Padraig Harrington and the Epidemic Running Through Professional Golf

Michael DixonAnalyst IIIMay 10, 2011

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 08:  Padraig Harrington of Ireland watches his tee his shot on the fourth hole during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club on May 8, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Did anyone happen to catch this weekend's Wells Fargo Championship?

In it, Lucas Glover won his first professional tournament since winning the US Open in 2009. Congratulations go out to Lucas. I will be really interested to see if this can propel him to greater heights.

Unfortunately, I am not talking about Glover here. His win is not what I am taking from this tournament. I will also not remember Jonathan Byrd's clutch birdie on the final hole to earn his spot in a sudden-death playoff.

No, I am going to remember what happened on the 13th tee to Padraig Harrington. Ironically, it happened well after his round was over.

It was brought to Harrington's attention that he might have teed up ahead of the tee markers on the 13th hole. The results were eventually inconclusive and Harrington received no punishment.

If he had, it would have been a disqualification. He would not have properly played the hole and his round was already over. That punishment, or potential punishment, seems draconian since we are talking about a matter of inches (if that), but that's actually not my problem.

Who brought this to the attention of the tournament officials? Was it Harrington himself? A rules official? His playing competitor (Phil Mickelson)? Either caddy?

No. It was a fan that suggested that Harrington may have been ahead of the tees.

We see this a lot, only with fans calling in saying that they may have seen a penalty. In this case, it was a live spectator, which is actually worse. If he thought he saw that, he was obviously within ear-shot of Harrington—why wouldn't he tell Harrington? Instead, he told a volunteer marshal well after the fact.

Only one person knows the answer to that question, but that's not really my concern. Whether it is a live spectator or someone at home calling in, this needs to stop. This has actually become an epidemic in golf.

For one, golfers are generally not cheaters. In sports where direct competition is a part of the game, players frequently violate rules, either through cheating or just desperation. An offensive lineman holds the guy that he is blocking either because he knows that the referee is not watching, or he has been beaten and is trying to protect his quarterback or running back from being hit.

If he gets away with it, it's just accepted as being part of the sport. Sure, the other player will complain, as will his teammates, coaches and fans, but it's been part of football for as long as it's been played.

The same is not true for golf, at least not at that level.

Has there ever been someone at that level who blatantly who tried to cheat? Yeah, probably. Some have probably gotten away with it, but it's not a part of the game. And if anyone is caught, the penalty would probably be a lifetime ban, or at least a season-long suspension.

Let's discount that argument though. Is there a reason that the PGA Tour can't hire rules officials to follow every group? They already do, but they act as more of advisers, and they help golfers through drops and things like that.

My proposal is that they should keep doing that, but that they should also act as more of a referee. If they see a violation, they are free to throw a flag.

If they see a technical violation that doesn't really have anything to do with the spirit of the rule, such as Craig Stadler using a towel to "build a stance," they are free to leave the flags in their pockets.

Using the football comparison, a referee can also leave a flag in his pocket if a penalty happens 40-yards away from the ball. Some do, some don't.

Unfortunately, that would leave some subjectivity, but that's better than what we have now. What we have now are people calling in. In the past, that has actually resulted in disqualifications, as the penalties have caused players to sign incorrect scorecards. That rule has now been amended.

There is one other argument against having referees in golf. The rules of golf as they are written now apply to all golfers, not just tournament golfers. The PGA Tour (and any other tour that you can think of) likes that.

So, because I can't have a referee with me for my Sunday rounds at my home course, the tour can't have an actual referee on hand for tournaments with winner's shares of close to or over one-million dollars?

I don't follow that logic.

Actually, in a way, I do. The only problem is that tours already violate this rule, nd they do so repeatedly. I can't have a referee, but I am pretty sure that I can't have someone sitting at home on their couch calling in saying that my ball moved two-centimeters after I grounded my club on the green.

The tours have had no problems using the advantages they have to punish players. Why can't they use the same advantages to have actual referees instead of rules officials?

Some rules would still be hard. Brian Davis would still probably be penalized for testing the conditions in the hazard that he was in last year at Harbour Town.

Similarly, Dustin Johnson would have been penalized for grounding his club in a bunker at the PGA Championship.

But neither one of those were called in.

To the people that do call in, please get a life. I know that that sounds harsh and I am sorry for that, but is this how you enjoy sports?

To the tours, take advantage of all of the resources you have. No, I am not crazy about having referees on the golf course, but I like that better than this. Follow the lead from other sports.

In high school tennis, players call their own lines. If there is a dispute, teammates or coaches will step in as line judges. At Wimbeldon, they have line judges and referees. They are taking advantage of what they have.

Other sports do the same thing. In high school basketball games, they don't have high-definition cameras all over the place. They can't review whether a player had his foot on the three-point line, or who the ball last touched before going out of bounds.

In the NBA, they do have HD cameras all over the place, so they do review those calls. The NFL, NHL, and MLB all do the same thing, although baseball has been painfully slow in the matter.

At their highest levels, those sports take advantage of all resources and use them to monitor the games and review their calls.

Why can't golf do the same?

If you need to, hire referees, allow them to call penalties and have them be the ones to use the cameras to review the calls. Whether referees become necessary or not, the tour needs to stop allowing fans to call violations. No other sport allows that.

Am I wrong? Am I missing something? As always, I would love to know if I am.


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