Category Archives: slow play

Slow play on the Tour

I don’t normally devote a column to professional golf, but I thought I would talk about an article by Jaime Diaz in the May 13, 2013 GolfWorld that many of you might not have access to.

It explains why the pace of play on the PGA Tour is so slow and what can be done about it. It’s not as simple a problem as you might think.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about how slow the Tour is. Five-hour rounds are common, and despite the slow play penalty given to young Tianlang Guan at the Masters earlier this year, Friday afternoon threesomes took 5 hours and 40 minutes for complete their round.

It should be noted, regarding the penalty given to young Guan, that he was asked four times to speed up, but playing slowly is a habit he could not break.

Chinese journalists were asked if they thought he had been singled out, and they said, “On, no, He’s really slow. He needs to speed up.”

Diaz lists seven reasons why play is so slow, not making excuses for any of them.

1. Firmer and faster greens require more careful study.

2. Courses are longer and more difficult.

3. Players who hit the ball longer are waiting for the green to clear on par 5s instead of hitting a second shot short and moving on.

4. Sports psychologists encourage longer pre-shot routines.

5. Yardage books and green charts are more involved.

6. Players precisely align their ball when they putt, often even for the shortest ones.

7. There are longer and more frequent discussions with their caddies.

Each of these little things adds up.

The current slow play policy is to give players in a group that is out of position, more than one hole behind, 40 seconds to hit their shot. A player going over this limit is warned, and if it happens a second time while the group is out of position, the player is given a one-stroke penalty.

The last time this policy was enforced was in 1995, when Glen (“All”) Day was nicked.

But if the group is not out of position, a player may take as much time as he wants to.

What to do?

A lot of it has to to with peer pressure and awareness. Many slow players don’t think they’re slow, and get upset when you tell them they are. I’ve talked about that before. Slow is many people’s normal speed.

The policy could be changed to eliminate the warning and go directly to the penalty.

Another would be to speed up play in developmental competition. The AJGA has time stations at several places around the course, and the average time is 4:19.

Things slow way down in college golf, though, where most of the new Tour players learn to play at high levels. They come to the Tour having learned to take lots of time.

Change is possible, though.

A notoriously slow player named Richard Johnson was in the first twosome of the final round of a tournament, which had tournament officials quite worried. He could set back the entire field.

Johnson assured them he would not dawdle because he had an airplane to catch. He finished the round in under four hours, shot a 64, and vowed never to play slowly again.

Most people, and even touring professionals are people, find that when they play faster, they play better, and golf is much more enjoyable.

As for the Tour aggressively speeding things up, that won’t happen until there’s enough motivation to build a consensus among the players. That might take a while.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

A cure for slow play

I would guess the biggest day-to-day problem in golf is not anchored putting, or the juiced-up ball, or LPGA players who need their caddy to help them line up their shot. It’s slow play.

Slow play is terrible on the PGA tour, rampant on the LPGA Tour, and a disease in college golf. All of that trickles down to recreational play and it drives most of us nuts.

There are all sorts of suggestions about how to play faster. Ready Golf was a valiant attempt to get things moving along, but it turned out that people played Ready Golf slowly and we’re right back where we started.

Slow play is caused by slow people. They don’t just play golf slowly. They do everything slowly. They have slow lives. That’s their pace. No amount of faster play tips is going to speed them up.

I think, though, that the problem is not slow play, it’s inefficient play. Three golfers wait for the fourth to get everything done before the next one starts, instead of overlapping their activity.

Example 1: One player tees off, picks up the tee, and walks back to the group standing well off to the side. Then the next golfer walks on to the tee box, etc., in sequence. Instead, the next golfer to play should already be standing beside the tee box when the golfer on it is hitting, and stepping on as soon as the ball is struck.

Example 2: One player in the fairway looks over the shot, takes out a club, does whatever, hits the ball, and puts the club back in the bag. Then the next player starts up. Instead, Player B should have a club out of the bag, ready to hit, by the time Player A is addressing the ball.

Example 3: One player marks his ball, cleans it, puts it down again, reads the green, putts, goes up to this ball and marks it, then the next player starts up. Instead, every player in the foursome can read their putt as soon as they get on the green, so everyone is reading the green at the same time.

Overlapping play, which is efficient, is an easy solution to the slow play problem. You read it here first.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

Can the Slow Play Problem Ever Be Solved?

Last night I was watching The Golf Fix, on which host Michael Breed (bless his heart) gave us his new idea on how to speed up play. He called it One In, One Out, in which you don’t put the club you just used back into the bag until you get up to the ball and are ready to take your next club out.

That saves you the time you take fiddling with your bag instead of just getting in your cart and taking off. Multiply that by all the times you fiddle with your bag during the round and you’ll save some time, but he didn’t say how much.

By the way, for readers of this space who do not live in the U.S., the term “bless his/her heart” is code, spoken parenthetically, for saying someone is a complete fool, but without having to actually come out and say that, preserving a veneer of courtesy. It’s used in the southern United States in almost every other sentence.

Note: Michael Breed is not a complete fool. He’s really a pretty smart guy. But I think he’s being a bit optimistic here.

You’ve all been behind two guys in their cart who drive up to a ball, one of them crawls out of the cart, goes to his bag and inventories his clubs, takes one out, takes the clubhead cover off, looks for a place to put it (how about the same place you put it the last ten times), goes to his ball and hits it (we won’t go over the process that entails), saunters back to the bag, looks for the clubhead cover because he forgot where he put it, finds the cover, puts it on the club, pokes around looking for the slot in the bag where he can put the club back in, puts the club back in, looks around, ambles back the cart, crawls in, and moves on. His partner is the same, and these guys are going to sign up for the One In, One Out plan. Right.

The problem with slow play is slow people. They think slowly, they act slowly, they do everything slowly. There is no picking up their pace because they don’t know how to, not from a sense of not knowing the tricks, but because it is part of their constitutional makeup to be slow.

Even if they adopted every tip imaginable with every intention of playing faster, they do them slowly and nothing would change. These are not bad people. It’s just who they are. It’s how their brains work. They cannot be rushed.

If the cause of slow play is the basic nature of the player, can anything be done? In tournament play there are penalties that can be assessed. In recreational golf, no. You can ask to play through a slow group ahead of you.

If the group ahead is excessively slow and won’t let you play through, you can call the clubhouse and ask for help. Best not to force the issue yourself. Remember, people take this personally.

The best you can do is not be a slow player yourself, just like you don’t use your cell phone while you’re driving. It’s only other people who do that.