Slow play. It’s Exhibit A in the ongoing battle to attract new golfers and ensure those already playing to stay the course. The USGA, with its new pace-of-play push, avowed recently that it was finally going to do something to prod the creepy crawlers at your local muni.
Then, in what can only be considered bad timing for golf’s governors, the Kevin Na Invitational broke out at the U.S. Open on a course that touted its tight fairways, fast greens, and penal rough, and the much-hyped “While We’re Young” campaign became the target of ire and sarcasm of golf watchers.
The irony of the mildly humorous “Caddyshack”-inspired TV ads running while the best golfers in the world turned grey between shots was not lost on the Twitterati.
“While it’s the weekend!” Paul Staley, author of “Why We Golf” mockingly tweeted about the initiative the USGA kicked off with much fanfare and the likes of Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, and Arnold Palmer the week of the national championship. He and scores of others tweeted similar catcalls as the final group of Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, and Billy Horschel slow-poked its way to a nearly three-hour front nine on Saturday’s so-called “moving day” at such a bedeviling Marion Golf Club that former Masters winner Zach Johnson blasted the USGA for “manipulating” its Open tracks.
Turtling one’s way around a golf course is hardly headline material, with the AP’s Doug Ferguson digging up a directive to players of the 1950 Open at Merion: “Be observant, reach your decision quickly and execute your shots with promptness and dispatch.”
After decades of hand-wringing and breast-beating about what has been the scourge of golf since since the Scots, Chinese, or Dutch (take your pick) first tried to knock a small ball in a hole in the ground with a stick, was it possible that the USGA finally meant business? Indeed, when boomers Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson were put on the clock during Friday’s second round, it seemed as if the regulators’ pugilistic stance might actually pack a punch.
No such luck, despite Sorenstam’s plea to the powers-that-be to ensure the pros offered good examples for everyday players.
“We are role models. We need to set the standard and set the pace,” Sorenstam told us recently in a phone interview.
If the pros, with the benefit of caddies, forecaddies, and immaculate tracks, don’t play speed golf, Sorenstam reasoned, why should amateurs?
“The new kids on tour are role models,” she said. “If young kids see bigger kids being slow, then of course you’re going to have to question, ‘why should we be fast?’”
Steve Aronson would like the PGA Tour commissioner to field that one.
“Who’s responsible [for slow play]? It’s Tim Finchem, without a doubt,” Aronson, the founder of Play 240 Golf, a program designed to boost pace-of-play, told us. “He has purposely said [his tour] is not going to issue any slow-play penalties.”
For sure, the commish must be filing his nails as his players confab endlessly with their loopers (Phil Mickelson/Jim Mackay), take a few dozen practice swings (Na), address the ball and then incessantly back off (Keegan Bradley), obsessively test the breezes (Tiger), and stalk putts from every conceivable angle (name ‘em).
“I don’t think PGA Tour golf is the culprit here,” Finchem said a year ago before Na’s intentional whiffs at The Players Championship had TV viewers yawning, gagging, and tossing remotes at their high-def screens. “The culprit is taking steps to drive the pace of play for the average player, and if we can be helpful in that regard, we’re open to it.”
Really? Convince Luke Donald. The former men’s No. 1 minced no words after officials put two competitors on the clock during the final round of the 2012 Tournament of Champions.
“Slow play is killing our sport,” Donald tweeted.
There is, of course, no similarity between competitive professional golf and your Saturday morning Nassau, Aronson noted. Conditions (see: Merion) and consequences are in no way comparable, as a bad shot might cost you a Pro V1 but can lose a tour player a fortune.
Nevertheless, here we are, 50 years after TV cameras captured Jack Nicklaus hunched over his ball, and ages since the PGA Tour deployed a 40-second shot clock — and the problem persists. The tour’s stated routine is to put a stopwatch on a player who’s out of position, issue another warning, and, finally, assess a one-shot penalty — except that the last plodder to incur such punishment in a regular tour event was Glen Day in 1995.
Don’t, by the way, blame the LPGA, which has a 30-second rule, as Morgan Pressel can attest. While her one-shot penalty during last year’s Match Play Championship has garnered the most attention, the women’s organization regularly penalizes players for running late.
There are so many ways to resolve the problem, and you’ll find as many as you can digest in some 60 million Google articles that pop up under a “slow play golf” search. But we’ll leave you with the inspirational words of Sam Snead, who, way back when, was irked by the, ahem, meticulous, approach of another golf legend:
“You could smoke a whole cigarette waiting for [Ben] Hogan to take the putter back.”
Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. You may follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminer
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