Opinion: Pace of play continues to plague European Tour despite a looming threat of losing viewers

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Opinion: Pace of play continues to plague European Tour despite a looming threat of losing viewers

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Opinion: Pace of play continues to plague European Tour despite a looming threat of losing viewers

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HILLSIDE, England – Slow play could have a detrimental commercial impact on the European Tour, according to 2018 European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn.

Pace of play came to the fore yet again during the Trophee Hassan II when Edoardo Molinari highlighted the issue on Twitter.

“It’s time that professional golf does something serious for slow play … 5h30min to play 18 holes on a golf course without rough is just too long … way too long! #stopslowplay,” he tweeted.

The 2005 U.S. Amateur champion went further. He posted a photo on Twitter of a list of Euro Tour players who’ve have been put on the clock this year – the tour issues this list quarterly.

“Players have been very supportive,” Molinari said after his opening round in the British Masters.

“Not many slow players have come to me, but about 98 percent of the players I’ve met in the last few days have been saying ‘Well done.’ The vast majority of the players want it fixed.”

So does Thomas Bjorn, because it could hurt the Tour financially.

“We’ve got to come down on it hard because we have a product to sell,” Bjorn said. “People have to turn on the TV to watch us play, and if it takes too long, there’s too many alternatives. That’s destroying the game commercially. You’ve got to have a commercial hat on and say we’ve got to make our game better. People don’t have all that time to sit and watch a round of golf. Especially young people, and those are the ones we want to try and attract to our game.

“We’ve got to do something about it for the good of the game. The players have to understand that they are destroying it for themselves for the long term. The tours and the governing bodies need to realize this is too big an issue.”

Bjorn has spent 15 years on the European Tour’s tournament committee, 10 of them as chairman. He has advocated the same solution for years.

“Self-policing can have the biggest impact,” he said. “I’ve suggested for years, especially in our biggest events, that you have timing boards on every tee, so every time you walk onto a tee you can see if you are in front or behind your time. And then you can self-police it. In a day and age where everything is recorded digitally, you can constantly know where everyone
is at any time. There has to a better way than guys (referees) driving around in buggies trying to figure out who’s out of position.

“I understand Edoardo’s frustration. I’ve sat on the committee for 15 years and this is a constant issue. Remember, 90 percent of the players want to do something about it, but the protections are for the 10 percent that doesn’t care.”

Molinari, a committee member for the last six years, has his own solution, albeit an impractical one.

“In an ideal world, we would need one referee per group, but that’s silly expensive,” the Italian said. “We’ve discussed many different solutions. There isn’t one straightforward solution or we would have done it.”

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley put in place steps to combat slow play three years ago.

“Our aspirational goal is to cut 15 minutes off a round on a daily basis,” Pelley said during the 2016 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

The Tour introduced a policy that included increased fines, but it obviously hasn’t had the desired effect.

“The problem is players don’t care if they are five, 10 or 20 minutes behind,” Molinari said. “They just play at their own pace. If they make 1.5 million euros a year and they pay a few thousand in finances, then they don’t care. When you have some players with that attitude, then it spoils it for everyone else.”

The tournament committee met at Hillside Golf Club during the British Masters, and slow play was discussed at length.

“I obviously can’t tell what was said in that meeting, but something will be put in place,” Molinari added. “There will be something coming through in the next month.”

Pelley told Golfweek that steps are being taken.

“What has to happen is we collectively as administrators have to get on the same page on slow play because it isn’t just a European Tour issue,” Pelley said. He added that administrators from the European Tour, USGA, R&A and PGA Tour met in April in Augusta, Ga., to discuss the issue. Talks will resume at the British Open at Royal Portrush.

“There is a will to tackle this issue across the game,” Pelley said.

He’s empathetic toward Molinari’s stance on the issue.

“I spoke to him and understand where he’s coming from,” Pelley said. “That’s why we spent a lot of time discussing slow play during the committee meeting at Hillside.”

As a result of those discussions, Pelley said officials will make some recommendations to the players in mid-July at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.

“We have a couple of guys that are pretty impressive on monitoring pace of play in John Paramor and Andy McFee,” he said. “If we have to get more aggressive on the issue then we will, even if that means spending more resources on it.” Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the June 2019 issue of Golfweek.)


  

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