Padraig Harrington, a three-time major tournament winner who was booted from an event in January, said golf’s ruling bodies acted quickly and prudently by changing a rule to prevent professionals from being automatically disqualified if a television viewer alerts an official to an infraction.
The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of Scotland changed an interpretation of the rules because of disqualifications in situations “caused by scorecard errors identified as the result of recent advances in video technologies,” the governing organizations said yesterday before the start of the Masters Tournament.
Three months ago, Harrington was disqualified from the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship because of an incident in the opening round brought to light by a TV viewer.
“It seems like a pretty sensible thing,” Harrington said following yesterday’s opening round of the Masters in Augusta, Georgia. “It’s a small change, but a good change. It’s great to see that they have got together and acted so quickly.”
The decision means players who aren’t aware of a rule breach before signing their scorecard won’t automatically be removed from the competition, the groups said. Tournament officials now have the option to give the player a penalty for breaking the rule, but not disqualify them.
Harrington was trailing the leader by a shot when he brushed his ball while placing it in front of his marker on the seventh green, moving it a fraction. The Irishman didn’t replace the ball at that point and should have given himself a two-stroke penalty. Because he signed his scorecard without the penalty, he was disqualified.
Harrington said he didn’t call a referee over because he didn’t feel the ball had moved. He then realized it did after seeing video. A viewer had notified officials overnight about the violation.
“I would say we could wait a lifetime before we see another instance exactly like that one,” Harrington said.
Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, said disqualification under the old standard rule “is not what the rules of golf contemplated.”
“This would not happen on a day-to-day basis with golf,” Davis said at a press conference at the Masters. “Why should we essentially be throwing somebody out of a competition with a disqualification penalty for that?”
Several players have been found to have broken rules by viewers and disqualified in the last 12 months. Professionals complained about the actions, but the ruling bodies had replied that golfers have the responsibility to know and follow the rules.
In August, Juli Inkster was disqualified from the LPGA Safeway Classic after a viewer saw her use a weight on her club as she warmed up after a long delay on the 10th hole. It’s illegal to use a training aid during a tournament round.
The same month that Harrington was disqualified, Camilo Villegas of Colombia was ousted from the Tournament of Champions when a viewer saw him remove some pieces of loose grass in front of his ball as it rolled down a hill. Players can’t remove impediments that may influence the ball’s movement.
Under the rule change, Villegas still would have been disqualified, Davis said.
“Ignorance of the rules will not in this particular case get a player off disqualification,” Davis said.
After finishing his opening round of the Masters with a 2-under-par 70, Villegas said he agreed with the change while joking that the sport’s rules book is too thick.
“Who knows all the rules of golf?” Villegas asked reporters after yesterday’s round. “There’s too many rules in this game, but I guess the change is good. I’m looking forward to not breaking more rules without knowing that I’m doing it.”