Unfortunately, all we are left with is to face facts. The discouraging, frustrating, fist-pounding, let’s-walk-off-the-golf-course facts. The PGA Tour is not going to do a damn thing about slow play. Not now, not ever.
And the Tour has had every opportunity to solve this problem way before it got out of control. If they truly had the willingness, Tour officials could have stopped slow play dead in its tracks years ago, and today players would practically be running around the golf course.
The bottom line is that the Tour has no appetite for affecting the outcome of a tournament by implementing one of its own rules. Because adding a shot to a player’s score is the only impediment for slow play on a professional level. Fines simply don’t work.
If you levy a $5,000 or $10,000 fine to a player who makes three or four million dollars a year, he can probably pay the fine out of his money clip and still have enough left over not to tip the locker room attendant.
No, the solution is clear and has been for years. Slow players must face the wrath of the one-shot penalty in order to change their behavior. And the Tour simply won’t drop the hammer on such a punitive, drastic move. The last player to be assessed a one-shot penalty was Dillard Pruitt and that was 20 years ago. In the sweetest of ironies, Pruitt today is a PGA Tour rules official.
The Tour simply has an alarming lack of insides and it starts and ends with Commissioner Tim Finchem. Everyone below him on the food chain, including the on-site rules officials each week, are simply doing his bidding. Finchem believes the slow play hue and cry is the figment of an over-active imagination by the golf media. It’s a sometimes effective duck-and-cover move by most CEOs in trouble – blame the media.
However, the media doesn’t put the Tour’s starting times together, and here’s what happened two weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. In the third round, the Tour sent the final group off at 12:45 p.m. Eastern time. The CBS television broadcast was scheduled to finish at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. That’s 5 hours, 15 minutes for a three-ball to complete 18 holes. For Sunday’s final round, the Tour sent the leaders off at 1:00 p.m. Eastern and they took 5 hours, 20 minutes to finish regulation play.
That tactic is strangely familiar, particularly to those who travel by air. The airlines build in a cushion in their departure and arrival times so that a two-hour flight in real time is 2 hours, 45 minutes on the schedule so that the airline has a better chance to record on-time arrivals.
In Saturday’s third round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Tour sent the leaders off at 1:50 p.m. Eastern and it took the threesome an hour to play the first three holes, more than five hours to play the entire round.
You might ask the question, “Why should we care?” The answer is clear: Because it affects how the rest of us play the game. More and more, people watch the tour professionals and mimic their actions in their Saturday or Sunday foursome. The trickle down has become a cascade.
Slow play is an epidemic among public and club golfers and not only is it keeping new players from entering the game, but it’s driving the marginal players away. If the powers that be, which include Finchem, are at all serious about growing the game, then they need to be a little more authentic and do something about the scourge of our game.
Now, the players are starting to speak out. Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, spoke out at the beginning of the year about slow play. “It’s not that hard – be ready when it’s your turn. Slow play is killing our sport,” Donald said via his Twitter account. Later, he said, “I could rant all day long, don’t think anything will ever change as the slow players don’t realize they are slow.”
Everyone on Tour knows who the worst offenders are. They include J.B. Holmes, Ben Crane, Jonathan Byrd, Hunter Mahan, Kevin Na and Trevor Immelman. And, among the newer players, Webb Simpson can easily join that group. To Crane’s credit, he knows he’s slow and he has made overtures toward doing something to speed up. So, now, he’s gone from slow to merely deliberate.
On Tour, you basically have 45 seconds to play a shot. Do you realize what can happen in 45 seconds? Tom Brady can engineer a scoring drive, the Miami Heat can score 10 points, and I can get my car from zero to 60. But for many Tour players, 45 seconds is not enough to get a club in their hands and pull the trigger.
Two of the historically worst offenders in slow play are making huge strides to solve the problem. The AJGA is implementing get-tough procedures, which include tacking on penalty strokes, and their pace of play has improved markedly. College players, who used to take six hours or more to play a tournament round, are starting to be monitored by their coaches and tournament officials to pick up the pace.
Yet, those who oversee the best players in the world won’t lift a finger to put an end to the worst thing about this game. The PGA Tour’s inert and close-mouthed state tells the rest of us that it just doesn’t care. Never has, never will.