CHARLESTON, S.C. – It was a slow day of golf in Charleston on Saturday. So slow that the field failed to finish in the allotted network TV window despite the final group teeing off at 1:40 p.m. and no interruptions in play.
The final threesome took around three hours to play the front nine. The slowest group overall on Saturday took 5 hours and 45 minutes.
So when amateur Andrea Lee was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play – the only penalty dished out for the day – many golf fans couldn’t understand why she’d been singled out. Guan Tianlang, a 14-year-old amateur, famously became the first player ever penalized for slow play at the Masters in 2013.
Lee, a rising Stanford senior, was visibly shaken when informed of the penalty. She was already having a tough day before that and bogeyed the last two holes to shoot 79. After the round, Lee and her family had a rather tense conversation with the same LPGA rules official outside of scoring. It was clear that she didn’t agree with the penalty.
Lee is playing in her third U.S. Women’s Open. She’s a USGA championship veteran and two-time Curtis Cupper. John Bodenhamer, USGA senior managing director of championships, said they don’t take pleasure in doling out slow-play penalties for anyone – amateur or professional.
SCORES: U.S. Women’s Open
“When it comes down to it, we have a policy all the players are familiar with,” said Bodenhamer. “For us not to enforce is not an option. We have to be fair to the entire field.”
There are two areas at the Country Club of Charleston where bottlenecks occur. On the front nine it’s around Nos. 5 and 6, and on the back nine it’s around the difficult 11th.
“What happened yesterday, just to cut right to brass tacks, the wind was coming out of the north,” said Bodenhamer. “We had a forecast that said it would shift to south and eventually the southwest. It didn’t. It stayed out of the north, so No. 5 was reachable for almost the entire field.”
The new wind direction caused players and their caddies to take more time. Add in the difficult green complexes of this Seth Raynor design and how tough is it to simply hit the green, let alone get it close on some of these par 3s, and it gets slow out there.
The tees are up on Nos. 6 and 11 for the final round on Sunday and winds should be back to prevailing in the afternoon and less severe, gusting up to 12-14 mph. On Saturday the gusts were up to 20 mph.
Most of the field went off in threesomes on Saturday (the first two were twosomes). Thirteen groups received warnings. Five groups were put on the clock and three players received a bad time. Lee was the only one who received a second bad time, which is why she was penalized.
Caroline Masson played alongside Lee for three rounds this week and said amateurs sometimes end up taking the hit in these situations because they don’t know how to adjust when they’re put on the clock.
“I think every player/caddie combination figures out a process of how to be as fast as possible and as efficient as possible,” said Masson. “They do start timing you as soon as the player reaches the ball. That’s the reason why you see a lot of caddies run ahead off the tee once players are on the clock to get the number and have the number ready by the time the player gets to the ball. The amateur, obviously, they’re not used to it.
“Like Andrea in this case, she gets the number herself. So if she gets to the ball and they start timing her as soon as she gets there, I think it’s very hard to stay within the time limit getting the number and hitting the shot. I think that’s why they get in trouble.”
Lee, the top-ranked amateur in the field, had her father on the bag. Her entire group was put on the clock on the 15th hole and Lee was assessed the penalty after a second bad time on the 16th. She took 51 seconds to hit her third shot on No. 15 and 54 seconds to hit her second shot on No. 16.
Players are allotted 40 seconds to hit their shot unless they are the first to hit in the group. Then they get 50 seconds.
“In a championship like this it’s hard,” said Bodenhamer. “When it’s windy it’s harder. I think being ready to play when it’s your turn to play is the most important thing.”
When the round was over, Masson told Lee to keep her head up. It’s one week, one round, one situation.
But a day she won’t soon forget.