We need a pace-of-play revolution
Friday, April 9, 2010
Tick, tick, tick … zzzzzzzzzzz.
Poor old Peter Alliss. He’s been beating the same drum for years, and no one’s listening.
I know how he feels.
Alliss was at it again last night during the BBC’s Masters coverage. I’m on about it again, too: We’re both sick and tired of watching professional golfers take forever to play a round of golf.
We’re not alone. Millions of ordinary golfers can’t fathom why the game has come to a grinding halt. More importantly, they can’t figure out why something isn’t being done about it.
Alliss had a hard time getting his head around the time it had taken the trio of Tiger Woods, K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar to reach the 18th hole. Five hours and 25 minutes had expired by the time they’d hit their tee shots. When they walked off the 18th green they’d spent five hours and 45 minutes on the golf course.
The turtles in the Augusta ponds move faster than these guys!
Want to know why participation numbers and rounds played are down? Easy answer: The game takes too long!
It’s not a new problem. I used to work for Golf Monthly magazine, the oldest monthly golf magazine in the world. The magazine’s archives stretch back to 1911 and are full of articles complaining of slow play, only writers in bygone days were complaining about rounds taking longer than three hours.
These days, the five-hour-plus round is the norm. The way it’s going, the six-hour round will soon become commonplace.
Meanwhile the R&A and USGA sit in their ivory towers and do absolutely nothing. Exactly two years ago, at Royal Birkdale, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said there was going to be a meeting during The Players Championship where the subject of slow play would be discussed by governing bodies and professional tours. He promised then that he wouldn’t slow-play us on this one. Two years later and we’re still waiting for the powers-that-be to do something.
(Are you reading this, Peter?)
Truth is, there isn’t the will to do anything. If there were, I wouldn’t be writing another slow-play column. Alliss wouldn’t still be banging on about it. The Augusta turtles wouldn’t wonder why the strange two-legged creatures continue to mimic them.
Masters chairman Billy Payne gained huge plaudits this week for taking Tiger Woods to task over his misdemeanors. (Well done, Billy.) You’d think a man who had the courage to stand up to the world No. 1 would be able to crack the whip and tell Masters competitors to get a move on.
Jack Nicklaus said recently that watching golf on television “was like watching paint dry.” True, very true. The main reason myself and millions of other viewers didn’t turn off the TV and go to bed last night was because it was the Masters. Great leaderboard, great stories, just too bad the coverage went on until the wee hours of the British morning.
There’s an easy answer to slow play. It’s called a shot clock, an idea I first introduced, oh, about a dozen years ago or so. I stole it from basketball.
The majors have the luxury of being able to put a referee with each match. Give the referee a stopwatch. If a player goes over his allotted time to play a shot, then he is penalized with a stroke.
During yesterday’s first round, many in the field would have incurred about a half dozen penalty strokes.
You have to feel for quicker players. Guys like Tom Watson, Ian Poulter, Ian Woosnam, Matteo Manassero and others. How they manage to maintain concentration for over five hours is beyond me. I’d need to take a pillow and nap between shots.
The shot clock is simple, effective and a cast-iron guarantee to get the game moving. If we can speed up the world’s best, then we have a chance to get elite amateurs and ordinary golfers to quicken up, too.
The game needs sweeping change now. Besides, we need some way to differentiate between the world’s best golfers and the Augusta turtles.