Tours have to take blame for slow play
Nothing will change until players get penalised, writes Rob McGarr.
It’s always the players that get the blame for slow play. Makes sense, right? After all, it is them that are playing slowly.
But the reason slow play is becoming increasingly common – and extreme – is that the players have no onus to speed up. “I don’t understand what the big hoopla is all about,” said JB Holmes after being criticised for taking over four minutes to hit a shot on the 72nd hole of the Farmers Insurance Open, leaving playing partner Alex Noren, who had a genuine chance to win the tournament, stewing on the other side of the fairway. “I was just trying to give myself the best chance to win the tournament.”
That’s what every player is doing, and if that means taking an eternity, they will do just that as long as the governing bodies continue to turn a blind eye to slow play.
“We can all blame JB, and yes the player should take responsibility for their pace of play,” says Luke Donald, “but if they don’t, that’s why we have Tour officials. They needed to step in a while ago.”
Last month’s Shot Clock Masters on the European Tour gave players 40 or 50 seconds to hit their shot, depending on whether or not they were first to play. Exceed your time limit, which was ticking down on a large digital screen, and you got a one-shot penalty. Round times dropped by 45 minutes and the quality of golf actually improved, with scores lower than last year’s event, which was run without shot clocks.
“I think this is the way we should play golf,” said Peter Hanson, while lots of PGA Tour players looked on enviously. “Amazing how fast rounds go when players play within the rules,” said Billy Horschel. “Wish we had something like this on the PGA Tour.”
The stupid thing is, they do have something like this on the PGA Tour. The Tour allows 40 seconds to play a shot, but this is only relevant when players are being timed, which is rare. Even groups that are put ‘on the clock’ tend to speed up for a couple of holes until they’re no longer under scrutiny, then return to their usual pace. There has been only one incident of a penalty being given out in the last 22 years.
Only four penalties were administered during the Shot Clock Masters, but the genuine threat, and the fairness and clarity of it, was enough to transform the pace of play.
If we want to speed things up, we need the PGA and European Tour to take the initiative, rather than ignoring the problem.