Slow Play – What Can We Do About It!?
Slow play is back in the golfing news this week after what can only be described as the ‘debacle’ of JB Holmes’ second shot in to the 18th hole during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday.
Firstly, before I give my thoughts and ideas on how we can speed things up, for those who may have just returned from a Caribbean Cruise, or more likely been out for the count with the flu, here’s a brief recap of what happened.
Needing an eagle on the par 5 18th to tie Jason Day who was already in the clubhouse JB found the fairway off the tee, and in theory in a position to go for the green in two over the water. However with 239 yards to go and with the wind gusting JB took 4 minutes and 10 seconds to mull over a club before eventually deciding that he would lay up.
In subsequent interviews he said he decided in the end that he had a better chance of holing a wedge for a 3 than finding the green in 2 and holing a putt for a 3, assuming he carried the water.
The issue here of course isn’t whether JB was right to lay up or not, but that it took him over 4 minutes to decide to do so.
For those of us watching it simply seemed that JB was deliberately dithering in the hope the wind would drop.
What compounded the situation further was that one of his playing partners, Alex Noren, was in pole position to win the event and grab his first win on US soil, and he was also waiting to hit his second shot whilst JB mulled over his options.
Noren was diplomatic afterwards in saying that JB’s actions “did not necessarily affect him”, however one can’t really imagine that they could not have done so.
So what are the current PGA tour rules on slow play?
At present the policy is that the pace of play is monitored under etiquette, just as you or I would monitor ourselves when playing our local course on a Saturday morning.
If a group then ‘falls behind’ the group in front they are ‘put on the clock’. The definition of ‘falling behind’ tends to be getting a full hole behind.
Once this happens and the group is ‘on the clock’ current PGA tour rules state a player “is allowed 40 seconds to play a shot”. This 40 seconds is deemed to start from when the swing ‘comes to rest’ of the previous player to play in the group.
This 40 seconds is extended to 60 in certain situations, which all involve the player being the first in the group to hit their tee shot, approach, bunker shot, putt etc.
If a player ‘on the clock’ fails to take his shot in the allotted time he is then given a ‘bad time’ warning.
Should they then get called for a second ‘bad time’ a player can be given a one stroke penalty and a $5000 fine. Further ‘bad times’ in the same round can lead to further penalties and ultimately disqualification.
This process is all well and good, however if all groups were hypothetically playing slowly then if no group falls behind, no one goes ‘on the clock’. In addition if logic prevails it only takes the first group out on the day to be playing slowly and this then holds everyone else up, hence we get to hear about days [like Sunday at the Farmers] when rounds were taking six hours plus.
At this point of course a certain element of common sense has to come in to the equation. On Sunday for example CT Pan took an 8 on the Par 3 third hole, which lead to a big back up on the tee. Whilst I don’t know for certain, allowing for the time it took them to play this hole, I am assuming that his group fell at least one hole behind the group in front, I’m also assuming they didn’t get put on the clock.
So what are the solutions to avoid situations like the one that arose on Sunday coming up again?
Well as I said before there has to be some kind of common sense prevailing. After all no one, [or certainly not me anyway], allowing for the situation, the wind etc, would have begrudged JB taking longer with his second to 18 on Sunday than he or another player would do when hitting their second in to a par 5 with no water to carry, in a 1mph wind at the John Deere on a Thursday afternoon.
However there has to be a ‘cut off point’. No one needs 4 mins, 10 secs to play a shot, well certainly not if they’re in the fairway anyway!
My suggestion would be an automatic 1 shot penalty if a player goes over a certain amount of time to play a shot, say 2 minutes. The caveat would be that if there are extreme mitigating circumstances [not that I can think of them off the top of my head], they could call for a rules official as soon as they reached their ball to request an extension. of say 1 minute.
This 2 minutes would be deemed to start once the ball is ‘in play’. In JB’s case his ball was off course ‘in play’ immediately it was his turn to hit. Obviously in a situation such as Jordan Spieth on the13th at Birkdale the ball wasn’t ‘in play’ until the drop was completed.
The next question would be how this is monitored, after all it’s all well and good when the TV cameras are on JB on the 18th on a Sunday afternoon, but obviously the rule has to apply to all the groups in play from Thursday morning.
Well, every group [on the PGA Tour anyway] has a spotter with them for shot tracker purposes [not that they do this very well judging by shot tracker data!], why not give them timing devices? [At major championships every group has a rules official with them so they could take over the duties then.]
They could then immediately call for a rules official to apply the penalty if the time was elapsed.
I suspect if this rule was in place no player would come close to the 2 mins and I’m sure caddies would monitor it.
All rules in place regarding being put on the clock for falling behind the previous group would still remain in place, however this additional rule would immediately stop the ‘JB situation’ happening again.
How do we speed up the general pace of play for a round?
One suggestion may be that every players rounds are monitored through the year for their length of time. You could then have a fine system in place for players who over the season had a certain amount of rounds over 4 3/4hrs say for a 3 ball and 3 ¾ for a 2 ball. If you had a buffer number they were allowed [say 5 for example] this should give them some leeway in relation to rounds played in high winds in the year, or if they were just paired with another slow player. The serial slow players would soon then start to exceed the limit if they didn’t speed up.
In addition they could exclude certain events or rounds from this tally in advance if they felt bad weather etc would make play slower, [and of course they would exclude events played in a pro am format].
This could be announced before the start of a days play in the same way as when ‘lift, clean & place’ is confirmed for a day’s play.
For this system to work at all you would have to make the fine system an effective deterrent. My suggestion [in relation to the PGA Tour] would be to fine Fedex Cup points rather than money. You could apply these ‘fines’ at the end of the regular season when they could have a significant impact.
I would also suggest a similar fine system for players who are put on the clock over a pre specified amount of times during the main season.
So there we have it, some suggestions to hopefully speed things up a bit and prevent us from all having to sit shouting at our screen again on a Sunday evening, “ for *#*#$ sake JB just hit the ball!”