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PGA Tour Must Get a Move on to Stamp Out Slow Play

By: | Fri 23 Aug 2019 | Comments

WE HAVE too long for the people who run professional golf to address the subject of slow play - longer, even, than it takes Bryson DeChambeau to play a shot. But, finally, the issue is being addressed - and about time too.

It is not that DeChambeau took two minutes to play a 70-yard pitch shot at the Northern Trust FedEx Cup Playoff event that offends most people. It is not even the fact that he took a further two minutes over an eight-foot putt that he subsequently missed. And it is certainly not the social media storm that his actions prompted.

What upset most right-minded people was his attitude afterwards when he attempted to defend himself. In the immediate aftermath of his transgression he said at a press conference: ''When people start talking to me about slow play and how I'm killing the game, I'm doing this-and-that to the game, that is complete and utter ... you-know what,'' he said. ''That's not fair.” Sorry Bryson, but you are killing the game for spectators and the criticism is entirely justified.

He continued: “I play a different way out there. I take my 40 seconds that's allotted, sometimes over - absolutely. Totally agree. It's maybe 5% of the time. But I'll tell you that it's really kind of unfortunate the way it's perceived because there's a lot of other guys that take a lot of time. They don't talk about this matter and for me personally, it is an attack and it is something that is not me whatsoever. People don't realise the harm that they are doing to the individuals.’'

Sadly, he just doesn’t seem to realise the harm he is doing to the game.‘'When you start personally attacking people on Twitter, it's like, Come on, dude. Let's have some more (guts) to come up and speak to me to my face about that,'' DeChambeau said. World number one Brooks Koepka, who has criticised DeChambeau more than once on social media, took up the challenge and did speak to him face to face, as has Justin Thomas. But it seems they have failed to get through.

He then went away for a few days, gave it some further thought and posted the following: “Bryson here on Dom’s Snapchat,” he said. “Ya’ll wanna say whatever you want, that’s ok. But you know what? I’m out here doing the right thing having a great time with the Pro-Am guys killing it, and honestly, we’re on these guys’ asses all the time. “At the Northern Trust I played under [the] time par, this week I’ll do the same thing. Never on the clock last week, ya’ll can say whatever you want but we’re having a f****** awesome time. So screw all ya’ll haters, it’s no big deal. I still love you all even though you hate me.”

Hardly the words of a man who regrets his actions or who has any intentions of changing the way he plays anytime soon. He has made the point that he has never lost time on the groups that play ahead of him, but he is entirely missing the point. Watching him prepare to hit a shot is like watching paint dry and it is an increasingly huge turn-off for the tens of millions of TV viewers watching at home, not to emotion the poor souls who have to follow him on the course and endure his pontifications. Of course, he is by no means alone - Keegan Bradley, JB Holmes and Kevin Na, to name but three, are right up there with him.

What these guys seem to fail to grasp is that they have a responsibility to golf fans; and they must know that impressionable youngsters watching at home will copy them. No matter what your views are on this subject, nobody can possibly agree that it is acceptable for a group of three tour players to take five hours and 30 minutes to complete 18 holes of golf, no matter what the circumstances might be. DeChambeau also says that caddies must take some of the blame. What? And that the PGA Tour should take into account the speed with which players walk from shot to shot. Really?

When the likes of Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Thomas, Eddie Pepperell and Ian Poulter start calling for proper punishments to be meted out then it is surely time for the authorities to sit up and take notice.

The European Tour has already announced plans to eradicate slow play. It comes after Edoardo Molinari, a player noted for getting on with things, shared a list of the serial offenders in Europe. Starting from November, players on the European Tour will incur a one-shot penalty for two bad times in a single round. Fines for those who are consistently timed – known as being “on the clock” – will also be increased, although there are many (your correspondent included) who wonder how effective that will be.

A player who is timed 15 times next season will be fined £26,000 compared with £9,000 now. In truth, these fines are a waste of time when aimed at players who earn hundreds of thousands of euros in prize money. And the fact that a golfer has to be on the clock 15 times before being fined £26,000 is, quite frankly, a joke. But at least it is a step in the right direction. The truth is that the only effective deterrent is to penalise players shots - or to disqualify persistent offenders.

The tour will also reduce field sizes where possible, a factor considered integral to the pace of play. Its members will be offered educational sessions as part of the detailed, four-point action plan. Really? Why not instead just tell them to get a move on?

The tour insists this is not a reaction to DeChambeau’s slow play. In Europe, the tour was approached by players on its tournament committee in May with a view to putting a plan in place for next season. McIlroy, who is one of the quickest players on either side of the Atlantic, supports stroke penalties as the best way to counter slow play.

A European Tour statement said: “When players are out of position and either being monitored or timed, a one-shot penalty will be incurred after two bad times – currently a player would be ‘monitored’ and if he breaches the time allowance (50 seconds for first to play, 40 seconds for second or third to play) he will then be ‘officially timed’ and would then have to breach twice more before being given a one-shot penalty. Players will, however, have the option to request one time extension per round, giving an additional 40 seconds to hit a shot on this request.”

Referees will be told to be proactive in targeting known slow players with regards being in position to play.

Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour, said: “We are already at the forefront of pace of play management in the professional game, but after being mandated by our tournament committee to be even firmer in dealing with this issue, the time was right to take these additional steps.

Not for the first time, the PGA Tour continues to drag its heels over the issue. The best it has been able to come up with to date is the following statement:  “Recent “incidents about pace of play have led the PGA Tour to take a deeper look at its policy on the issue, and ShotLink technology could provide an answer. The tour’s current pace-of-play policy only addresses players whose groups have fallen out of position. The Tour is now exploring whether to expand its policy to also address players whose groups are in position, but who take an excessive amount of time to hit a shot.”

It seems they are frightened of upsetting sponsors, but do blue-chip companies really want to be associated with a sport that continues to attract so many headlines for its glacial pace of play? Surely not. It’s time for the authorities in America to bite the bullet and follow Europe’s lead. Fans want to see the likes of Koepka, McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood striding up to their golf ball, pulling a club from the bag and attacking the flag. They do not want to see Holmes and DeChambeau endlessly debating with a caddie about distance, wind direction, wind speed, taking a club, having several practice swings, calling the caddy back and going through the entire process all over again, changing clubs, taking more practice swings and then going back to the club he originally had in his hands.

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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