• Alistair Tait

When Harrington forgot to sign his autograph

There are times when it’s difficult to explain how great this game of golf is to those who don’t play it. What happened before the final round of the 2000 Benson & Hedges International Open at The Belfry was one of those times.

Hopefully those in contention today to win the British Masters over the same venue won’t suffer the same fate as Padraig Harrington 21 years ago.

The European Ryder Cup captain is a 15-time European Tour winner. His win tally should arguably read 16 considering he was almost guaranteed to win the 2000 Benson & Hedges.

The Dubliner entered the final round with a five-shot lead. The £166,660 first place prize was all but his. There were few at The Belfry that day who would have bet against the future three-time major winner failing to add the B&H to the Brazil Sao Paulo 500 Years Open earlier in the season, his second European Tour victory.

Yet look back at the record books and the name Jose Maria Olazabal is recorded as the 2000 B&H winner. The Spaniard closed with two consecutive 66s to better Welshman Phillip Price by three shots. You need to scan down to the bottom of the scores to find Harrington’s name with the words DISQ beside it.

Harrington was disqualified for failing to sign his first round score card. The omission only came to light before the final round. The Irishman had returned a course record 64 in round one. The Belfry Hotel wanted to frame the card for posterity, and that’s when the error came to light. Playing companion and marker Michael Campbell had mistakenly signed Harrington’s card twice, in the player’s and marker’s boxes. So when Harrington glanced at his score card, he saw two signatures and thought he’d signed it.

It was an ironic mistake from a man who once considered a career in accountancy if professional golf didn’t work out.

I remember non-golfing friends asking a simple question: why couldn’t he just have signed his first round card before the final round and everything would have been ok? Fair question. After all, Campbell had already verified the score, there would have been a recorder walking with the group who had noted every single stroke Harrington had made. So what was the problem? Some would say the rules of golf were/are the problem, especially non golfers.

Under old Rule 6-6b, Signing and Returning Score Card, Harrington had to be disqualified for failing to sign his card.

As you would expect, Harrington dealt with the situation with class. He did not go storming off the grounds but accepted full responsibility for his actions.

"We know that the responsibility for the card lies solely with yourself,” he said. “I've been doing it since I was 12 and this is the first time I've failed to sign.
"I rang all my family and it felt like, `God, I'm ringing round as if there's been a death'. There hasn't been a death? I just haven't won the tournament."

The gaffe forced Harrington to adopt a new policy from then onwards.

“I actually sign the top of my card and on top of my name," he later said. "Now, I always sign my card twice. I have a preventative policy to deal with it.”

This situation is dealt with under the new rules issued 1 January 2019. Rule 3.3b(2) Player’s Responsibility: Certifying Hole Scores and Returning Score Card. As the rule dictates, the penalty is still disqualification.

Seems the new, simplified Rules of Golf ( ha, ha, ha) are just as hard to explain to non golfers as they were 21 years ago.

#JustSaying: “It’s a law of nature that everybody plays a hole badly when playing through.” Bernard Darwin

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