padraig harrington

Padraig Harrington: A long read on slow play

Padraig Harrington spoke to NCG about slow play on tour and how it can be tackled…


There’s no doubt that it’s something that I struggled with and it’s a horrible reputation to have, especially when you’re trying and I would have always been trying.

You’ve got to understand that if you look at the best players, pace of play wise, I would put Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk as two of the best. Nobody has ever talked about them and their pace of play.

They basically understood, and that’s maybe what’s wrong with some of the younger players, that every shot is not equal. Kids today are brought to believe in doing the exact same routine on everything.

The fact is if you’re last to putt from 20 feet, it’s not a big deal and you should be ready to go.

If you’ve got a 25-yard chip and a bunker to go over then you will want to walk up and have a look and get a feel for it. That’s going to take some time to play that shot.

Phil could stand on a par-3 tee in a gusting wind and he could take a minute and a half to hit that shot, but the next par 3 he might take five seconds as there was no wind. He took the appropriate time and that’s why he was a perfect player.

Now we see players who have this assumption from their college coaching that when it’s their turn to play, that’s when their routine starts.

That’s not what the psychologists want you to do, they want you to have your trigger to go when it’s your turn but your whole routine 99 per cent can be done before.

And one per cent is the end of the routine and the end is the bit that never changes. The front end can be covered before and is not as important. That’s what players have to understand – each shot is not the same.

Also, I’ve seen immaturity on the other side where players who are trying to be quick have failed in their task of playing good golf. I saw a player recently who came out about it and he’s playing faster and he had a really awkward chip shot and he didn’t walk up and have a look at it.

If it was the 18th hole and he was trying to win a tournament then he would have walked up to have a look at that shot so there is an immaturity to the other side of it. Players want to be cool and fast but that’s not always the best way.

In my early career, I was very wild and erratic and it took a lot longer to play when you’re in the trees and grinding a lot than hitting the fairway and hitting it to 20 feet and two putting.

Padraig Harrington

1. European Tour

I think the European Tour are spot on, the monitoring has de-stigmatised being timed, they brought in this timing – on the PGA Tour if you get timed x amount of times and then you get fined and nobody wants that.

So the referee warns you and says get a move on and they genuinely don’t want to cost you money whereas in Europe they have this monitoring.

If you’re told to move on in the States, the players will have an excuse and point to something that has happened, lost a ball or someone else is slow in the group – if they come up and monitor you in Europe then it makes no difference.

You’re just being monitored, so play the shot within the allowed times of 50 or 40 seconds – it means that the players have no excuse, you just play.

I was monitored on a shot in Germany where I was actually waiting on a shot as they were on the green.

It was bizarre, it was a par 5 and as I was doing my yardage to hit the shot, they were putting the flag in and I couldn’t have hit and I was still being monitored and I had no problem with that, it’s only monitoring. This is the crux of it – anybody can play within 40 seconds if it’s a normal golf shot.

I have a time-out if I need it from next year, this is an experiment, maybe we’ll get two, maybe none. The bigger thing is being situationally aware.

I’ve spoken to younger players in the States, the good players, not the stars, and they tell you that they don’t want to wait so they will deliberately hang back.

They want to be a hole behind whereas you’re meant to be vaguely waiting. There’s a perception that you should never wait whereas you’re meant to be in a position where you’re just about waiting as they’re clearing the green or moving up the fairway.

They’re bringing in tutorials for the younger players coming out and the referees will be pointing no, no this out that in position means actually waiting on the group in front but not excessively. A lot of players think this means never waiting – which is OK until someone has a bad hole.

I always put a disclaimer in these things that I have seen people lose their game by trying to play quicker – we’re not all the same. I played with Angel Cabrera and he wants a number to the pin and that’s all he wants.

If I’m on the same shot I want to know how far it is to the front of the green, what is it to cover the bunker, what it is to the tier behind the pin, what it is to the left and right and behind the pin and I then have to get them in and out of my head before I play the shot.

I can’t change my personality, I can’t become an angel and just want one number. That doesn’t make me a bad person if I can manage it, it does make me a bad person if I can’t manage it.

2. Benefit of the doubt

I used to give the benefit of the doubt to slow players because I know they are burdened. One guy with the worst reputation was playing in front of me, we were all waiting and there was a group on the green, fairway and tee and he was on the fairway.

He took maybe two minutes, so not excessive, and last to play and he hit a bad shot and he then stood and took three practice swings.

I cannot tell you how outraged I was by that and how he is forever in my black book, he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

As a slow player, you lose a lot of your rights, you can’t walk slowly or whatever, you’ve got to be aware of where your group is and you’ve got to pay attention.

He knew we were standing on the tee and he couldn’t have cared less, if he was that conceited to use other people’s time when he didn’t have to then he doesn’t then get the benefit of the doubt from me.

If you’re an information gatherer then you have to work on it – not a case of how you play quicker, it’s how to play quicker and pay attention.

If you’re the shortest player in the group then you have to be at your ball first – if not everyone is then waiting and it’s costing the group. If you’re the longest then you do have more time as two guys have to hit before you.

Padraig Harrington

3. Does the pace of play matter in teams?

Bjorn said not the time – it’s a weird one. Played Celtic Manor and the opposition on the 16th hole hit it just left of the green in casual water and muddy.

He said, “I’m going to take a drop” and if that was a regular tournament, I would have waved to him and said go ahead. Very experienced player, he knows how to take a drop and what casual water is and I trusted him.

It took five minutes, the referee called, it was a basic drop away from a muddy area. It was bizarre, it took five minutes in trying not to make a mistake.

I didn’t walk over and say go ahead but the referee was there and three points measured, didn’t even really matter in terms of the match but that happens in a Ryder Cup.

Every match is like watching leaders playing on a Sunday and everyone is also careful. Love to say that personality doesn’t change on a Sunday but I laugh at that, quick players can become very slow.

They want more information, and more practice swings and you see that in the Ryder Cup.

Inevitable? I think at the end of the day, both teams are and should be respectful of the opposition and don’t believe in any mind games, play to the best of your ability and some shots be a bit more careful.

Have a structure in place and you do see respect, don’t see players practise putting like you did years ago to slow the pace down, can’t do that any more.

Players get on well enough and it doesn’t seem to raise its heads as much even though fourballs take a long time.

Don’t say you’re going to see the day in a foursomes match when you’re hitting the tee shot and your playing partner says I’ll see you up on the green.

If I was out with my mates and one of them took more than one practice swing I would look at them and say what are you doing?

Professional golf has to absorb some information and the Ryder Cup is a lot like that.

They’re well on top of it, if you’re out of position then you are told to move on. Matchplay people start pointing fingers and can become a tactic if unscrupulous but remember, the conspiracy theory that their team had been told to play slowly and hit practice putts – not sure that was the case but was talked about that it was happening.

Referees in every group and monitoring at all times, players in general like a normal round like to play quicker as it’s a long day and five and half hours in a fourball and five foursomes – great if you win at the 14th – but it could be a very long day before you’ve even mentioned your warm-up.

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