As we all know by now, Padraig Harrington was disqualified from this week’s European Tour event, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He inadvertently rolled his ball “3 dimples” forward in replacing it on the green. He knew the rule, thought it had rolled back to its original position, but television replays showed he was wrong. It only rolled back “a dimple and a half.”
A viewer at home, actually two it later turned out, noticed the difference and emailed the Tour. Had Harrington replaced his ball—which he clearly didn’t think was necessary—there would have been no penalty. But when he didn’t, he was playing from a “wrong place” and since it wasn’t materially different from the right place, he should have added a two stroke penalty. (Had it been a material difference it would have been disqualification.)
So when he signed and submitted his scorecard, in his mind it was a factually based and true scorecard. He just didn’t know that the ball had not, indeed, rolled that extra 1½ dimples back. Goodbye, Padraig.
The golf world, given its faith in Harrington’s integrity and knowledge of the rules, was enraged. How could some “chop”—one of the more unkind labels—sitting at home affect the outcome of a tournament? And how could all this happen after the scorecards were all submitted and final? The rattling shook all the way to the R&A and the USGA, with the USGA issuing a statement that they were already in discussion with the R&A, but that they needed to proceed carefully.
And Harrington got a chance to point to why careful deliberation was necessary. Since he was paid an appearance fee to be at the tournament, as all the marquee players on the European Tour are, he honored that and stuck around through the weekend. On Friday, he did a junior clinic where he demonstrated how to properly mark and replace your ball. His boyish grin never left his face.
And he also showed up in the broadcast booth in today’s final round. His faux pas came up, of course, and he basically rehashed the details: I knew the rule; I thought it rolled back.
When it turned to the need to “do something” to prevent such a thing happening in the future, he supported the careful deliberation of the R&A and USGA. “What about the player who is trying to cheat to gain an advantage?” he wondered. Oh, yeah. That guy. A very classy position for Harrington to take: no complaining, no whining, it is what it is and let’s be careful in our rush to fix it.
But there were two other pieces of wisdom that came out of his time in the booth this morning. They were at the top of my mind in conceiving this post and would have been at the top of the post had I not felt that a compilation of all the facts of his disqualification as we now know them was important.
But all of that got him into the booth. It’s a shame he’s not old enough to be retired so that we could hear him in the booth in every tournament. You have to get used to his lilting Irish accent, but once you do, his warmth, charm, wit and wisdom are enchanting.
The first thing he said that got my attention came when Renton Laidlaw, the play-by-play announcer, asked him about his formative golfing years as a kid. Harrington said that he basically played with half a bag of clubs because his brother had the other half. He didn’t say who had the odd numbers and who had the even numbers, but what it did do was force him to learn how to hit shots. Having all those gaps in his bag, he had to learn how to hit the “wrong” club harder or softer or with more or less curve in order to learn how to “play” the game, not just hit robotic shots.
He went on to say that it was important for the same reason to give today’s kids a bag that didn’t include a driver or a sand wedge or lob wedge. A driverless bag forces them to hit longer shots into the greens, not just plow along with simpler short irons. And the absence of the two specialty wedges forces them to hit all the touch shots around the green with just the stock pitching wedge. Anybody, he says, can get a sand wedge or lob wedge close, but doing it with a pitching wedge requires real shot making, not technologically supported shot making.
And the other piece of wisdom was sort of an extension of that conversation and prompted by the, hmmm…mundane career of journeyman, David Lynn. I didn’t know Lynn, but Harrington said that he was a very good player who was noted for his formulaic playing; hitting fairways and hitting greens in regulation.
But Harrington felt that this routinely left Lynn with twenty-foot putts. And he two-putted almost all of them, which was why he was so good (he had a T5 today). But he felt that not seeing those first putts going in very often—you wouldn’t expect them to—could eventually lead to frustration, to beginning to think of yourself as a bad putter.
So, thinking out loud, he thought that Lynn might be better served by taking more chances with his approach shots, which would lead to more missed greens rather than longer, “safe” putts. Acknowledging Lynn’s talent, he said that he would get most of them up and down, would have to make a lot of pressure putts to do it, and would thus begin to think of himself as a good putter rather than an average putter.
Because I am such a fan of “playing” the game, rather than merely smoothing physical motions, both of these ideas struck me as something that tap into our inherent genius, the repository of true greatness and magic. It worked for me when I was Monday qualifying; my short game and putting was extraordinary. My certainty and trust in them was what kept me out there for nine years.
I just wasn’t missing the greens on purpose.