Friday, 21 January 2011

Padraig Harrington Disqualified for Moving His Ball

I’m sorry to be writing this second blog in a week for many different reasons. Padraig Harrington is a near neighbor of mine in Dublin, he is one of life’s gentlemen, he has suffered from an innocuous disqualification penalty on a previous occasion (The Benson & Hedges International in 2000), and he is probably one of the most knowledgeable players on the Tours in terms of his understanding of the Rules.

Here is the incident for which Padraig was penalised in Abu Dhabi. As he did not replace the ball, which was judged to have moved forward as he was picking up his marker, he then played it from a wrong place, Rule 20-7(ii), even though it was only a question of millimetres. This breach incurs a penalty of two strokes, but because he signed and returned a score card
that did not include the penalty, the only option open to tournament referee, Andy McFee, was to disqualify him.

If you cannot view this video go to
[edit] He was later quoted as saying;
"I'm comfortable with the whole idea that there's people there watching, and I believe when I'm on the golf course I'm not going to do anything untoward. I hope that this many people watch The European Tour. I hope there's 100 million people watching me play and checking me out. It's good for the game."
This is yet another unfortunate occurrence that will no doubt feed fuel to those that argue that the Rules of Golf are unfair, draconian and out of touch, and that players that are subject to television scrutiny are at a disadvantage to those that are not so closely monitored. As you will know from my previous blogs, this is not my opinion and I prefer to concentrate on the positives. Yet again we see that golfers are different to almost any other professional sports players. Padraig Harrington accepted his fate without complaint, as did Camilo Villegas two weeks ago, and many others before them. His detailed explanation of the circumstances of the penalty can be viewed at this link following a short advertisement. 

Edit (April 2011) The R&A and USGA Announce Score Card Rules Revision. Click on this link for details.   
Another positive arising from this latest incident is that it has highlighted the Rule that when a player moves their ball accidentally they must replace it at the spot where it was when they moved it, even if it was still marked (Rule 18-2). Every high-profile Rules situation increases golfers’ understanding of the particular ruling involved.

Ironically, another Irishman was involved in a very similar Rules situation during the same opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. A television viewer reported that Graeme McDowell’s club had moved his ball as he addressed it to hit into the 18th green. On this occasion, the television evidence showed that although he had touched his ball it did not move off its spot and therefore no penalty was incurred, Rule 18-2(i). I know that many readers disagree with on-course spectators and television viewers being able to affect a player’s score by reporting breaches that the players did not know they incurred, or did not report. But these two incidents show the complete equity of the situation. The player that did breach the Rules was penalised and the one that did not was not. I stand by my opinion that in golf, anyone who breaches the Rules, whether or not they are aware of it, should incur the penalty. It is not a question of whether they benefited or not in the particular circumstances. This becomes subjective, which can then lead to arguments. A breach is a breach and is penalised accordingly.

Finally, I am sad to report that only the third player in the European Tour’s history has been sanctioned for ‘cheating’; the first for almost 19 years. Elliot Saltman, a 28-year-old Scottish professional, was banned from competition for three months by a disciplinary panel, including several senior players, after he was found guilty of a "serious breach" of the Rules. During a Challenge Tour event in Russia last September he repeatedly replaced his ball on a slightly different spot from where he had marked it and this was reported by the two fellow competitors playing with him. He may appeal the decision.

Play to the Rules, there is no other way.

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Anonymous said...

Padraig is, as usuall, incredibly honest and a geat ambassador both for golf and for this country. I agree with him totally, that we must play by the rules and Padraig infringed a rule in this case which unfortunately resulted in a disqualification. That said, I do have one major issue with the wat that the rule infringement was discovered. We are seeing an increasing occurance of "Armchair Rules Policing" or "Trial by Television" and something needs to be done about this. Clearly in this case, Padraig considered that the ball oscillated and returned to it's original position. Howerver the use of a large HD TV and slow-motion replay allowed a TV viewer to see the incident in much more detail - a point Padraig concurred with when he too saw it on a TV. His comment was that it moved 3 dimples forward and them 1 and a half dimples backwards, so strictly speaking it did not return to it's precise original position. He also went on to speak about the lays of Physics etc. This is a ridiculous situation when a player observes one thing happening with his naked eye and a technology assisted view of the same incident shows something else! Should we now record every move/shot of every player so some eagle-eyed viewer can have an opportunity to say they spotted something that was impossible for the player to see at the time? This is fundamentally wrong in my opinion. The players are solely responsible for calling rules infringements on themselves and can only do so to the best of their physical abilities. Ignorance of a rule is not a defence for a rule infringement and should never be, however if a player such as Padraig says that he saw the incident and believed that a ball oscillated, then that is good enough for me. If we permit the rules to allow the use of technology advances to show something that the Players eye canot observe in real-time then it's time to re-evalute the use of such technology and the associated rules.
Jim Halpenny

Barry Rhodes said...


I completely agree. I do not have a problem with anyone reporting a breach of the Rules. However, I don't think that we should rely of technology (such as close-ups, high definition or slow motion) to make rulings. After all, walking officials (who may not always have 20-20 vision!) have to make their rulings from their observation position off the putting green.


Ken said...

