McIlroy's right – we need to hit the players where it hurts
Rory McIlroy on slow play was right on the money.
As is so often the case, the four-time major winner spoke with precision and perspicacity when asked why he thought it had taken his threeball five hours and 20 minutes to play their second round in The Players Championship.
“Because they don’t do anything about it,” was his succinct response. “It’s become somewhat of an epidemic on tour.”
His answers reminded me what a great interviewee the Northern Irishman is.
He very rarely dodges a question. And you won’t often catch him pulling that tour-player’s trick of turning his post-round TV duties into meaningless banalities while stroking his chin, simultaneously giving the false impression of treating the question with deep thought and allowing a lingering view of the obligatory luxury watch.
He went on to make the entirely reasonable point that professional sportsmen are going to take as much time as they are allowed if they think it will give them even a small benefit. It’s a topic we’ve visited before.
“Look, it’s our livelihoods, and people are going to take their time. And as the course dries up and gets firmer and gets tougher, guys are going to take their time,” he added.
Then came a streak of realism – a real hallmark of McIlroy’s in the opinion of this long-time observer.
“I get that it can take five hours to play out there, but it shouldn’t take any over that,” said the eventual champion at Sawgrass, at the end of what had been a great tournament.
This, too, is a strong point. We make courses ever longer and more extreme – then act surprised when it takes golfers longer to negotiate them.
Next was the conclusion: “The fact that someone didn’t finish yesterday and someone had to come out today because there wasn’t enough light to finish, I mean, that’s unacceptable.”
Again, hard to argue with that.
And, finally, his solution.
“Honestly, I think they should just being a little tougher and start penalising shots earlier, and that would be an easy way to fix it.”
Rory McIlroy on slow play
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much the size of it.
Don’t fine them – that’s unfair. Because you can never fine the elite players enough for them to care.
The only universal currency in professional golf is shots.
Now, I suspect that it is going to be difficult to find an entirely equitable way of doing this. In fact, I know it is. Let’s steel ourselves for a couple of early injustices.
Mark Foster recently explained how the seasoned tour pro has little difficulty in avoiding being penalised under the current regulations.
So I think we’ll need to devise a system of spot checks. Think of it as professional golf’s equivalent of mobile speed cameras.
Just like on the roads, sometimes you might get away with it but it would only be a matter of (taking too much) time before you get caught.
I’d be comfortable with some officials hiding in plain sight with their stopwatches. Others will be behind trees and bushes.
They could take into account mitigating factors but once they decide the crime warranted it, the one-shot penalty would be applied. We as golf fans will need to back their judgment.
The players must be told between holes. We don’t want them walking up the last on Sunday with arms aloft saluting the galleries only to find out in the scorer’s hut that they have picked up several penalties over the 18 holes.
They won’t like it but I think they’ll get used to it.
Call me simplistic, but I think you’d see a pretty rapid moderation of behaviour.
Do we really believe that slow play on tour is the scourge of modern golf? Then a little more moaning from the pros is surely a price worth paying. We should listen carefully to Rory McIlroy on slow play.