We all knew that golf’s governing bodies would eventually be forced to address the issue of slow play.
Thursday and Friday rounds on the PGA Tour are now taking upwards of six hours to complete, and even weekend rounds, where touring pros are playing in twosomes, are still taking nearly five hours to complete.
What no one could have predicted, however, was that the LPGA would wind up leading the charge in this area and that the initial strike on slow play would happen during a match play event.
Last Sunday, Morgan Pressel and Azahara Munoz were competing in the semifinals of the Sybase Match Play Championship.
Their match had fallen more than eight minutes behind schedule, and Pressel and Munoz were subsequently put on the clock by the LPGA Tour.
Pressel then proceeded to take far more than the allotted 30 seconds per shot, and she was handed a penalty on the 13th tee box, which, in the case of match play, resulted in a loss of the previous hole.
Pressel had just gone three-up on Munoz at the time, and the penalty imposed by the LPGA Tour completely changed the momentum of the match.
Munoz would go on to defeat Pressel, 2&1, on the 17th hole.
Some might argue that LPGA Tour officials should have used more discretion when timing Pressel on the 12th hole due to the winds picking up and the difficulty of some of the shots.
But rules are rules, and the fact of the matter is that it is actually quite difficult to be penalized for slow play in professional golf.
A group is first notified that they have fallen behind schedule and they are being put the clock. If a player takes more than the allotted time while on the clock, they are given a warning.
If the player again takes more than their allotted time while on the clock, they are given a one-stroke penalty.
The rules as it pertains to slow-play penalties could not be more cut and dry. The only shocking part of this whole situation was that one of golf’s governing bodies finally enforced a rule that had been in place for decades yet constantly broken without any consequences.
It remains to be seen whether tours such as the PGA Tour and European Tour will follow the LPGA’s lead on this matter.
What is imperative, however, is that the tours come down hard on the issue of slow play.
Slow play is a cancer to golf that starts at the very top and trickles down throughout all ranks of the game.
People turn on their televisions on Sunday afternoons and watch tour pros taking three minutes to line up putts and hear them talking to their caddies about wind direction, ball flight, pin placements, spin, etc. and think that they should be doing the same while out on the golf course.
And this is by no means limited to children, who people often falsely view as more impressionable than adults.
Do you think a 45-year-old 22 handicapper lines up his putts for five minutes because he, just out of the blue, came up with the idea that this might somehow help him sink the putt?
No. That 45-year-old 22 handicapper watched Tiger Woods look over his putt from every angle imaginable the previous weekend and then sink the putt, and the 22 handicapper thinks “Well, maybe if I line up my putts the same way, I’ll sink more putts.”
Do you think the 32-year-old 18 handicapper sits in the fairway discussing wind direction, pin placement, ball flight and whether he should hit a draw to hold it up against the wind or fade it in with the wind because it just occurred to him that this might somehow help him hit better approach shots?
No. He saw Phil Mickelson engaged in a similar conversation with Jim “Bones” MacKay the previous weekend before Mickelson hit his shot to within three feet of the hole, and now the 18 handicapper thinks he should be doing the same.
And this is by no means an attempt to pick on Woods and Mickelson, who are not even remotely close to the slowest players on the PGA Tour.
But here is some news for all those 18 and 22 handicappers. At that level, you should be worrying about striking the ball properly and not the wind direction, ball flight, draw or fade, spin, etc.
An 18 handicapper simply does not have the skill to hold a low draw up against a left-to-right wind and land his ball on the perfect location on the green with just the right amount of spin.
Nine-point-eight times out of 10, the 18 handicapper will sit in the fairway having a five-minute conversation with his caddie before chunking or snap-hooking his next shot because he has way too many thoughts going through his mind for an 18 handicapper.
This all starts at the top and makes its way down to local country clubs and municipal tracks and tears the enjoyment right out of the game.
No one wants to have to wait 10 minutes between every shot because some vastly out-of-shape 30 handicapper thinks that lining up his putt for 10 minutes like Woods or talking to his caddie as if he were Mickelson will help him play better golf.
Slow play is also a major issue in terms of the game’s growth.
The 40-year-old father of two might be interested in taking up golf. But, he might find it all but impossible because a round at his local course takes six-plus hours to complete, which amounts to almost an entire weekend day while there are soccer games, birthday parties, Little League, etc. to bring his kids to.
If rounds of golf were reasonable, like the three-and-a-half hours they used to take in the not-so-distant past, that 40-year-old father of two might take up the game because he could go out at 8 a.m. in the morning and complete his round before lunchtime.
Slow play is an issue that hurts the game at every level, and the LPGA Tour has been golf’s first governing body to really step up and address the issue in a matter that will impact player’s pace of play moving forward.
PGA Tour, European Tour, Asian Tour, Sunshine Tour, etc., the ball is now in your court.
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