We all know the biggest curse in modern golf, don’t we? It came home to me once again in a recent game with my mate Steve. It was a lovely day – thankfully – and we had plenty of time to discuss the unseasonably warm autumn weather because it was time that was otherwise spent staring impatiently at the two old boys playing in front of us. They were playing very slowly, it must be said. They had been round the golfing block a few times but through the decades it clearly had not occurred to them that most of us want to get a shift on when we play. We waited on almost every shot and it took them until the twelfth hole before realising they should perhaps wave us through. They did so in a manner that suggested they owned the place when in fact they should have sheepishly made this gesture on the third. But let us be grateful for small mercies, the rest of the round flew by beautifully.
Let’s face it, slow play means that golf is not as much fun as it should be. Earlier this week I played in an event where the final group were so far behind we facetiously decided to award prizes for morning and afternoon rounds. And this is why the professional game has to take a lead and set an example to all of us on how we should play golf in a considered but efficient manner. The pros set the template that so many amateur hackers follow. Thankfully the European Tour has taken this on board and has much stricter protocols which make their tournaments much better to watch. That said, the times taken at the recent British Masters were pretty dismal due to adverse weather conditions. The point is, though, that they are at least trying. The PGA Tour on the other side of the pond have, so far, paid scant regard to the curse of slow play.
The likes of JB Holmes, Jason (takes all) Day and Ben Crane have no problem in crawling their ways around the most lucrative circuit in the game. No one seems willing to take any action to poke the slowcoaches. Until now, that is. Things might just be about to change. Former US Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin was docked a shot for incurring bad times at the recent Dominion Energy Charity Classic – an event on the Champions Tour. It came in the final round and nearly cost Pavin a place in the following week’s tournament. As a result it generated plenty of interest Stateside. There was some sympathy for the player, given that he is not seen as a regular offender. “I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player,” US television analyst Lanny Wadkins said. “All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?” Wadkins is talking about the likes of Bernhard Langer – brilliantly successful but so meticulous throughout his career glaciers have melted quicker. But notice Wadkins was not prepared to name and shame – such is the cosy club that surrounds the top professionals.
That might be about to change as well, though. As Golf Channel writer Rex Hoggard has highlighted, field sizes are now being cut to accommodate the length of time certain PGA Tour events are taking to be completed. Next week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open is a prime example. The Tour’s policy board approved a plan to reduce the field size in Las Vegas from 144 to 132 players. According to a memo sent to players, the decision was made “to give the tournament a better chance of completing Rounds 1 and 2 on schedule.” That means there are a dozen players not getting a start because rounds are taking too long. They are missing out on landing what could be a life changing cheque. So they certainly will feel a sense of grievance, the sort of injustice that will become a big part of locker room conversations. The snails are directly impacting on player livelihoods and when anything threatens those then action usually swiftly follows. And officials running the PGA Tour are likely to find they are pushing at a much easier door if they want to toughen up slow play rules in the current climate. They should not dawdle in taking full advantage to give golf a much needed hurry up.