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SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Competitors better be careful about how to get to a restroom at the 2017 NCAA Women’s Championship. Negligence there has already cost two players two shots apiece.
Northwestern’s Sarah Cho and Kent State’s Kelly Nielsen, playing in the same group, both received a two-shot penalty Sunday at the NCAA Championship. Now, those infractions could be for any number of reasons – the Rules of Golf are thorough and can be complicated – but on this day these players were penalized two shots for … taking a cart ride to the bathroom?
Yes, that actually happened. The conditions of competition for the NCAA D-I Women’s Championship state that a player “must not ride on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.”
A player taking a cart to go to the bathroom is not automatically “authorized.” So when Cho, who started her round on No. 10 at Rich Harvest Farms, drove herself to a bathroom coming off 18, that was illegal. The same for Nielsen when she had a Kent State staffer drive her to a bathroom coming off No. 13 green.
The penalty for this breach is two shots, administered on the following hole. Thus Cho’s double bogey on No. 1 was moved to a quadruple bogey with the two-stroke infraction, and Nielsen’s par at No. 14 was changed to a double bogey.
Any excuses from Cho, whose penalty moved her from a 1-over 73 to a 3-over 75 and made No. 11 Northwestern’s lead through two rounds eight instead of 10? None whatsoever.
“That was my bad,” Cho said, with a laugh.
While Nielsen didn’t wish to talk about her penalty, the pair need not worry much – in the end, the infractions are unlikely to affect their teams’ runs at the NCAA Championship.
Actually the two-shot infraction Nielsen took didn’t hurt No. 16 Kent State at all Sunday, as she wouldn’t have been a counting score for the Golden Flashes even if she had posted 79 rather than the 81 with a penalty. (Kent State is solo second at 31 over.)
Again, Northwestern (23 over) is eight shots ahead with 18 holes to go in the stroke-play portion of the NCAA Championship. And the Wildcats just need to finish top eight among the 24-team field to advance to match play.
Still, this is a bizarre scenario that Cho regrets she couldn’t have done more to prevent.
“Of course I feel really bad because it’s a dumb two-stroke penalty, something I could have controlled,” Cho said.
It’s maybe even more bizarre how it happened.
Coming off No. 18 green, Cho took a cart and drove it herself to what appeared to be the nearest bathroom (one in the clubhouse a good 5-minute walk away). Not wanting to slow down the round, she took the cart to the bathroom and back to No. 18 green, and was on her way to No. 1, not under any indication she had just done something worthy of a penalty.
But Emily Fletcher, Northwestern’s head coach, almost immediately became aware of the cart ride. Her sister Edie, out of precaution, informed assistant coach Beth Miller right after that Cho had driven a cart to the bathroom. Miller then informed Fletcher, who was pretty convinced right away that a two-shot penalty was coming.
“I pretty much knew all day long we were two shots higher (than the scoreboard showed),” Fletcher said.
But she didn’t want to mess up her players’ rhythm. So Fletcher didn’t inform Cho of the likely infraction right away, waiting for that until the end in the scorer’s tent before Cho signed her card.
Fletcher had her other players in the dark, too, during the round but did ensure they wouldn’t make the same mistake.
As it turned out, there were port-a-potties right of 18 green that Cho could’ve used without a ride (Fletcher said she had trouble finding those herself at first). Fletcher emphasized to the Northwestern golfers who followed Cho – the first Wildcat out Sunday – on 18 that this option was there.
“I told players (in 18 fairway), ‘Hey if you have to go to the bathroom, there’s a port-a-potty over there to the right, make sure you use it,’ ” Fletcher said.
Fletcher later conferred with rules officials to confirm this was a penalty and then in the scorer’s tent told Cho to ask the question about that cart ride, at which point she did and was hit with the two-shot penalty.
Nielsen didn’t know her own cart ride back around 13, where the bathroom was out of the way from No. 14 tee, was illicit until that conversation in the scorer’s tent, at which point she immediately admitted her mistake and was hit with her two-shot penalty. If she had only realized her mistake (and then fessed up) after signing her scorecard, she would’ve been hit with a four-shot penalty (an extra two strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard).
A strange penalty with a strange backstory. Should these players really feel any guilt for the mistake, though?
After all, as Cho noted, the course is so spaced out that sometimes so are the bathrooms. And this week, players are being given cart rides between Nos. 3 and 4, Nos. 9 and 10 and Nos. 11 and 12 so they don’t have to make the long walks between those holes.
Those authorized cart rides between holes can confuse matters, as can the fact that Northwestern players were authorized to drive carts to the bathroom at a tournament (the Silverado Showdown) just last month.
In the end, though, neither coach looked for excuses. Fletcher said she told players to not take rides outside of the ones designated between holes.
“It’s (Sarah’s) mistake, you need to know better than that,” Fletcher said. “We talk about that, that there are no (additional) shuttle rides.”
Greg Robertson, Kent State’s head coach, offered a similar thought.
“The players should know you can’t get rides,” Robertson said. “They don’t get rides all year long. We never do it.”
While the penalties did little to no damage to their teams, will these players rebound?
That’s the hope, considering both squads are extremely likely to make match play: no time to dwell on past mistakes.
Fletcher was confident Cho, a junior, won’t be derailed from the two-stroke penalty. As teammate Kacie Komoto noted, she could’ve saved two strokes in her own round.
This is also Cho’s first penalty in college, and she believes her last one came all the way back around seventh- or eighth grade (that time, hoping to straighten out the cup, she tapped the hole with her ball prior to putting, an altering of the cup which is not allowed).
Despite the long period since her last penalty, Cho said she was the most likely Northwestern player to get hit by an infraction.
“Probably me No. 1, I’m guilty of that. Everyone else on the team, if they’re not 110 percent sure, then they won’t do it. But I’m kind of a risk-taker,” Cho said, with a laugh. “That kind of bit me a little bit (today).”
It did, and the scenario was strange. But unless Northwestern is straddling the top-eight cut Monday, an unlikely scenario, it’ll soon be a quirky afterthought.