On the eve of the Benson and Hedges, the first European Tour event proper and first of the year in Britain, all of the big boys will be out to play. Not only is this a big one but it also has a lot of money attached to it, as Pod Harrington knows only too well.
Few will fail to recall Pod's debacle last year when he failed to sign his card - a card that would not only have given him a comfortable tournament lead going into the last day, but it would also have given him a tournament course record. Neither the gallery, nor the Tour officials are likely to let him forget it - to say nothing of the press. But unlike the Spanish and Italian Opens that have gone before, the event will be played on a championship course proper and there will be a gallery as well as a substantial press presence. One hopes that the Tour officials will be as careful in recording that fact as they will in checking Pod's card.
Harrington probably made more friends and influenced more people with the manner in which he took the news of his disqualification last year than for any other of his golfing performances. Under circumstances in which any normal person would have gone for the throat of the messenger, Pod calmly smiled and took his medicine, no matter that it must have been utterly unpalatable and indeed gutted him. He showed no emotion at a time when most thought that he had a very good cause for registering outrage.
What transpired in the markers tent that day is the stuff of legend. Harrington, high on his play after a tough day, was seated beside his playing partners, Jamie Spence and Mike Campbell, checking the cards. Spence, who was keeping Harrington's card, passes it over and Campbell in the heat of the moment signed it. Harrington then checks the card carefully - he is after all a qualified accountant - and sees that everything is filled in and leaves the tent. No-one notices that the card has been signed by Mike Campbell and not by Padraig Harrington. No scorer, no Tour official, nobody notices until someone from the Wentworth Hotel thinks that it would be a nice idea to have the card framed as an exhibit. Only then is it found that Pod's signature is not on the card that it should be on.
The rule-book is then cranked out and he is belatedly informed that he has contravened rule 6, subsection 6 and he is disqualified. There is much irony in the fact that had he not played a round sufficiently memorable for someone to want the card as a memento, his misdemeanour would never have come to light.
Golf prides itself in its rules that accrue by the year like a maturing oak tree, mighty, weighty and very ponderous. Golf is indeed precious about its rules. It is generally held that engaging in a sport with rules as unyielding develops character and more besides. In general terms the golfer is supposed to be more philosophical about life's ups and downs and be ever more prepared to accept the good with the bad.
This is all tosh, of course. If this was the case we would not see the outbursts on golf courses that we are all familiar with at all levels. Anyone other than Pod Harrington would have thrown a wobbly on being confronted with the news, some six hours later, that he was disqualified. I can think of a few that would have stuck a putter in an official head. Golf does not develop character but it certainly brings out character.
There is undoubtedly an unhealthy preoccupation with the rules of the game from many standpoints and I am not simply thinking of the club boor. Pros have learned to use the rules, as of course they should, but it nevertheless sticks in the craw to see them do it. It is becoming increasingly commonplace to find controversy in the course of a club medal round concerning some rule or other. And it is not only the very young that have been known to claim a matchplay hole when an unsuspecting opponent has picked up six inches from the hole with three strokes in hand.
You can write rules but you can't write equity into them and the more precious we become about them the more they come to resemble papal guidelines for the Spanish Inquisition.
One cannot help but wonder how Montgomerie, Ballesteros or Faldo would have reacted in Harrington's situation last year. Certainly Monty would have assumed a scowl that would have soured milk in its acidity. Faldo would probably have called a press conference followed by a national referendum. And if Ballesteros' reaction to a penalty stroke last week in Italy is anything to go by, every official at The De Vere Belfry would have been in peril.
Not to take anything away from the character and fortitude that Harrington showed last year, it is worth recalling that he was not altogether familiar with success. The Benson and Hedges would have been his first tournament win so his disqualification would have hurt all the more, but it may also have made it all the more acceptable. Pod was perhaps conditioned to the bridesmaid's role for he had collected an estimable runners -up record. Now, at the top of his game and leading the European Order of Merit, one wonders how he would react today.
Harrington has certainly accumulated enough funds to put his accountancy skills to good use since his notable contribution to Ryder Cup glory last year.
The Belfry would appear to have been a watershed for him for he won handsomely the following week. Winning seemed to come easy after that and he is deservedly at very short odds for this years Benson and Hedges.
One can be very sure that he will be checking his card carefully but will he escape John Paramor's eagle eye for slow play? Harrington can make a tortoise look hurried.
|| 6 - MAY 2003