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Fast Decisions Needed to Curb Slow-Play Epidemic

In the next few days, officials from the Ladies Golf Union will be calling on the R&A in a desperate bid to encourage Peter Dawson and his men to act sooner rather than later in the matter of implementing a “multi-faceted approach” to ongoing slow-play problems.

     At the recent Ricoh Women’s British Open, the LGU, who have made a great fist of speeding things up in the amateur arena in the UK, had their hands more or less tied. With the bulk of players hailing from the LPGA Tour, whose views on slow play would appear to be rather less stringent than their own, some of the later rounds over the first two days at Birkdale were taking an agonizing five hours and more.

     Had the LGU been able to run with their rules, competitors would have been back at base at least three-quarters-of-an hour earlier. Spectators would have been able to escape wind and rain rather sooner, while volunteers, marshals and courtesy car drivers would all have been home in time for dinner. Again, Laura Davies would not so patently have been driven to distraction.

     The above add up to nothing more than the tip of the iceberg in terms of repercussions. To give just another example, the thrill of following the golf would have been watered down for small children watching at home. Still more worrying, those who stayed tuned would have banked what they saw with a view to following suit.

     “Girls and boys all pick up on this slow-play approach,” said an exasperated Susan Simpson, the LGU’s director of tournaments. “They get into the way of thinking that if they don’t pace up and down the fairways and pore over their yardage books they haven’t given the shot their full attention. It’s ludicrous.”

     The LGU took their steps to speed things up after players in the 2007 British Women’s Open at St. Andrews and the 2008 Curtis Cup at the same venue seemed destined never to return to base. In the Curtis Cup, a player would call on her partner, her caddie and her partner’s caddie to help with a putt, thereby ensuring that no member of that busy little huddle had anything in the way of a clear look down the line.

     A new check-point system was introduced and, away from the Ricoh, no three-ball party under the LGU’s jurisdiction has taken longer than four hours and ten minutes in the last three years. (The officials appreciate, of course, that such a timing will never be achieved at St. Andrews with its double greens and crisscross holes.)

   If a player has been has been on the clock or been penalised a shot, as happened to an Irish competitor earlier this summer, the ladies will produce the relevant “timing sheets” by way of demonstrating where she has fallen down.

    The problem at the Ricoh is that most among America’s LPGA contingent are not suddenly going to go along with a set of rules which do not belong to them. Though the Ladies’ European Tour players showed a measure of alarm when they could see they were being put on the clock, it was clear that the same did not apply to too many of the visitors.

    Simpson can take you through every step of a typical offender’s routine: Firstly, she will have a look at the shot from behind prior to consulting her yardage book. She will then walk forward to view things from another angle before returning to base. At that point, she will have three practice swings before finally taking the club back for real.

    The above, it has to be stressed, is for the “typical” offender rather than the real villains of the piece. The latter do all of the above but, instead of swinging back for real, they go through the entire process all over again.

   A contributory factor to this sorry slowdown is that not enough of the competitors are “crowd aware.” Some are cocooned “in their own bubble” because that is where they play their best. Which was why it was so good to hear Yani Tseng, the winner, noting on the Saturday evening that the conditions had been so wretched that she had felt duty bound to do something to cheer up the spectators. She made a point of smiling – and she holed a grand putt at the end of the day to send her supporters away in the same happy state as she was herself.

   Even if she did keep backing off shots in the final round, you would have to say that it was a good effort on that player’s part for remembering that it was not all about her.

    With a view to sorting things out in good time for next year’s Ricoh at Carnoustie, Simpson and her colleagues at the LGU will be bringing up all of the above at their forthcoming debriefing session with the LET and the LPGA.

   As for their meeting with the R&A, they will be explaining that they need them to lead the way. With golfing history being what it is in these islands, they accept that the men are better placed than they are to make things happen in a hurry.


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