SHANGHAI | Henrik Stenson, for one, is fascinated by the idea of the Shot Clock Masters, which is to be played next June at the Diamond Club in Austria and is designed to knock 45 minutes off a round. In truth, everyone is talking about the newfangled European Tour event on the eve of this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions.
To recap, competitors will be timed over every shot and will be given a one-shot penalty on every occasion they have a bad time. The field will be 120-strong and a player will have 50 seconds to play when he is up first and 40 second thereafter. In addition, each individual will have two “time outs” when he can have access to twice his normal allocation of seconds.
Stenson’s first observation was that a Shot Clock Masters would be more stressful than the norm. “The 50 seconds and the 40 seconds certainly provide enough time. I don’t think they’re going to be an issue. However, it’s obviously a different thing when you have a difficult shot, even if there are the two ‘time-outs’ on offer. You would certainly want one of those available for the short 12th at Augusta where it takes ages to decide what’s going on with the wind.”
Pondering on the whole question a little more, Stenson said that if the players were ever to get used to competing under such regulations, faster play would become the norm – “and that would have to be a good thing.”
Paul Dunne, the Irish golfer who freely admits that he would be bracketed in most people’s “slower golfer” division, thinks that the format could definitely work for the best. “It’s going to make some people happy, some not so. Certainly, it would make me frustrated over tough shots.”
Australia’s Scott Hend, for his part, is an all-out enthusiast. “Guys are way too slow out here and they’re alienating people who might otherwise be interested in playing the game.”
From the ranks of the Americans, Charles Howell III finds the whole question of slow play a vexed one. “Is slow play a problem or is it something that we’re making out to be a problem when it isn’t such a big issue after all?”
Above all else, Howell would hate to see a Shot Clock tournament being decided on the result of a shot where the player had no option but to hit faster than he would prefer, simply to stay within the appropriate time frame.
“Golf course setup,” he suggests, “is a big factor in all of this. We’re playing longer courses with longer par-3s … I mean, there are days at an Open Championship when you’ve got swirling wind and rain when it would be darned hard to hit a shot within two minutes.”
Though making courses easier might speed things up, Howell doesn’t see that as any kind of a solution. “Not when you’ve got to test the Jordan Spieths and the Dustin Johnsons of this world. They need hard courses,” he says.
Matt Kuchar’s first thoughts were of how the Shot Clock Masters would work in a week when a player was liable to have to make last-minute changes to his clubbing on a regular basis. At this point, his caddie interjected with the very pertinent thought that a caddie would have to be on his toes at all times: “He would need to be up there getting the clubbing sorted out before the player arrives at the ball.”
Of all those quizzed, none had a more succinct answer to advance than Dustin Johnson, the world No. 1. He would love to see a Shot Clock tournament in the States. “You’d see lots of penalty shots being handed out on our tour – but I’d be OK.”
It was Stenson who declared that the European Tour is faster than its American equivalent. As for club golfers, he nominated the British as the quickest of them all – at least until he remembered a little pocket of America where the residents play at one heck of a pace. Namely, Lake Nona.
“The game there doesn’t hang about too much. They kind of just tee up and, almost before it has landed, someone else is ready to hit it.”
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