You have probably heard of The Ryder Cup even if you’re not a golfer. The women’s version of that competition is called The Solheim Cup and it was contested over the weekend. During the run of play, an incident occurred between one of the European golfers and an American. I’ll explain it in a second (with minimal golf jargon – you’re welcome) but it’s what has happened afterwards that’s instructive to all of us in business.
The cup competitions are match play. The total score you shoot is immaterial; you just need to have a better score than the person you’re playing on any particular hole to win that hole. Most holes won wins the match. Unlike the tournaments you’re used to seeing on TV, a golfer doesn’t have to putt out – finish the hole – if their opponent concedes that the next putt will be made. Most short (2 feet and under) putts are conceded since at this level, golfers rarely miss anything that short.
What happened was that an American missed a long putt and had an 18-inch putt coming back. The Europeans walked away from the hole and the green, so the American assumed they had conceded the putt and picked up the ball. At that point, one of the very experienced European golfers informed her that they had not conceded the putt and the US just lost the hole at a critical point in the match. Everyone was stunned at this bit of gamesmanship. While she was correct with the rules of the game (you can’t assume the concession and just pick up your ball), it is way out of line with the spirit of these competitions and how the game is played.
I’m sorry for that long introduction, but it’s what has happened since that’s instructive. In two words: she apologized. You can read her heartfelt apology here, and it is a model for how any business or businessperson should act when they have screwed up. It shows the difference between “I’m sorry” and the far too common “I’m sorry but…” or “I’m sorry if I offended anyone”.
This is how she begins:
I am so sorry for not thinking about the bigger picture in the heat of the battle and competition. I was trying my hardest for my team and put the single match and the point that could be earned ahead of sportsmanship and the game of golf itself! I feel like I let my team down and I am sorry.
She goes on to acknowledge each of the offended parties and to ask for forgiveness, promising to earn back each party’s faith and trust. The next time I need to say I’m sorry for something, this will be my model. You?