• Out of Bounds

Rules ravage Pettersson's Ryder bid - for both teams

Alex Dimond April 18, 2012
Carl Pettersson fits into the golf world much like he fits into his jacket - not too snugly © Getty Images

Carl Pettersson is the latest player to reach five career victories on the PGA Tour. Carl Pettersson might also be one of the unluckiest men in golf.

After all, if it wasn't for two separate selection rules of questionable validity, the 34-year-old would currently be in the unique position to choose which team he ended up representing at this September's Ryder Cup.

Pettersson the Swede could choose to represent Europe. Pettersson the naturalised American, however, could represent the United States.

Instead, Pettersson the human being must face up to the prospect that he is unlikely ever to play in golf's greatest team competition - where legacies are forged and golfing immortality can be assured.

His win at the RBC Heritage on Sunday - by five shots no less - put him level with the likes of Luke Donald and Jesper Parnevik for tour victories on US soil. It also put him in possession of one of the five European Ryder Cup team spots awarded to players on the world points list - if he was a European Tour member, that is.

Never fear, because the triumph also vaulted him to seventh in the American qualification standings (the top eight after the US PGA Championship get automatic spots on the US team) - if his recently acquired American citizenship made him eligible for that list, that is.

Before we carry on, it is not as if Pettersson can really complain at his predicament - least of all because the Ryder Cup has hardly seemed to be a primary motivation for him up to this point. But it is nevertheless remarkable that a golfer can be in contention for both teams, yet fall foul of two amendable rules that mean he almost certainly will not represent either.

It is entirely Pettersson's fault - well, decision - that he is not a member of the European Tour, and thus is ineligible for the European team. He can still join in time to press his claim for Medinah (the deadline to take up membership for the current season is May 1) but, as points acquired before the date he joins would not be counted, he would effectively be signing up to play 11 or 12 events in Europe (a requirement of membership) simply to be available for one of Jose Maria Olazabal's two wild-card picks.

It's something he could do, if only because his PGA Tour card is assured for the foreseeable future after his most recent win. His appearance at The Masters also means he has already ticked off one event if he needs to fulfil membership requirements. But his family are firmly settled in the US, so six months of upheaval is a large price to pay with little to no guarantee of success.

On the other hand, should the rules not be more amenable? At No. 35 in the current world rankings he is exactly the 11th best European golfer in the world by that measure. Twelve players comprise a team - if Pettersson is among the 12 best candidates should he not be considered for selection, regardless of whether he fulfils certain bureaucratic requirements?

He is European - it is a European team. Why can it not be that simple?

If anything, his ineligibility for the American team is even harsher. Having taken up American citizenship in January (both Pettersson's wife and two children are American), he shares the same rights as any other American - except he can't represent them in the Ryder Cup.

If he had taken up his citizenship before he turned 18, however, the story would be entirely different - the PGA of America changed the rule (which previously said players must be American-born) in 2002. At the time, Pettersson was 24. While probably the furthest thing from his mind back then (he was in the midst of an establishing season on the European Tour, before returning to the US), it nevertheless seems like circumstances have contrived to thwart him somewhat.

Pettersson's identity on paper - caught between world golf's two spheres of influence - extends to the man himself. You sense he has thought more about representing Europe in recent years, but would perhaps be more honoured to represent the red, white and blue of his adopted nation.

Veteran status for Brit Brian Davis

Brian Davis studies his tee shot © Getty Images
  • Another player who has enjoyed a successful career almost entirely under the radar is Englishman Brian Davis. As Pettersson won at Hilton Head, he made the 150th cut of his PGA Tour career - earning him the status (ultimately fairly meaningless, but still nice) of 'veteran' on the tour.
  • Despite his success in America he has never won there - coming close on multiple occasions but never closing the deal. Yet he remains one of the most successful British golfers abroad, even if he is hardly heralded in his own country.
  • Much like Pettersson he will not break into the wider conscious of the country he heralds from, but that doesn't mean he hasn't achieved some impressive things by treading a path less well worn.

"Yeah, I know I'm Swedish," he said. "I've spent the majority of my life [here].

"I honestly feel more American than Swedish. I became an American citizen this year, I've got dual citizenship.

"I love America. It's a great country. It's given me everything I have. And I just want to be a part of the country.

"I know I'm from Sweden, but I've lived here so long I'm very American."

It seems he has never considered that alternative representation, yet he is really only two arbitrary digits (say, 35 rather than 18) on a line of small print away from being a part of Davis Love III's plans.

It's perhaps even harsher than that - going by his own calculations, Pettersson spent three years in the US before he turned 19. You need five years in the US to qualify for citizenship.

"I haven't lived there since 1987," he said on Sunday. "I lived in England for five years. Sweden ten years, my first ten years, and then England for five years, and then in America ever since."

Legally, it would certainly seem he could have a case to challenge the PGA rule on the matter. Personally, it seems he has no intention of going out of his way to try and secure a Ryder Cup appearance. That's his prerogative, of course.

Instead, playing his way onto the European team is the path he is casting glances at, if little more.

"I've been close [to qualifying for the European team] before, but I'm not going to think about it too much," he said. "It's a complicated system. I'm not sure if I'm a member of the European Tour, which you have to be, to be eligible, maybe I could be a captain's pick, but that's a long way down the road.

"That's in September, I believe. I was close in '06 to make the team, but it wasn't to be. Fairly close in '08. That's too far down the road, just see what happens."

Pettersson is unlikely to be hugely missed by the European team - despite his record, Olazabal still has a great number of players more talented than he vying for a place on his team. The irony, however, is his experience and expertise on American courses would doubtless help a side that has seen three of its last four defeats in the event come across the pond.

Pettersson's local knowledge obviously wouldn't enhance the US team that much - but in contrast his overall quality and consistency could well be appreciated by a team that has had to call on the likes of Brett Wetterich and JJ Henry in the recent past.

The golfing world has shrunk in recent times, with improved travel and greater standards on the European side of the Atlantic leading to a far more common ground between golfers from all corners of the globes. European players commonly now dominate PGA Tour events, while young American prospects have increasingly chosen to start their careers in Europe - and Asian players can showcase their skills wherever they may take them.

Pettersson's situation, however, is evidence that things are not yet seamless - there are still cracks in the landscape that players can fall between.

He's currently good enough to play on either Ryder Cup team - the stats say that much. But, because of two rules, chances are he'll never get to represent either.

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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk