Opinion: It's simply time for golf to add a shot clock

PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 17: Caddie Joe LaCava (L) and Tiger Woods wait on the 12th hole during the final round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club on February 17, 2019 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images) Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

Opinion: It's simply time for golf to add a shot clock

PGA Tour

Opinion: It's simply time for golf to add a shot clock

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Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in USA TODAY’s Things We’d Change in Sports series. To see the full list, visit this page.

The maddening display that lengthens professional golf telecasts and discourages many people under, say, 60 from watching the game goes something like this:

A golfer walks to his or her golf ball and pulls the yardage book from a back pocket. The player then examines the yardage book, throws bits of grass into the air to gauge the wind, takes a good long look at the tree tops, talks to the caddie about the yardage to the hole, tosses more grass into the air (this time joined in the tossing by the caddie), gives the yardage book another read and finally takes a club from the caddie – at which time the golfer goes through his or her pre-shot routine, addresses the ball and finally, mercifully, hits it.

D-Day required less planning.

It’s time to put a shot clock on professional golfers.

There have always been vague notions of how long a player should take for each shot, with the sporadic penalty for slow play. Just this year, the U.S. Golf Association added a rule that says “a player should make a stroke in no more than 40 seconds (and usually in less time).”

When the PGA Tour puts a slow-playing group “on the clock,” each player has 40 seconds to play each stroke, while the LPGA has smartly gone with 30 seconds in the past.

Still, it’s always been a bit of a mystery about how time is being kept and who is keeping it. TV announcers try to pass along the information, but it’s mostly a surprise when an official comes onto the course to assess a penalty for a player who is taking too long.

Let’s bring this process out in the open. Put a shot clock on the screen of every televised golf tournament. I’d go with 30 seconds, but I’d settle for 40 seconds. Time starts when the player arrives at his or her ball. Each golfer would have a shot clock of their own in their bag so they would be aware of how much time they have.

Can you imagine? Phil Mickelson is trying to decide which wedge to use, and all of a sudden, the clock is ticking down: 5…4…3…

No more dilly-dallying. He has to scramble to hit the shot. The drama of a quarterback having to take the snap, or a basketball player having to get off a shot, would now be a part of the game of golf, with a one-stroke penalty for letting the clock run out.

Purists would hate it, which is why it won’t happen, at least not until all the people currently running golf are gone.

But innovations like this are exactly what golf needs. Golf is a sport from another era. In our fast-paced culture of lessening attention spans, a game that is difficult to learn, extremely expensive to take up and time-consuming to play is in trouble.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to former LPGA Commissioner Charlie Mechem, who said this in an April 2017 news release:

“There are disturbing signs that golf and the golf business are in a rather precipitous decline in the United States.”

TV ratings go through the roof when Tiger Woods plays, but he’s 43 now and won’t be around forever. When he’s not playing, interest is mediocre at best.

Perhaps nothing can salvage the ratings long term, but bringing innovative technology into the game sure is worth a try. We all know the pros are good enough to just walk up and hit the ball. Why not give them all the encouragement they need to do exactly that?

Christine Brennan is a columnist for USA TODAY.

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