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The Major Problem in Golf: Slow Play

by Jeff Skinner

With The Players Championship starting tomorrow we are sure to see some footage of last year’s tournament when slow playing Kevin Na labored his way around TPC Sawgrass in the final group of the day.  If there is a poster boy for slow play in this generation of PGA Tour players it is Kevin Na.  His lengthy routine, whiffs and constant backing off highlighted a trend that has gone unchecked on the PGA Tour.  Players take as long as they want to play a shot and receive no penalty.

Golf World’s Editor in Chief, Jaime Diaz addresses slow play in this week’s cover story of his magazine.  Diaz has been around the game a long time and certainly has seen Golf World 5-6-13this problem grow to its epidemic proportions.

The problems are many and there are no fast or sure fixes but the consensus is that the professionals need to speed up.  However, there is little incentive for the players to change their routine and with the last slow play stroke penalty occurring in 1995 (to Glen “All” Day) no player is concerned with being hit with an added stroke that could cost him serious dollars.

Diaz covers the myriad of issues that contribute and any one of them could be considered the significant factor but the rules on slow play may be the biggest reason for five and a half hour rounds on tour.

Many of us are under the misconception that players are always at risk for a warning but that’s not the case.  The 40 second rule that says a player needs to play his shot within 40 seconds when it is his turn only goes into effect when that group is put “on the clock.”  No, players are not always on the clock.

A group of players are only on the clock, being timed by an official, when that group has fallen more than a full hole behind the group ahead of them.  … players are only subject to being timed when their group falls more than a hole behind. The players in the “out of position” groups are then given 40 seconds — and in certain circumstances 60 seconds — to hit their shots. If they incur a “bad time” once, they are given a warning (players put on the clock 10 times in a year are fined $20,000). If it happens again while the player’s group is still out of position, he receives a one-stroke penalty.”

So if every group plays like molasses in January and all of them stay within a hole of the group ahead of them no one will ever be timed and given an incentive to play quicker.  That seems like a policy that has no effect at all and history provides that.

Na routineFive hour rounds are boring for players but think of how all those spectators feel while trying to watch their favorite players.  It’s hours of boredom interrupted by seconds of excitement.  That’s not a formula for interesting entertainment.

Joe Ogilvie, one of the most insightful players on tour says this,” We’re entertainers. I think the product is better when it is played a little faster than it is now. That might be what gets the players finally in the room having the conversation. Sit everyone down and ask: ‘Do you all truly want to play faster?’ If the collective is yes, we work it out.

“One incentive might be that it’s not just about the tour, it’s about the game. I see the average player at the club taking four practice swings, or bringing out three drills their pro taught them, or backing off shots, or looking at putts from both sides. It’s part of what people enjoy, feeling like pros. But our sport suffers because people copy us.”

He is right…the sport suffers and we lose fans and golfers because it takes way too long to complete a round.

There’s no quick fix on tour as these guys play 7,400 yard courses that are designed to make them look foolish with their livelihood on the line.  But for the average golfer that plays recreational golf the fix is easy: you’re not a pro, so stop with all the things you see on television.  Get to your ball, pick the club, and hit the shot.

Then you can complain about the slow group ahead of you while you’re on the next tee.  Maybe they’ll get the message.

P.S.   Yesterday I played in a twosome behind a threesome that was behind a foursome.  We finished in three hours and 45 minutes, my compliments to the golfers ahead of me.  See, it can be done.

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