Ringler: Slow-play penalties at NCAAs show consistency needed throughout season

Tracy Wilcox/Golfweek

Ringler: Slow-play penalties at NCAAs show consistency needed throughout season

College

Ringler: Slow-play penalties at NCAAs show consistency needed throughout season

STILLWATER, Okla. – We all know golf is slow, especially tournament golf. We also all know that once the postseason arrives, penalties will be issued for pace of play.

Through three rounds at the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship, there have been seven. Yes, seven.

The real question is why pace remains an issue and who is to blame.

In college golf, coaches are always the first to be blamed where slow play is concerned. Sure, coaches can hang up a player, but their impact on pace is grossly overstated, in my opinion. Golf at the professional level is slow and each player has a caddie. There are five players on a college team and only two coaches, so at any given time, there are at least three players strolling along solo.

During this year’s Masters, there were rounds well over five and a half hours and some were closer to six hours. Here at Karsten Creek, the average round for all three days is just a few minutes over five hours. The pace has not been bad.

The checkpoint pace-of-play system is in use this week, and the expected pace of play for this par-72, 7,460-yard Karsten layout is 4:58.

The system has resulted in penalties being assessed, but none have cost any team a spot to advance after 54 holes. There were enough penalties, however, to make it a topic of conversation once again.

Consistency is the big issue, and not even consistency in the postseason – officials have been very consistent with the guidelines here at Karsten Creek.

The consistency issue pops up prior to May. Before the postseason, there were 273 regular-season events. Each event is supposed to follow the procedures laid out on the NCAA Hard Card. The Hard Card provides guidelines for local rules and conditions for NCAA tournaments. The section on pace of play reads, “See separate memorandum to players for pace of play guidelines, when applicable.”

The problem begins here. A school hosts a tournament in the fall and there might not even be rules officials (although that is rare). Perhaps there is a limited number – only one or two. There is no requirement for officials at a regular-season event.

Often, the tournament director is the host coach and he may even tell the officials not to worry about pace of play. Is that wrong? Sure, considering what happens once there are dozens of white shirts policing play at the national championship, and pace-of-play guidelines are strictly enforced.

Maybe it’s time for the NCAA to appoint a national director of rules for college golf, which is a position that exists in other college sports. It probably wouldn’t be that hard, but organization and some cost would be involved.

Speaking of cost, why not pay college golf officials at regular-season events?

Any school that plans to host an event would have to use officials that are certified and cleared by the NCAA supervisor of college officials. From there, a directive can be given on how and what to focus on.

The director would have a list of certified rules officials that will do things the way the championship officials plan to. If needed, that person would also help an event get certified officials to officiate the tournament. This would not be limited to just pace of play, but could be the marking of a course, amongst other points of concern to create consistency.

No one wants to see hand-checking fouls called in the NCAA basketball tournament when all season long it has been officiated differently. That is the exact scenario we have in college golf with pace of play.

One player who was penalized in the second round, who did not want to be named, said he had not had a warning or had any sort of pace-of-play policy enforced all season until he got to regionals. That is a problem.

Some coaches are very active in preparing their players to play faster while others do nothing, which goes back to the point about consistency.

Florida was one school that had two players penalized for pace in the third round.

“This was one of the most professional and well-organized events I’ve ever been to,” Florida coach J.C. Deacon said. “Oklahoma State and all the amazing volunteers did an incredible job making everyone feel welcomed and special. It’s going to sound like sour grapes because we didn’t get the job done, but to have our guys leave such an amazingly run event talking about rules officials is a real shame. The pace-of-play policy is a terrible system that relies on someone’s opinion and not common sense.”

Without getting into the specifics of the policy that is used, the common theme here is that college golf needs to use the same system all season long, not just in May.

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