Padraig Harrington answered the questions with the R&A logo on his sleeve turned ever so slightly towards the cameras. As the first Working for Golf Ambassador for the St Andrews-based governing body, he has to be careful what he says about the rules.
But following his controversial disqualification from the Abu Dhabi Championship, where was adjudged to have signed for an incorrect score on the basis on video evidence flagged by a TV viewer, he believes the age of the video referee may be at hand.
Players will assiduously call penalty shots on themselves but they cannot be expected to do so when they are not aware that they have committed an infraction visible only on slow motion, high definition replays. Still, changing the relevant rule of golf will not be easy.
“On the face of it, you could sit down over dinner and you come up with a number of ways to change the rules,” Harrington said on the eve of his 2011 PGA Tour debut at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. “When a committee actually sits down and examines it, I think they will find it very difficult to find a new rule that covers all angles.
“The old rule does cover all angles, albeit harshly at times, but it covers every eventuality. I think any new rule brought in, they’re going to have to work hard to find one that encompasses every situation you can envisage.”
The issue at hand is the frequent disqualifications handed to players for signing for a score they could not have known was incorrect. Harrington inadvertently moved his ball “a dimple and a half” when he nudged it with his thumb in the act of removing his coin after replacing it on the green.
A viewer spotted his failure to replace his ball but because video evidence was not examined until he had signed his card, he was out in the cold.
“I would have to actually see it (the new draft of the rule). Somebody would have to actually present me what they’re going to go with before I would really be able to make that call…..maybe the best one - albeit a bit awkward to do - would be have a video ref sitting there, and he signs off at the end of the day and that’s it.
“There are so many options. But subjectivity, yeah, that would be fine. Yeah, and certainly in our level events. But it would have to be back and white down the road, like in normal amateur tournaments and things like that.
But in professional events where they do have the cameras and the ability to have qualified professionals ruling on this all the time, then subjectivity could be brought into it. When it comes to tournament referees, there’s no bias at all.
“So, yeah, it’s possible that they could do that job, yeah. Wouldn’t be great to have a local match in your club and somebody’s brought in to have a subjective opinion. I don’t think that would work too well. Certainly in our instance where the referees do a professional job, they would be well capable of making that call.”