News & Opinion

Harrington knows Thompson’s pain but supports golf rules

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Padraig Harrington might be the golfer most capable of talking about the emotions of losing a tournament on a rules infraction.

In 2000, he mistakenly did not sign a scorecard in the Benson & Hedges International Open on the European Tour. Unlike Lexi Thompson, who was penalized in a controversial runner-up finish in the recent ANA Inspiration, Harrington was disqualified.

Harrington took the lead in the first round and didn’t relinquish it through the second or third rounds, entering the final round ahead by five shots. In preparation for his coronation on Sunday, The Belfry resort in England wanted to duplicate Harrington’s scorecards and put them on display.

In researching the scorecards, Harrington was found not to have signed his first-round card. He was disqualified before teeing offSunday.

“The signatures belonged to Jamie Spence and Michael Campbell,” said Harrington, explaining why two signatures were on his card. “What actually happened is, Jamie Spence was my marker, signed the card, Michael Campbell was sitting between me (and Spence), and he (Spence) passed the card to Michael to pass to me, and Michael instinctively saw a blank space and signed it. Jamie’s signature looked a bit like mine, so it was an easy mistake.”

Harrington empathized with Thompson, who was penalized four strokes after a TV viewer emailed the LPGA on Sunday to note an improper marking of her golf ball a day earlier, which resulted in her having signed for what was determined to be a lower score on the hole. However, Harrington, 45, a three-time major champion from Ireland, would not criticize the Rules of Golf or the LPGA for its actions.

“The rules are there to protect the whole field,” Harrington said. “I find this very hard when people are being critical of it all. The fact is, Lexi made a mistake. And I really do think in her case it was carelessness. But that rule – moving a golf ball half an inch to the side or forward or whatever, can completely change everything. If it's in a hole, if there's a spike mark, and people have been known to do it. So, while it's a shame that she got penalized in this situation, the rule needs to be there.”

If today’s Rule 6-6d (“Wrong Score for Hole”), which calls for a two-stroke penalty when a player signs for a lower score, had been in place in 2000, Harrington still would have held a three-stroke lead entering the final round.

“That would have been great for me, and it's a fairer rule,” Harrington said. “You should only get disqualified for a conscious deliberate act of cheating after the event. In my case, I would have gained no advantage. It was a mistake, but I need to attest my card, because it's part of the game. It protects the field, just like marking your golf ball and not being careless about it protects the field. And as much as it's harsh and everything like that, you still have to protect the field. As we all know, moving the ball, moving the ball sideways – it might be moving it backwards, out of a hole – is against the rules.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli