The PGA Tour, ever mindful of expanding its audience, has pinpointed three target groups it believes are essential to spreading the word, raising the ratings and enhancing the tournament experience.
Brace yourself for some serious data speak: Millennial fanatics, drama seekers and sports socialites.
That’s not to suggest the Tour has forgotten its core audience of double-digit handicappers who prefer riding over walking and 4K big screens on weekend afternoons.
But the Tour understandably wants the cool, hip young people who may not have the disposable income of the old guard but who tend to live in the moment, as their fascination with Instagram demonstrates.
New demographic or old, they have one thing in common: Slow play is a buzzkill.
It is more damaging to the game than 350-yard tee shots, $300 greens fees and the shanks.
Yet it persists, like toenail fungus and cauliflower.
Slow play is the game’s enduring problem, an annoyance that blisters up from time to time but never really goes away. When it takes seven-plus hours – and an overnight stay – for Jason Day and Alex Noren to complete the final round and their extended playoff in the Farmers Insurance Open, it’s more than annoying.
It’s a problem.
A manageable problem.
But slow play is never going to be fully eradicated.
Golf doesn’t have to be played quickly, though – like baseball – it tends to be more fun when everyone moves along. It should not, however, become a time slog. If we wanted to wait, we’d hang around airports and the DMV in our free time.
There is, of course, a significant difference between playing the Saturday morning shootout at your club and professional golfers deciding how to play shots that could change the number of digits on their paycheck. What isn’t different is this: the slow player never thinks they’re slow because they rarely have to wait.
There are plenty of J.B. Holmeses in the golf world though his 4-minute, 10-second Zen session on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines on Sunday was outrageous even by sloth standards. As was quickly pointed out, some people can run a mile in less time than it took Holmes to lay up on the par-5 when an eagle would have gotten him into a playoff.
The game is hard but it’s not that hard.
To be fair, there are times when it’s going to take a while to play 18 holes on the pro level. Let the wind gust as it did the final day at Torrey Pines and everything slows down. Throw in C.T. Pan’s quintuple bogey at the par-3 third hole Sunday morning – which involved two trips down the hill to search for a ball in a hazard, leading to a backup of three groups on the same tee – and it’s a built-in waiting game.
Five-hour rounds with threesomes are almost routine on Thursdays and Fridays at Tour events. Tour officials contend – and rightly so – that it takes a while to get 156 players around a course. Drivable par-4s and reachable par-5s slow the pace.
Last year, the PGA Tour penalized Miguel Angel Carballo and Brian Campbell for slow play in the Zurich Classic team event, the first stroke-play penalty handed out since Glen “All” Day was dinged in 1995.
Would it help if the Tour got more aggressive in penalizing players for their pace of play?
It wouldn’t hurt. For that matter, release the names of players put on the clock each day. No one wants the rep of being a slow poke. Fear is a great motivator.
Players would gripe but they complain about pin positions being cut too close to the edge of greens, too. Players are right to voice their opinions but is it really necessary for every player to re-mark his ball after rolling an approach putt 18 inches from the hole?
Aside from “carts-on-path” rules, nothing has slowed down play more than the dreaded preshot routine. Yes, there is much at stake for Tour players, particularly when they’re in contention on Sunday afternoons, but most of them can speed up.
Don’t believe it? Watch the next time they’re trying to finish before dark.
The American Junior Golf Association has had strict timing rules in place for years and they’ve worked. It can be done.
The European Tour will take the interesting step this year of having a visible shot clock with every group in the Shot Clock Masters in Austria. The first player will have 50 seconds to hit a shot, the second and third players will have 40 seconds to play. A violation will result in a one-stroke penalty, though players will get two “time outs” each round. It’s an interesting experiment that at least indicates a willingness to deal with the problem.
Millennial fanatics, drama seekers and sports socialites will appreciate it. So will the rest of us.