Analysis: Optics, pace of play real issues behind new 'green-reading' review

Golf-Phil Mickelson-Gambling-Greens-PGA-Tour Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Analysis: Optics, pace of play real issues behind new 'green-reading' review

Golf

Analysis: Optics, pace of play real issues behind new 'green-reading' review

Those massive green reading books used by an increasing number of PGA Tour players are now under review by the governing bodies.

It all sounds so … proactive.

Traditionalists will swoon.

The core values of the game will be upheld.

Old Tom can stop spinning.

Those infernal green reading books merely mark a natural progression of traditional yardage books.

The real problem with players consulting intricate charts before hitting their putts?

Optics and pace of play.

The USGA’s Mike Davis, whose organization is partnering with the R&A to contemplate the role of these 21st century green-reading tools, said at the Masters that all of golf’s leading organizations are concerned about a de-skilling effect.

“We absolutely think green reading is a skill that should be part of the game,” Davis said.

“The notion that you can just look at a book and say, two-and-a-half degrees, slope is here, greens are at X on the Stimpmeter, I need to aim it two inches left of the hole, and the player doesn’t even have to look, that’s troubling.”

Working to improve the pace of play

The skill issue is always on their radar when they want it to be, but the two bodies have been consistent in wanting to improve pace of play — except by slowing down the speed of putting surfaces to make putting less of the often-torturous affair it has become in the modern game.

With double-digit Stimpmeter speeds reducing the length of strokes and placing more emphasis on the intricate breaks that come with more pace, players have turned to analytics. Many will successfully argue that the skill required in doing pre-putt research and math before executing a stroke is an art unto itself.

But no need to make that case guys and gals. We all know it’s the look and time wasted is driving this discussion. Ian Poulter said as much when he took to social media in March.

“It takes too long for players and caddies to attempt to find (A) the exact pin position on the grid (B) the exact position of your ball (C) Then too much time is spent looking at the book and not the green itself.

“Then the player asks the caddy to look at the putt. Simply takes too long.”

Came to light during Honda

The issue came to light during the Honda Classic when NBC’s Johnny Miller grumbled about the time players spent looking at the books in preparing to putt. Then Jack Nicklaus — the golfer who has influenced players more than anyone to put traditional yardage books in their back pockets — stopped by the booth and complained about the optics and time wasted.

USGA-PGA-Greens reading

Golfers taking out yardage books during play doesn’t make a good look on TV. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)

Players and caddies save some computational time when the PGA Tour’s social media accounts often Tweet out hole locations the night prior. Shoot, some are even believed to be doing pre-round visualization when they already know the pin placement and surrounding contours.

That means the skill in spontaneity and under-the-gun decision-making is certainly taking a hit. But is it fatal enough to ban the green books? Given the general view of putting as a unique skill that beautifully offsets the power side of golf, the move to an analytics-driven approach is an understandable regret.

Luke Donald, an outspoken critic of green reading charts, Tweeted about the USGA/R&A statement.

“There is an art to green reading that is getting lost, just like judging the wind & this will help speed up play.”

Davis will undoubtedly hear plenty of feedback when he hosts a players-only meeting at The Players to receive input on the proposed 2019 Rules of Golf changes.

Given how much players and caddies have grown accustomed to the books, the optics and skill arguments may not resonate. Instead, there is only one case to make: pace of play.

Time to pick up the pace

If a player wants to roll out a scroll longer than the Bill of Rights, consult astrological forecasts, pray to the Golf God of Putting and repeat a mantra 30 times before pulling the trigger, that should be their right.

As long as they do so within 45 seconds.

Green-reading books have been enabled by a lack of slow-play enforcement. If the goal is to rid the game of them, to pick up the pace, then start enforcing the 45-second rule.

Otherwise, players should be able to punch holes in the USGA/R&A case if optics drive the discussion, as was the case in the anchored putting debate.

Smart players who like their books will point to the governing bodies backing down on rangefinders in the proposed rules modernization, a move some leaders in the greater Ponte Vedra Beach area even embrace because they like the modern aesthetic of players consulting a high-tech device.

And speaking of those rangefinders, while players are forced to turn off any gradient settings that would help them get more accurate readings compensating for elevation changes, those numbers are now included in most standard-issue PGA Tour yardage books.

Oops!

The green book issue isn’t so much about less thought and skill. It’s more about how much time is taken to weigh all of that modern evidence. Take the excess time away to study the numbers and players will be forced again to rely on their natural instincts.

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