Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Slow Play Helps Annika Win 70th

That's a loaded headline and it is intentional. The LPGA Tour has developed a slow play policy that can really have a significant impact on a tournament, players' status and bank accounts. In theory, here's the rule courtesy of

The LPGA Tour assumed each player needs 30 seconds per stroke. That 30 seconds is timed from the point at which it becomes your turn to play until you make your stroke.

So, for example, on a hole on which a player takes 4 strokes, that player has 120 seconds total. Now, figure in a "grace period." The LPGA's old grace period was 25 seconds; under the new rules, the grace period is 10 seconds.

So in reality, a player taking 4 strokes on a hole can go 10 seconds over the 120-second total (based on 30 seconds per stroke, remember) without being in violation of the rules.

However, once a player tops that grace period - using 131 or more seconds on a 4-stroke hole, for example - that player is in violation of the pace of play rules.

If a player scores 3 on a hole, they should have taken 90 seconds total to play those three strokes; a total of 101 seconds results in a violation. With a 4, 120 seconds, 131 seconds results in a violation; with a 5, 150 seconds, 161 seconds results in a violation; and so on.

And those severe penalties? The first violation does not result in a warning or in being placed "on the clock" as happens on the PGA Tour. The first violation results in a 2-stroke penalty. The second violation results in disqualification.

In addition, after an LPGA Tour player accumulates five "plus times," or violations, they are fined $2,500. Each violation after that is another $1,000 fine.

The 2 stroke penalty for a first time violation is pretty significant - especially when it happens to a player contending for the tournament. That happened to Angela Park at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay.
[Slow play] cost her a solo second-place finish and an extra $59,586 after being called for slow play at the 10th hole in the SBS Open at Turtle Bay.Park was only one stroke behind winner Annika Sorenstam at one time, but a triple-bogey 7 at 10 gave her a final-round 69 — 209 and a tie for fifth with Japan's Momoko Ueda.

They finished one shot behind Russy Gulyanamitta, Laura Diaz and Jane Park, who shared second at 208. So instead of getting $100,458 for being second alone, Park got $40,872.
Angela Park complains about the application of the rule to the final groupings and says that she was playing well within the rules for the rest of the day. She couldn't understand why it would be applied at such a critical time. She also wondered if the same thing would be done to more established and recognized players like Paula Creamer and the eventual winner Annika Sorenstam. The cynicism speaks of someone who was the first victim in a potential long line of tournament changing penalties.

But, this rule change and its enforcement is for the good of the professional game. Slow play is an epic problem on every major professional golf tour. The PGA Tour misguidedly created a new cut rule in an effort to address slow play. The USGA has imposed a rule change that could very well have the same impact that the LPGA's policy can have. In the Detroit Free Press, Vartan Kupelian quotes Juli Inkster, who sums up the problem well.
"Our tour is very slow and can be monotonous to watch," Inkster added. "Everyone knows who's slow out there. What slows it up a little bit is that women rely a little more on their caddies than the men do. Hey, it's either a seven-iron or a six. Just get up there and hit it."
The more action and the more quickly it happens will be an asset to the game on television and in person. Yes, fans realize that a lot of money is on the line. But, realistically, will an extra 20 seconds or a minute help a player execute a shot that much better than if they did it 5 seconds ago? No.

Fixing slow play also helps the players better establish a rhythm to their rounds and prevents backups on tees that can slow momentum. Players riding a hot streak on the LPGA Tour know that they will have ample ability to continue it to its natural conclusion instead of running into slow players that will stop it for them.

That's progress. It may take an application of the penalty to get us talking about it, but it's progress.

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