the next day, which Shepherd also won:
Trying to block out the emotions from Friday was going to be a challenge for Shepherd, but she was helped by the fact that her final opponent, Chang, is a good friend who came up to her before the start of their Saturday match with a message.
“I was on the putting green, and she just walked toward me and gave me a hug,” Shepherd said. “She just asked if I was OK, and I kind of broke down and started crying, then she gave me this whole speech about like how there was nothing I could have done about it, and that just really boosted me back up and got me to regroup.”
Let me tell you—being a 34-year-old grown-ass man who is partly responsible for wreaking psychological havoc on a teenager? And who did so without all the facts, and with very little allowance for the fact that we all make iffy decisions under stress and shouldn’t be judged on a single rough moment? That does not feel good. It feels like the capital-i Internet occupied my soul, scrambled my empathy, and made me into a heartless mob-mentality jerk, and now all I can think of is Shepherd possibly reading my tweets and feeling miserable. Not great, folks! Luckily, Shepherd is cooler than me, and had the strength not just to manage the stress, but to actually go out and win the next day. She’ll be fine.
But me? Not fine, because I am the worst sports person of the week. Oops.
Worst Sports Human of the Week Emeritus: LaVar Ball
You know I can’t go a week without mentioning this guy. In the era of media saturation, there are certain people who are just completely inescapable—they have no shame, and they are extremely savvy about placing themselves directly in the spotlight. Even if most of us despise them, we can’t deny the fact that they’re extremely entertaining, and possess a kind of outlandish charisma, and so we go back to them over and over and over again. I will probably get in trouble if I name the most prominent example in the entire world right now, so I’ll put the focus back on Ball. In the video below—where he takes umbrage at a fact that a FEMALE referee called a technical foul on him (how dare she!) and actually throws a tantrum until they replace her with a guy, and then goes on a bizarre rant—Ball is laid bare. Watch:
The evidence is clear: He’s not a good dude. And yet, the whole spectacle is fascinating. As someone once said about a timeless painting, “he is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I cannot look away.” Even worse, I know I’m adding fuel to the fire by highlighting his insanity, but I’m unable to resist. LaVar Ball rules the world.
Dumb Soccer Guy of the Week: Geoffrey Kondogbia, Inter Milan
Soccer lowlights are always fun, especially when accompanied by a heartless British announcer. This own goal comes with a particularly brutal line: “Hang your head in shame, Kondogbia.” And then the Irish guy sarcastically praises his accuracy…this is an all-around gem:
The Totally-Worth-it-for-the-Joke Ejection of the Week: Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
God, this is funny. When an ump yelled at Adrian Beltre to get back to the on-deck circle, Beltre came up with a novel solution. Watch:
That ump is humorless. SHAME!
Coward of the Week: Michael Phelps
Hey, Phelps? If you’re not going to do the Olympics anymore, the least you could do for your country is race a great white shark. Instead, Phelps pretended to race a great white shark for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, but it was actually a simulation shark. Also, Phelps used a fin, which seems like cheating. I mean, if I attach some kind of propeller to my feet and go faster than a dolphin, does that make me a better swimmer?
What the hell is happening here? Whose idea was this? My fury is so great that it’s no longer good enough for Phelps to merely race a great white. Now I want him to cover himself in bloody seal blubber, chase the shark with a knife in his mouth, and fight it to the death. Only then will I consider his honor restored. Come on, Phelps—you know that idiot Lochte would do it. Don’t let us down.