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, “Oh, 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.

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