- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2000

Padraig Harrington, pride of Irish golf, arrived at The Belfry Sunday morning thinking he had a five-shot lead in the Benson and Hedges International Open. Just 18 more holes of gaffe-free golf, he figured, and the title his second of the year on the European Tour would be his. But then he got the bad news: Officials had just discovered that he had forgotten to sign his scorecard after the first round.

The punishment for this particular transgression: disqualification.

Harrington took it amazingly well. He didn't run over the tournament director with a golf cart or storm into the scorer's tent brandishing a 3-iron. He didn't even blame playing partner Michael Campbell, who had caused the problem by mistakenly signing Harrington's card that day.

Instead, Harrington said the error was entirely his and all the more unforgivable because his college degree, after all, was in accounting.

"I'm twice as meticulous [a card-checker] as the most meticulous man on the tour," he said. "I check my scores four, five, six times before I hand in my card.

"I would hate to have won and for somebody to come along later and say I didn't really win… . If I didn't know I was meant to sign my card, I would say this is a daft rule. But the fact is that I've been doing this since I was 12, and it's the first time I've ever failed to sign it."

OK, if you won't say it Padraig, I will: This is a daft rule. It has nothing to do with golf and everything to do with … penmanship. We should have seen the last of these foul-ups in 1968, when Roberto De Vicenzo lost the Masters by a stroke after signing an incorrect scorecard. But no, here's another scorer's tent fiasco 32 years later.

If there were some question about Harrington's round last Thursday, some doubt about whether he had, indeed, shot a 71, it would be one thing. But everybody agrees he shot a 71. So why can't they cut the guy a little slack and let him sign his card ex post facto? Answer: Because it's golf, the most anal-retentive, rules-conscious sport there is.

The rule in question is Rule 66b, which after this should be on everyone's list of the Worst Rules in Sports. And what other rules are on the list, you ask? Well, here are my nominees:

• Baseball: Any ball that goes over the fence in fair territory is a home run.

A simple question: Why? Why couldn't a ball that clears the fence sometimes count as a double or a triple? It would restore some of the game's integrity in this era of bandbox ballparks, thin air (Colorado), putrid pitching and hyperactive baseballs. There's no reason a 320-foot pop fly down the right-field line should be weighted the same as a 500-foot moon shot into San Francisco Bay. Heck, I wouldn't mind if a truly Herculean blast was worth five bases. Anything would be better than this ridiculous Home Run Derby we have got now.

• Basketball: After rebounding a missed free throw in the final two minutes, the offensive team can call a timeout and take the ball out at half court instead of underneath its own basket.

If a ball moves 40 feet in a basketball game, it should be moved by passing or dribbling, not by a rule. How often has a team gotten off a potential game-winning shot instead of a three-quarters-court heave because of this silly rule? How many games have been lost because of it? It's like a football team fair-catching a punt at its 10, calling a TO and having the ball marked at midfield. Sure it makes the end of the game more exciting, but it's artificial.

• Football: The offense must have at least seven men on the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped.

How many times have you seen a big play wiped out because both wideouts lined up a yard behind the line (making it an illegal formation)? Is it really that big a deal? No. Six men on the line the center, two guards, two tackles, plus the tight end are quite enough. The seven-men-on-the-line rule is an anachronism that dates back to the turn of the century, when teams would position their guards in the backfield to give them a running start. There was just too much bloodshed, though, so the seven-men rule was put in. It's time for it to go.

• Hockey: If the score is tied at the end of regulation, a five-minute overtime period will be played, the teams skating four to a side.

Everybody hates ties except maybe the folks at the Men's Wearhouse but this ain't the way to deal with them. Hockey is a 5-on-5 game, not a 4-on-4 game. What makes it even worse, though, is that the team that loses in OT now gets a point for a "regulation tie." If you lose, you lose, I say. Baseball teams aren't rewarded for losing in extra innings, are they?

• College athletics: An athlete has to sit out a year if he transfers to another school.

… Even if the coach who recruited him is fired or takes another job. Scandalous, just scandalous. I keep waiting for the athletes to revolt, to occupy an academic building or something. But some of them probably wouldn't know where the academic buildings are.

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