Whilst I agree technology based judgment to be accurate and precise,there remains an anomaly in respect to ball moved or not.
Once the ball has been lifted or oscillates, in a strict sense, say in millionth of inches, in the majority of cases the ball will not be returned to its exact position. So where do you draw the line. In my opinion as an accredited rules official common sense should prevail. It is sad that in more and more cases common sense approach has been denied. Only the other day in a match play situation on a putting green a tape measure was used to determine which player's ball was closer to the hole. The result was so close I declared the balls are equidistant from the hole therefore in accordance with the rule to be determined by lot. If I used a more advanced technology device or spent more time or called assistance and remeasured I may had found the ball closest to the hole. But I do not believe I have breached the rule for not doing so.
There must be a limit for preciseness and in my opinion in the circumstances that Padraig was in he should not have penalized.
What do you think?

Barry Rhodes said...


As in my comment above I believe that rulings should be made without recourse to technology, which obviously is not available in most Rules incidents, especially outside of Pro Tournament events. However, in this case I think that ther evidence shows that Padraig Harrington did breach a Rule, which then had to be penalised. What many people are forgetting is that he was not penalised for moving his ball. Knowing that he had brushed his ball in the act of replacing it the correct procedure was for him to have put down his marker where it was and replaced the ball, even though in his own mind this would have n
been at the same point. In not doing this he was penalised for playing from the wrong place, which then led to his disqualification for signing for a score which did not include the penalty incurred.

I would like to add one further point. Supposing Padraig had not been penalised and had gone on to win the tournament in Abu Dhabi by one stroke. You can bet that the golfing media would have immediately latched on to this, drawing their readers/viewers attention to the breach of Rule and suggesting that he should not have won at all. Potentially, this could have a very negative effect on a player's career. They would probably prefer to have been disqualified rather than carry that stigma around for months, or maybe years.


courtgolf said...

Of all of these violations reported after someone saw then reported, the only one that really bothered me was Harrington's. When it happened, it looked to me like the ball had oscillated - which is not a problem. You had to look at it in a blown up, slow motion, HD replay to see that the ball didn't completely roll back where it started. Neither the naked eye, nor real time TV could see what happened.

Golf is supposed to be a human game. Replays and slow motion and HD are foreign to how the rules are supposed to be enforced.

These tours need to step up the players knowledge of the rules. They aren't supposed to be relying on officials.

Anyway - here's my question... There is a lot of talk of the USGA and the R&A re-writing rules because of what has happened over the last year.

Shouldn't the ruling bodies tell the tours that they need to cover this problem in house as a local rule ? The ruling bodies are supposed to write rules to cover most of the golfers most of the time - and most of us don't have cameras trained on our shots. And what would the ruling bodies do about players in a professional tournament who get on TV vs the ones who don't get seen ?

Barry Rhodes said...


There may be "a lot of talk of the USGA and the R&A re-writing the rules because of what has happened over the last year", but it is not going to happen. The one subject that the Ruling Bodies have acknowledged that they need to address is players getting disqualified, after they have returned their signed card, for a minor infringement (like Harrington's). There will of course be some changes at the four-yearly review that is due in December of this year, but they are unlikely to be of major significance. The existing Rules have evolved over more than two hundred years for very good reasons and there has always been criticism of them, mainly from those that don't think through the consequences of the changes that they call for.

Personally, I don't have a problem with players who are on TV being more carefully scrutinised. In most cases they are on TV because they are amongst the leaders, or favourites to win the tournament. It is high-profile rulings, such as we have already seen this year, that help golfers around the world to understand the Rules better and respect them more when playing the game themselves. There is a useful ripple-down effect.

Where I do agree with you is that we should not have to rely on slow-motion, high definition TV cameras to prove that a ball moved. In retrospect, I believe that the officials should have said that there was reasonable doubt that Harrington's ball returned to the same place and that no penalty was appropriate in the circumstances.


jim said...

34-1b/1 ......
"but not if the competitor did not know he had incurred the penalty."
(after the competition had closed)
Why different in Padraig's situation ?

Barry Rhodes said...


Because the competition had not closed when Padraig's breach was brought to the attention of the officials.

A competition is closed when the result has been officially announced


jim again said...

I'm obviously missing the point here..
Padraig did not know he had incurred the penalty
Why is the decision different whether the competition is closed or not ?

Barry Rhodes said...


Perhaps I'm missing the point that you are trying to make. Let me summarise;

Padraig signed and returned his score card without including a penalty that he did not know he had incurred. Had the officials known about the penalty before he returned his card it would have been a two stroke penalty. As the penalty breach was not known until the following day he had to be disqualified from the competition, which was still running, for signing for a wrong score. If the Rules breach had not been reported until after the competition had closed there would have been no penalty whatsoever because part of Rule 34-1b states;

In stroke play, a penalty must not be rescinded, modified or imposed after the competition has closed. A competition is closed when the result has been officially announced ...

There is one exception to this Rule which I think may be confusing you. If a player returns a score card which does not include a penalty that they know was incurred, then they can be disqualified after the competition has closed.


apologetic jim said...

an apologetic jim
Sorry Barry
I guess as as an "amateur Rules Expert" I should not have stopped learning at Rule 28
I was reading 34-1b/1 on it's own
As you pointed out 34-1 is quite clear
Again my apologies (but I shall continue to read your blog , learn more, then maybe I'll not need to trouble you again)