Early last month in the final round of the Booz Allen Classic, Rory Sabbatini bristled and breached etiquette after he and fellow competitor Ben Crane were put on the clock for slow play. On June 23 at the Barclays Classic, Vijay Singh just bristled.
Singh blasted PGA Tour officials after his first round at Westchester Country Club took more than five hours to complete.
“It’s ridiculous, I mean, you play a round of golf in five hours and wait on every shot. It’s just like the officials are blind,” Singh said.
Singh isn’t the only player tired of five-hour-plus rounds and regulations that seem to do little to correct the problem.
Under the Tour’s 11⁄2-year-old policy, players are considered to be on the clock when their group is out of position – defined by an open hole ahead of them. The 10th time a player is put on the clock during the year results in a $20,000 fine.
Players are allowed 40 seconds for each shot and are given an extra 20 seconds in some situations, such as teeing off first on a par 3. Players are supposed to be warned after one bad time, penalized a stroke and fined $5,000 for two bad times, penalized two strokes and fined $10,000 for three bad times and disqualified for four bad times.
“There are a lot of slow players on the PGA Tour and they don’t really do anything to make them faster,” Joe Ogilvie said. “Until we get serious about it, it’s going to be slow.”
In an attempt to speed up play at Westchester, Tour officials grouped players in threesomes on Saturday and Sunday.
The tee on the quirky, 326-yard par-4 seventh hole also was pushed back 24 yards this year to keep players from trying to drive the green and backing up play.
At the U.S. Women’s Open, play was just as deliberate, to some degree because of demanding conditions. Unlike the PGA Tour, players – not entire groups – are placed on the clock at LPGA events. As a result, the LPGA has doled out 11 slow-play penalties resulting in two-stroke penalties this season.
LPGA officials acknowledge, however, their pace of play policy can be manipulated just like the PGA Tour system.
“We have players that quite frankly have two speeds,” said Barbara Trammel, the LPGA’s senior vice president of tournament operations. “One speed when they’re not on the clock and one speed when they are on the clock. So they play fast when they’re on the clock, and then as soon as the official drives away they go back to their normal routine.”
PGA Tour officials would not reveal how many, if any, players have been penalized for slow play this year. But the new policy, they say, is starting to speed up play.
“The average (time) for Thursday and Friday rounds improved last year,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s vice president of competition. “This affects the quality of the competition and it’s something that’s getting better.”
– Rex Hoggard and Alex Miceli