Pádraig Harrington is going to miss his two on-course colleagues, John Paramor and Andy McFee, both of whom are retiring from their positions as the most senior referees on the European Tour in the week of the BMW Championship at Wentworth. Paramor, now 65, started with the tour in 1976, with McFee, now 62, beginning his run of service in ’83.
Harrington, who cheerfully admits that he would “love to have been a rules’ official,” picked on the word “trust” to sum up why the pair have inspired such confidence over four decades apiece. “It’s a trust that builds over the years,” said the 2021 Ryder Cup captain, “and the best way I can explain it is to say that if, say, I was playing someone in a head-to-head contest and he had asked for a ruling, I would usually be interested in any conversation he would be having with a referee. You have to be in those circumstances. However, if the referee in question was a John or an Andy, I would walk away. They know what they’re doing. I’m not saying the others aren’t good, it’s just that they’ve not built up the same level of trust as (Paramor and McFee) have.
“Again, whenever I see a ruling on television, I’ll want to know the whys and wherefores and, if I can’t work them out for myself, I will go to John or Andy the next time I’m at a tournament and ask them to explain the minutiae. I have these mad questions in my mind and I always want to get to the bottom of them. The great thing is that neither John nor Andy has ever minded. If I have a question, they’ll have an answer. In fact, there won’t be a rules incident anywhere which I haven’t discussed with them.”
This three-time major winner will often be drawn to a ruling which is getting an airing on social media. “Sometimes,” he said, “the other players might be suggesting that the guy they’re writing about was clearly cheating. The thing that always strikes me on these occasions is that there’s always a very good reason why the referees came to the decision they did; it’s never as black-and-white as people think. Here again, John or Andy will always take time to give me the details.”
“You always know that they’re not going to be influenced by what others might be thinking. It’s all about what they think themselves.” – Keith Pelley
In 2000, Harrington himself was on the receiving end of an unfortunate ruling, with McFee the official who advised of his disqualification from the Benson & Hedges International at the Belfry. At a time when he was five strokes ahead with 18 holes to play, it was discovered that he had failed to sign his first-round scorecard.
The omission had come to light when the Belfry Hotel wanted to be able to frame the winner’s cards. The tournament staff were in the process of having Harrington’s at the ready when they noticed that neither of the two signatures on the first-round card was Pádraig’s. “Nowhere,” said McFee at the time, “is there an attestation from the player that the round is accurate and that is a breach of the rules. The penalty is disqualification.” Which in turn meant that Harrington would not be collecting the £166,000 first prize.
You ask Harrington how McFee delivered the bad tidings and he said that both McFee and Paramor will always tackle good news and bad in the same straight-forward way. “What’s more,” Harrington added, “now I’m over the hill, so to speak, I’ve noticed that nothing has changed in the way I get handled. Everyone on tour gets the same treatment.”
Meanwhile, on those days when Harrington has fallen afoul of the pace-of-play regulations, he says he would sooner have “the two legends,” as Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive officer, has called them, doing the timings. “You always know that they’re not going to be influenced by what others might be thinking,” Harrington said. “It’s all about what they think themselves.”
Though Harrington has no hesitation in suggesting that he probably knows more about the rules than any of his fellow professionals, he describes himself as nothing more than an “armchair” authority: “It’s only when I sit down with John and Andy that I realise that they know so much more; that they are the real experts.”
Does he think the average professional is as well-versed in the rules as he should be?
The answer, here, is a definite no. “They should be able to apply the basic rules for themselves and, though I can understand why, in a pressure-laden situation, they might want to double-check something, it shouldn’t be happening all the time,” he said.
“Personally, I think we should have rules-orientation classes. That way, you could spell the end of people calling for a ruling simply because there are people there to give them.
“I can only say that I’m really sad that John and Andy are leaving. When you see them crisscrossing the course in their buggies, there’s this wonderfully reassuring feeling that the whole field is being protected.”
Top: Pádraig Harrington (left) says of Andy McFee (right) and John Paramor: “Everyone on tour gets the same treatment.” Photo: Ross Kinnaird, Getty Images
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