Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Getting Serious About Slow Play

The issue on the PGA Tour continues to gain more and more momentum. On, Jim Gorant said this of slow play:

A players' meeting was held last week at Wachovia, and conversation on two topics became animated and went on for more than a half hour each: slow play, a perennial problem; and near-unanimous criticism of Golf Channel commentator Kelly Tilghman.
The first part matters to this post. The second part is just kind of funny that they would agree on this in a formal meeting. At least the Players are finally starting to get on each other about this some more. Sure, the Tour hasn't penalized a guy for slow play in 16 years. But, maybe this is a start.

Then Jaime Diaz decided to talk tough on the subject in his column this week. He really nails it, but here are some of the highlights:

As addicts, the players feel entitled to their tics. And the problem is advanced by the attendant elements of addiction: co-dependents (caddies), enablers (lenient tour officials), denial (surveys that quantify a widespread "he's slow, I'm not" attitude) and escalating tolerance (slow begets slower).

Most players, especially naturally brisk movers who intentionally dawdle to keep from going mad, are as resigned as the first pro who said, "Fixing slow play on the tour is easy. Just stop playing for money."

But lately there has been a mini-spike in outrage. David Toms, Boo Weekley and even Tiger Woods all have sounded off. So did R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.

No doubt it's a complex issue. As the ball keeps getting hit farther it takes longer to negotiate the lengthened and more exactingly set-up courses. As greens are made faster, the extra run-out turns more erstwhile tap-ins into white-knucklers to be marked and studied. There are longer backups on par 5s that more players can reach in two as well as drivable par 4s and probably more rulings requiring officials. And advances in sport-psychology techniques have convinced many players -- perhaps correctly -- that long pre-shot routines truly help.

Tour officials point to field size as the easiest way to head off problems. The consensus is fields of 156 will get hopelessly bogged, while those of 120 or fewer basically ensure a steady flow. (The Champions Tour, which routinely starts 78 players, gets relatively few complaints about slow play.)

He also goes on to laud the LPGA's "cold turkey" approach to fixing slow play problems.

Then there's this from Pete Dye, who is getting inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame. (Congrats, Pete!)

What's the biggest issue facing everyday golfers?
Cost. Fewer people are playing but they're paying more. If you add tees and length to a course, you have to escalate the cost. And they're not only lengthening courses, they're putting in new grasses and increasing the speed of the greens. "We're not as fast as Augusta!" — that's all superintendents talk about. And now you've got a $40,000 machine cutting them.

Dye alludes to cost, but I'm sure that he would also mention slow play is a side effect of the mindset that new courses have to play to 7000+ yards and have greens at 10 or more on the Stimp Meter.

And even Tim Finchem is joining the fray. Media members asked him in a press conference this week about what the deal is with slow play and how to address it. Though he tends to give long winded answers, he did make the Tour's views clear:

[I]t's come to a point where we are going to have to really analyze all of it and ask ourselves: Is there a better way to do it, whether it relates to a slow player, whether it relates to the setup of the golf course, whether it relates to field sizes and the rest, and we are committed to doing that.

Q. Might you consider the steps the LPGA has done, such as timing players without even warning them, and penalizing them?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Sure, absolutely, that would be one of many things on the list. Some of these things require more staff. Some of them require more expenditure. But rather than go forward and say let's go try this and let's go try this, we want to try a more comprehensive approach to it.
It sounds like the Commish wants to look into speeding up play.

I have found it very interesting that the number of voices calling for slow play to be fixed has really been generated from within. A lot of what has caused the Tour's two recent splashes - the FedEx Cup and drug testing - were generated by the media clamoring for them. In this case, it appears that the media is reporting what guys have on their minds.

No comments: