Tait: Harrington DQ highlights golf's rules flaw

Padraig Harrington of Ireland gives a press conference after being disqualified before his second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland gives a press conference after being disqualified before his second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Enough is enough. It’s time the Rules of Golf got real.

Padraig Harrington’s disqualification from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is the final straw. It’s time for an overhaul.

The Irishman is the second player in the space of three weeks to be disqualified from a tournament on TV evidence. I have no problem with viewers calling in to report rules violations, but I do have a hard time with a player unwittingly breaking the rules one day, only to be disqualified the next because the scorecard already had been signed.

That’s the fate Harrington suffered.

The Dubliner thought he’d scored a 7-under-par 65 in the opening round and put himself in contention to win, only to find himself out of the tournament for a rules violation he made on the seventh green.

The three-time major winner had unknowingly moved the ball forward in the act of marking it. Under Rule 20-3a, the ball should have been replaced. Had the violation come to light before he signed his scorecard, Harrington could have added the mandatory two-shot penalty and continued in the tournament. However, because he’d already signed his card, he was disqualified under Rule 6-6d for signing for a score lower than the one he actually took.

Camilo Villegas suffered a similar punishment in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions two weeks ago when it came to light he’d committed a rules infraction after he’d signed his card.

The Rules of Golf are there to make sure players adhere to a strict code that the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield laid down centuries ago. The original 13 edicts have grown into 34 rules, plus a plethora of decisions.

Sometimes, they’re just too strict.

They certainly are in this case. That’s obvious when the man who administered the disqualification thinks so.

“The problem I see is, the innocent penalty escalates very quickly from two strokes to disqualification,” said Andy McFee, the European Tour senior referee who disqualified Harrington. “I don’t like that. I really don’t like that.”

McFee conceded that the R&A and USGA were discussing the possibility of changing the rule so that the two-stroke penalty could be applied retroactively instead of disqualifying the player. “We could still apply the relevant penalty but reopen the card. Instead of Padraig being disqualified … we would reopen the card, and he would still be playing in the golf tournament with the correct penalty.”

That’s the sensible course of action. Those discussions should be moved forward to make that possible.

Harrington certainly agrees. “Going forward, in a situation where a player signed his card and something has come forward that a player could not have been aware about, there might be a new penalty instead of disqualification.”

Graeme McDowell agrees. “It’s a bit harsh to DQ a guy in retrospect,” McDowell said. “I like the two-shot penalty, especially when a guy has unknowingly signed for a wrong score.”

They’re right. We don’t need to be this draconian. It’s serves the game no good to hammer a guy for a violation he doesn’t know he has committed.

The irony is that Harrington was disqualified by rules drafted by the body that has just made him an ambassador. Harrington wears the R&A logo on his sleeve. Maybe that gives him some leverage to get the rule changed.

Let’s hope so, because enough is enough.

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