Slow play is the cancer golf is unwilling to cureAugust 13, 2017
Is it acceptable, even at the top of the professional game, for rounds to take the best part of six hours?
They call Saturday ‘Moving Day’ at a major championship – but it seems someone forgot to tell the players.
In fact, it didn’t seem like there was much of it going on at all during the third round at Quail Hollow as the issue of slow play again reared its ugly head.
This is the perennial moan that envelops all of golf.
A magazine survey questioning PGA Tour players back in May saw 84 per cent of respondents indicate they felt it was a problem.
But it’s the white elephant in the room – the problem no one at the highest level seems willing, or able, to tackle.
Even by the pedestrian standards we’ve come to expect in professional golf, the third round of the PGA Championship seemed extreme.
Maybe it’s merely because we were glued to every shot, and because as the clock ticked past midnight we were all desperate to get to bed, but the pace of play was laughable.
The final threeball of Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Kevin Kisner took five hours and 40 minutes to complete their round.
Five hours and 40 minutes.
In many ways, we were lucky. The trio actually sped up on the back nine. It had taken them three hours to negotiate the first nine.
Now I accept this is sport at the highest level and that there’s preparation and effort that goes into every shot.
I accept that the huge amounts of money at stake, particularly in this event, require that players are going to be thorough.
But this trio took so long, they were in danger of running out of daylight.
That Jason Day was in the group should come as no surprise. The Australian is a wonderful player but is renowned for being calculated.
What’s more, he has no interest in getting a move on – and isn’t shy in expressing that view.
Asked in January about pace of play, Day replied: “In my opinion, I don’t care so much about speeding up my game.
“I’ve got to get back to what makes me good. If that means I have to back off five times, then I’m going to back off five times before I have to actually hit the shot.”
The problem is, he shouldn’t be able to back off five times. By the time he’s stepping back for the third, an official should be telling him to get a move on – or face a bad time.
Jordan Spieth’s wonderful recovery from the practice range at Royal Birkdale was one of the shots of the Open, but it was a single stroke that took him 20 minutes to execute.
Top marks for drama but how, even for all the rules interpretations required during that decision, was that even possible?
There are plenty of stipulations put down in varying rule books of bodies that organise competitions.
England Golf, for example, state that the maximum time allowed for a shot in one of their events is 40 seconds – with a further 10 seconds allowed for the first player in the group to hit.
Bad times can lead a range of sanctions, from a one stroke penalty to disqualification for repeated infractions.
But is this universally enforced?
In April, the team of Miguel Angel Carballo and Brian Campbell were given a pace of play penalty at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. It was the first handed out by the PGA Tour in 22 years.
While spectators were largely in agreement that pace at the PGA Championship was beyond the pale, there were alternative views.
The AP writer Doug Ferguson tweeted this – a view that found favour with a notable competitor…
— Jimmy Walker (@JimmyWalkerPGA) August 12, 2017
Some of these are valid points – particularly green speeds – and Doug is right, pace is often an easy stick to beat golf with.
Is anyone arguing, though, that it isn’t too slow?
Are we really saying that six-hour rounds are acceptable?
What will it take before it is really taken seriously at the top level – seven hour rounds? Eight?
At the grassroots levels, survey after survey reveals that the time taken to play the game is one of the main reasons potential players are put off from playing.
It’s why 9-hole golf, Golf Express and GolfSixes are taking off in such huge fashion.
Until we see more penalties imposed – and particularly in major championships – there is no incentive for anyone to change their ways.
But there seems little appetite for this, and that means we should all get used to spending longer and longer in front of the box watching players stand about.
Or we will just watch something else.
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