Monday, March 17, 2008

The 19th Hole: Something Else to Showcase

Tiger Woods won his fifth Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on Sunday with a 24 footer that curled about 8 feet into the cup on the 72nd hole of the tournament. The win marked Woods’ fifth straight PGA Tour victory, 7th consecutive global win, and furthers talk about the potential to win 12 events in a row. In other words, all of the buzz surrounding Tiger’s current round of dominance continued and was heightened.

If you want to read about what Woods accomplished, there are about 20 columns being written today by columnists around the country and world that will go into more depth. I’d like to talk about something different that was showcased on Sunday. That is the reality of slow play on the PGA Tour.

Sean O’Hair was paired with Tiger Woods in the final group on Sunday at Bay Hill after firing a sensational 63 on a tough and beat up Bay Hill. He rocketed nearly 50 places between the beginning and end of the third round. That was a heck of an achievement and proof positive that his game is in form, even after capitalizing on Stewart Cink’s massive collapse the week before at Innisbrook. He earned the right to be featured alongside the greatest player alive.

The problem for O’Hair and his Sunday performance is two-fold, though. First is the obvious point that O’Hair did not win and played himself out of contention in the first few holes of the day. To his credit, though, he battled back nicely and finished in a logjam for third place.

The second problem is much great, in my mind. Sean O’Hair was exposed as one of the slowest PGA Tour players this side of Ben Crane. He joined the likes of Crane and Sergio Garcia among those players that are nationally known as slow pokes. Although O’Hair’s slow play was not unknown in golf circles (hell, it was on display last week with a smaller audience), Sunday at Bay Hill made O’Hair look very bad.

In particular, on the par 3 17th hole, O’Hair was not even ready to make a club choice after the green cleared. He could not remember that he had the honor from two holes prior. Then, he took about 10 practice swings before hitting his iron shot just long enough to stay dry. What exactly did the 10 practice swings do for him that one or two could not? Would he have hit it the necessary 7 yards further had he taken an eleventh practice stroke?

That is not the only example, but it is the most glaring. NBC’s Johnny Miller took notice, too, and started counting the number of practice strokes O’Hair took on seemingly every hole. At one point, Miller correctly wondered whether or not taking so long to hit the ball is actually causing problems instead of eliminating them. After all, the longer it takes someone to hit the ball, the more time there is for bad thoughts to creep into one’s head. Eventually, the bad thoughts will sabotage even the most technically sound golf swing.

O’Hair’s pace of pace is particularly interesting to highlight since he was paired with Woods. On his website, Woods recently railed against slow play on the PGA Tour and claimed that the pace of play is much faster in Europe and Asia. That was after winning the Accenture Match Play and playing the ultra slow JB Holmes in the first round.

Holmes recently responded to the comments about slow play from Woods and Australian Adam Scott. Holmes said that he did not care that people thought he was slow because he is playing for $1 million first place each week. He also should not care because the PGA Tour is afraid to enforce its existing slow play rules or adapt the LPGA Tour’s very strict slow play policy that is working.

Slow play makes the game tougher to watch in person and on television. The experience is more draining than exciting when you are shouting, “Hit the ball!” at the television. I understand that players want to be able to have ample time to play their shots for a lot of money, but 5 extra practice swings to count down from 10 because your sports psychologist said so is not going to dramatically improve your game.

The PGA Tour needs to clamp down on slow play. Five hours to play a round with two players is simply unacceptable. If I can play by myself in 2 hours, then PGA Tour players should be able to get it in under 4 as a pair since they are much better.

In the time it took me to write this column, Sean O’Hair would have finished one hole of golf. Scary, huh?

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