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Padraig Harrington gets into rules debate thanks to a moth (!)

November 06, 2021

Padraig Harrington talks with a Rules Official about an incident on the second green Friday's second round at the Portugal Masters.

Warren Little

Perhaps you’ve heard of The Butterfly Effect? It’s the chaos theory where a small change in one place (something as small as the flap of a butterfly’s wings) can lead to a larger unpredictable change somewhere else. Well, Padraig Harrington saw a variation of that theory seemingly play out (somewhat literally) on Friday at the European Tour’s Portugal Masters.

The recent European Ryder Cup captain was playing the second hole at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura, Portugal, standing over a five-footer for par. After hitting his putt, the ball trickled into the cup but not before it had a close encounter with a moth that was sitting on the lip of the hole.

The question then arose: Did Harrington’s ball touch the moth before it fell in the cup? Because if it did, he would have to putt the ball over due to a bit of an obscure Rule of Golf.

Under the rules, if a player’s ball in motion accidentally hits any person or outside influence, the ball must be played as it lies. But there’s an exception if it happens on the green. Under Rule 11.1b Exception 2, it states: “When ball played from putting green accidentally hits any person, animal or movable obstruction (Including another ball in motion) on putting green: The stroke does not count and the original ball or another ball must be replaced on its original spot.”

Harrington engaged with a rules official to try to work out whether his ball actually touched the moth or whether the ball’s presence caused the moth to move seconds (or maybe milliseconds) before the ball.

“The ball was going into the lip—you know what, this could be a second apart, but it looked really close,” Harrington explained to the official. “The butterfly kind of went away from the ball, but I don’t think they made contact.”

Announcers on Golf Channel couldn’t come to a consensus themselves.

“The ball went in, but it was definitely the reason the moth took off again was because the ball hit the moth,” said one.

“But did it?” noted another. “To me really, it looked like the moth took off just before it got there.”

Here’s how things played out:

In the end, Harrington’s ball was deemed not to have touched the moth, so there was no need to replay the putt. He went on to shoot one-over 72 to sit nine shots back of 36-hole leader Nino Bertasio of Italy.