If there was ever a question as to why golf has had a tough time growing its fan base, one needs to look no further than the pace of play on the PGA Tour.
Kevin Na’s glacial pace of play on Saturday afternoon at the Valspar Championship was nothing short of painful to watch.
The fidgeting, the stepping off of the ball numerous times, the 10 waggles and five practice swings before every shot, the checking and re-checking of his yardage book, the three-minute conversations with his caddie before even selecting a club, etc. had many golf fans diving for their remote controls just to escape a sporting event that Na had transformed into something akin to watching a coat of paint dry.
The only intriguing aspect of Saturday’s coverage of the Valspar Championship was waiting to see how long it would take Na’s playing partner and tournament leader Robert Garrigus to blow a gasket and go all Happy Gilmore on Na.
The PGA Tour’s rules with regards to slow play are quite simple.
If a group falls out of position, as Na and Garrigus clearly had on Saturday afternoon when they fell a hole-and-a-half behind the group in front of them, a rules official will notify the players that they have been “put on the clock.”
This essentially means that each player has 40 seconds to hit their shot once it is their turn to play, except (according to golf.about.com) in the following cases where a player is given 60 seconds to hit a shot:
• He is the first of his group to play from the teeing ground of a par-3 hole;
• He is the first to play a second shot on a par-4 or par-5;
• He is the first to play a third shot on a par-5;
• He is the first player to play around the putting green;
• He is the first to play on the putting green.
Once a group is put on the clock, it makes no difference which member of the group was responsible for their slow play; all members of the group are timed by PGA Tour officials until they are deemed to have moved back into their proper position.
If a player receives a bad time while on the clock, they are given a warning by PGA Tour officials.
A second bad time results in a one-stroke penalty and a $5,000 fine.
A third bad time results in a two-stroke penalty, and a player is automatically disqualified from the event if he is given a fourth bad time during a single round.
On Saturday afternoon it was beyond obvious which member of the Garrigus/Na pairing had caused the group to fall out of position.
Na’s slow pace of play is legendary on the PGA Tour, and his fidgeting and inability to pull the trigger were out in full force on Saturday afternoon.
Yet Garrigus, who is known as one of the quicker players on tour, was also put on the clock and made to fall out of his rhythm due to Na’s slow pace of play.
“It ain’t fair playing with Kevin Na,” Garrigus’ caddie Brent Henley said after the third round of the Valspar Championship (as reported by Jeff Rude of GolfWeek).
“It ain’t fair. We felt like we were running,” Henley continued.
Garrigus had just birdied three of his last five holes and had a four-shot lead on Saturday when the pairing was officially put on the clock on the seventh hole. Garrigus then proceeded to play the last 11 holes in two over par and received his first-ever bad time as a professional on the 14th hole.
“They give me a bad time because I walked up to the green, walked back, got my yardage, figured out my lie and by that time he said it was bad time,” Garrigus said after the third round (via ASAP Sports). “That's the first time in nine years -- actually the first time in 17 years as a professional I've ever got a bad time on the golf course.”
Meanwhile, Na, who, needless to say, is used to playing at a very slow pace and having to deal with being put on the clock, played the last 11 holes in two under par and finished the third round just one stroke off of Garrigus’ lead.
Garrigus did tell the media that Na’s pace of play has improved in recent years.
“Kevin has gotten a lot faster,” Garrigus said (via ASAP Sports). “Couple holes where he flinched over and swung over the ball, whatever. That's his deal. He's gotten a lot better.”
But Garrigus also admitted that being put on the clock had caused him to fall out of his rhythm.
“Maybe a little bit,” Garrigus said when asked if being put on the clock had impacted his rhythm at all. “When the guy is timing you and you know you got a difficult shot and you have to take a lot of time, I think that's a little unfair, obviously, but it's not that big a deal.”
While Garrigus may have taken the high road by refusing to go to town on Na’s slow pace of play, the numbers don’t lie. Garrigus’ quality of play clearly went downhill from the moment he was put on the clock during the third round, and he never seemed to recover throughout the rest of the tournament.
This is one aspect of the PGA Tour’s slow-play rule that needs to be re-examined.
There are PGA Tour officials all over the course. It would be very easy for an official to monitor a slow group for a few holes, identify the player that has caused the group to fall out of position and then put that single player on the clock while not penalizing the rest of the group.
Why should a player, such as Garrigus, who happens to be paired with an extremely slow player, such as Na, be penalized when Na causes the group to fall out of position?
Why should Garrigus, who walks briskly and hits most of his shots within a relatively short amount of time, be forced to hit some of the more difficult shots within 40 seconds where he may need to take a second look at his yardage book or walk up and view the contours of the green before hitting his approach shot just because Na’s glacial pace of play has caused the group to be put on the clock?
A quick player is already at somewhat of a disadvantage when playing alongside of a very slow player. So why increase that disadvantage even further during competition by forcing that player to hit his shots within 40 seconds when he had absolutely nothing to do with the group falling out of position in the first place?
The rules of the game are meant to create a level playing field for all tournament participants.
Right now, however, it is clear that the PGA Tour’s slow-play policy indiscriminately penalizes the innocent while attempting to target the true slow-play culprits.
And as Henley so eloquently stated after the third round of the Valspar Championship, that simply “ain’t fair.”