Slow play almost derails teen at Women's Publinx

Eun Jeong Seong during the 2014 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links in Dupont, Wash.
Eun Jeong Seong during the 2014 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links in Dupont, Wash. ( USGA )

Friday, July 18, 2014

DUPONT, Wash. – We've seen 5 1/2-hour rounds at the U.S. Women's Open. We've seen the U.S Open sputter to a halt because of golf course congestion.

Slow play is golf's biggest, baddest bogeyman. The more important the tournament, the more likely the appearance of the slow-play monster.

The U.S. Golf Association meant well at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, but the USGA's efforts to confront slow play almost went terribly wrong.

In the opening quarterfinal match Friday, NCAA individual champion Doris Chen from USC faced 14-year-old WAPL qualifying medalist Eun Jeong Seong of South Korea.

On one hole – the par-4 13th at The Home Course – roving rules official Stephanie Parel made three separate announcements to Chen and Seong. Her message: The twosome had fallen three minutes behind its allotted time, and both players were on the clock.

Seong, who speaks no English, looked confused if not bewildered. What was happening? She had no idea. Neither did her father, Juill Seong, who was caddieing for his daughter.

Parel frantically looked for an interpreter, because she had more bad news for Seong: She had exceeded the 40-second time limit for a single shot and was receiving an official warning (or, in the USGA jargon, a "bad time").

The 40-second clock begins "when it is the player's turn to play and the player can do so without interference or distraction" (from the USGA championship manual).

A second warning would have meant loss of hole for Seong, who was clinging to a 1-up lead after 12 holes.

The interpreter arrived as the players headed to the 15th tee. When informed of the slow-play warning, Juill Seong became very agitated and uttered loud protests.

Straight from the interpreter came the translation: "He says the co-player (Chen) is very slow."

As emotions continued to surface, Chen later said, "Why would I be surprised at the warning? She was very, very slow."

We can only assume that very, very slow carries more weight than very slow.

Mary Ann Cronin, the USGA referee for the match, voiced support for Chen. "Every single hole, she (Seong) took at least a minute (on an individual shot, clearly more than the 40-second limit)."

Seong eventually scored a 1-up victory. On the 18th green, Chen missed an 8-foot birdie putt that would have sent the match to extra holes.

If Seong had received a second warning and been forced to accept a loss-of-hole penalty, it easily could have changed the outcome of the match.

Furthermore, in the wake of the slow play penalty assessed to Chinese teenager Tianlang Guan at the 2013 Masters, it might have generated an international golf controversy with charges of Western bias.

After being told they were three minutes behind time, Seong and Chen appeared uncomfortable and ill at ease. They seemed to be rushing, even though the second match of the day was a hole and a half behind them (the second match also was put on the clock).

Luckily for Seong, she and Chen went from three minutes behind their allotted time at 13 to one minute ahead at 15. This news came from Parel.

Once that happened, the players were off the clock and free of an official with a time clock. Players are timed only when their group has fallen behind the prescribed pace of play.

The 14-year-old Seong belongs to a powerful new generation of young golfers. Call it Gen Long Ball.

On 17, Seong outdrove Chen by 56 yards. On 18, she was 51 yards ahead of the NCAA champion.

It was too much to overcome for Chen, who called Seong "the Asian version of Lexi Thompson."

The name Lexi Thompson appears to mean the same thing in any language: big bomber.

The slowest individual in Friday's play was not Seong or Chen or any other player. It was a curious deer that took a leisurely walk across the fifth green in the middle of the competition. Between matches, the maintenance crew fixed the damage caused by deer hooves.

Please inform that deer of the loss-of-hole penalty. Oops, there was nobody to translate. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.