Is there no end to this madness? For the umpteenth time, a professional golfer -- in this case Padraig Harrington -- has been disqualified from a tournament after a phone call from a television viewer highlighted an inadvertent rules violation. Even worse, the Irishman had begun the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a seven-under par 65 and was, he thought, only one shot off the lead going into the second day.
The problem came on the 7th hole during Harrington's opening round. In the process of lifting his marker after replacing his ball on the green, the three-time major champion touched the ball with his hand. Having felt the slight contact, he checked the ball's position as much as was humanly possible and determined that it was in the correct place.
"I checked that the Titleist logo I was using to align the ball was still in the same position pointing at the hole," he said in the wake of his disqualification. "I was comfortable that the ball had not moved."
Unfortunately, it had, something that was evident only with the use of a camera. So even though Harrington had followed procedure and actually knew what he was doing, the intrusion of technology more powerful than the human eye was his undoing.
"It moved maybe three dimples forward and maybe one dimple back," he said with sigh. "It looks like it moved, so I'm happy that it has. But I don't think there was any physical way I could tell that it had moved at the time."
"The movement of the ball during the specific act of replacing it is covered by Rule 20-3a and there is no penalty to this movement, but the ball must be replaced," explained Andy McFee, the European Tour's Senior Referee. "Because the ball was not replaced, the penalty under that rule is two stokes. As this penalty was not included in the score for hole seven, Padraig was disqualified for a breach of Rule 6-6d, signing for the wrong score."
__You can see video of the incident here:
The real problem here, of course, is not the rule that has caught out one of golf's most upstanding citizens, a man actually playing his first event as a "Working for Golf" ambassador for the R&A, golf's rules making body outside the United States and Mexico, but the penalty for the breach of that rule.
Surely it makes far more sense for the two-shot penalty to apply to Harrington's score on his next hole. Surely it makes more sense to allow him to keep playing. Surely something needs to be done about a verdict that has no basis in fairness and should not either in law.
Happily, something may well be in the works.
"One of the things currently being discussed with the R&A is how we penalize players for breaches that are evident only with the use of slow-mo technology," continued McFee. "We may well get to a position where, if the player couldn't know he had breached a rule, we could apply the relevant penalty by 'reopening' the card."
Let's hope that day isn't too far off.
-- John Huggan