I chatted recently with a caddie who had the misfortune of being grouped with one of the PGA Tour’s slowest players for the final round of an event in which his boss was contending. Just a few holes in, the twosome was put on the clock. The caddie, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, simmered quietly. The Tortoise quickened for exactly as long as the rules official remained and ground to a near-halt immediately after he departed. The caddie boiled over and angrily whispered directions to the Tortoise on how he ought to go forth and multiply.
Some folks will consider such a comment out of order. They’d be wrong.
That bagman is a hero.
The terminology sounds benign, as if describing a phenomenon that’s as random and inexplicable as traffic congestion. Except it’s not benign. Nor unpredictable. Nor inexplicable.
It’s an act of contemptuous disregard for fellow competitors, not limited just to those negatively impacted in the same group but affecting the many others forced to cool their spikes behind the offenders.
Slow play ought to be called what it is: unsportsmanlike conduct. And it ought to be penalized as such.
It has been a showcase year for slowpokes: from Torrey Pines, when J.B. Holmes dawdled interminably in the final fairway, to last week’s Memorial Tournament, when Patrick Cantlay couldn’t hit a shot without shuffling more than a Vegas blackjack dealer. The legion of the unhurried also includes guys like Jason Day, Ben Crane and Kevin Na. Fine players, all, but excruciatingly deliberate.
Some have acknowledged their lollygagging and even tried to remedy it, but most are airily dismissive of complaints about their pace. No big deal, they insist. We’re sticking to our routines. Tour executives just shrug. Nothing to see here.
Except this week the European Tour proved there is a solution.
At the inaugural Shot Clock Masters in Austria, competitors were given a limited time to play every shot. Exceeding that allocated time would incur a one-stroke penalty. The maximum time available was 50 seconds – sufficient time to hit five shots in the 4 minutes, 10 seconds Holmes dithered at Torrey Pines, though barely enough for Cantlay to make it halfway through his dance recital.
The results in Austria were striking, shaving about 45 minutes off the typical pace for a Tour threesome. And scores didn’t suffer. Players widely embraced the experiment.
“This is the way we should play golf,” six-time winner Peter Hanson said after the first round.
“It just confirms what numerous players always thought, a majority of Tour players aren’t ready when it’s their turn. It’s that simple,” tweeted Ryder Cupper Nicolas Colsaerts.
Watching from the PGA Tour stop in Memphis, Billy Horschel loved what he saw: “Amazing how fast rounds go when players play within the rules. And guys are still playing great golf. Shocking!”
It’s evident that Tour pros can be cajoled into playing at a reasonable pace. The shot clock shouldn’t be a gimmick at an event the tortoises can simply elect to skip. Its application ought to become standard at every PGA Tour event, with fair parameters that make allowances for thorny situations, rules delays and weather conditions but that deny oxygen to those who linger on every shot.
That way we can dispense with the excuses ritually offered for the unsporting tortoises and stop pretending that current protocols are effective. Warnings don’t work. Appeals to professional courtesy haven’t chastened them. Paltry fines levied in secret are equally futile. Issuing one-stroke penalties for violating the shot clock would be public and impactful.
But why stop there? How about two-stroke penalties for a second violation? Or a DQ for a third? That wouldn’t just cost the most egregious offenders significant prize money and precious FedEx Cup points. After all, how many sponsors would care to endorse a player who gets booted from tournaments?
Viewers and broadcasters would relish the tantalizing blend of the clock and the lash since it would at least guarantee drama at even the most pedestrian of tournaments. The shot clock will grab the attention of fans. Meaningful penalties will get the attention of those Tour members who can’t be shamed into fair play. Gwk