January 21 — After Padraig Harrington became the second golfer of the young 2011 season to get the boot from a professional golf tournament because a TV viewer caught the perp in an inadvertent rules blooper, everyone but the actual victims are demanding immediate changes to the damnable Rules of Golf.
“protecting the field should not be done by some guy half way around the world sitting on his ass eating Bon bons !Screw HD” tweeted LPGA Tour golfer Louise Friberg (presumably from halfway around the world).
“[Royal & Ancients] needs to bring the rules into the 21st century,” read a headline from Lawrence Donegan of the Guardian.
Rules are bollocks. “Rules of Golf Book Rule 22-4 paragraph 3 line 7, “the rules of golf are complete bollocks and are stuck back in 1932”. Couldn’t agree more” Ian Poulter replied via Twitter.
Poulter may have had the exact citation incorrect (Rule 20-3a covers the act of placing replacing the ball), but he referred to the mandate that earned fellow competitor Harrington a DQ from this week’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. European Tour officials disqualified Harrington before the second round because the three-time major champ signed an incorrect scorecard (Rule 6-6d, “Wrong score for hole,” for those of you keeping score at home).
The problem was not that Harrington, one off the opening-round lead in Abu Dhabi, barely touched the back of his golf ball as he set it down in front of his marker on the seventh green at Abu Dhabi Country Club. Harrington acknowledged that his ball “oscillated.”
A game of dimples. It wasn’t until Harrington reviewed the slow-motion video of the incident that he recognized the ball had moved about “three dimples forward” before settling back “maybe a dimple and a half,” according to a European Tour release.
While Harrington — like Camilo Villegas in Hawaii earlier this month — responded to his situation with grace and humor, the real issue is not that he inadvertently moved his ball, did not replace it in its original spot, or even that he signed an incorrect scorecard because he failed to assess himself the penalty for breaching the rule.
The hand-wringing was all about how Harrington happened to find himself reviewing the tape with a rules official the day after his infringement, whether said rules breach warranted such a harsh response, and how fast can we change the blasted rules of golf so that the punishment fits the crime?
The answers are 1) a TV viewer alerted European Tour officials about the offense via e-mail, 2) yes because that’s what the rules state, and 3) not fast enough.
Even Jack Nicklaus believes the Rules of Golf need an overhaul, and there’s no argument here that gaffes like Harrington’s, in which there is no apparent skullduggery involved, deserve more lenient discipline than DQs. Assess the penalty and move on.
Addressing this situation would not even require rewriting the regs. Just have the various governing bodies — PGA, LPGA, Euro Tour et al — stop basing their rulings on the judgment calls of TV viewers. Put an official in the replay booth if necessary to ensure that golfers don’t stray from the straight and narrow (self-policing in the game that prides itself on its integrity went out the window the first time a rules official accepted a call from a golf fan with a rotary dial).
Just hang up. But here’s the message to golf’s powers-that-be: hang up, block the call, assign the e-mails to the junk bin, and unfollow on Twitter. Arm-chair umps are not new to golf and there will always be someone out there in TV Land ready to drop a dime on a golfing miscreant. Doesn’t mean you have to take the call.
Coincidentally, Euro Tour officials banned a Scottish golfer for illegallly marking his ball on the greens during a Russian tournament. Read how Elliot Saltman may appeal his three-month suspension from golf.