PGA Tour's new pace-of-play policy includes secret 'observation list'

Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

PGA Tour's new pace-of-play policy includes secret 'observation list'

PGA Tour

PGA Tour's new pace-of-play policy includes secret 'observation list'

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The PGA Tour is changing its pace-of-play policy, effective at the RBC Heritage during the week of April 13.

The biggest shift is to time and punish individual offenders rather than strictly groups out of position. There also will be an observation list, which won’t be made public, and penalties for “excessive shot times” for players who take more than 120 seconds to hit a shot.

“We’re going to focus on the individual habits of the slowest players and the slowest strokes and move in that direction,” said Tyler Dennis, PGA Tour senior vice president and chief of operations. “These habits are believed to be a significant part of the overall negative perception that pervades the issue of pace of play.”

As a result, it should be more common for players to be penalized for slow play. Competitors will be slapped with a one-shot penalty if they get a second bad time in a tournament rather than the previous policy in which players were only penalized one stroke for a second bad time in a round.

Penalties will be costly

Fines and penalties associated with the policy have also been bumped up accordingly. Players still will receive a warning but those who receive a second bad time will be fined $50,000, and $20,000 for each additional bad time. For those caught having excessive shot times, they’ll be levied a $20,000 fine for the second violation, and $20,000 for each one after that the rest of the season. The Tour does not release fines publicly, but said that money the Tour collects goes to PGA Tour Charities.

Pace of play has been a longstanding problem that Tour officials have blamed on field size, using the analogy that there’s too many cars on the freeway. The subject drew increased headlines last season, and led to renewed efforts to make improvements.

The observation list

Players will be placed on the observation list if they average more than 45 seconds per shot. Each player’s historical ShotLink stroke data will be used over a 10-tournament rolling period to identify the slowest players on Tour. According to the data collected for the past 12 years, the slowest 10% of players take an average of 63 seconds for shots around the green, which is more than 25 seconds longer than that of their fastest 10% counterparts.

If a player finds himself on the observation list, he will be monitored during rounds and subject to a 60-second timing limit for all shots in absence of a valid reason, even when his group is in position. If this time is exceeded, the player will be timed individually even if his group is in position. All timing of strokes will be done by the Rules Official on-course and in-person. The observation list will be updated on a weekly basis. Players will be notified in writing or in person by a Rules Official that they are on the list prior to the start of competition.

60 seconds or less

“In looking at 60 seconds it was a sort of appropriate break off in the data and simple number to understand and we felt that metric as someone who was potentially being slow was a fair and reasonable way to value all the shots,” Dennis said.

A player will receive a warning for his first bad time. On the second, he will receive a one-stroke penalty. For each additional bad time, another one-stroke penalty will be given. The timing only stops if the player goes two holes without a bad time.

If any player in the field is observed by a Rules Official to take more than 120 seconds on a shot in the absence of a good reason for doing so, he will be given an Excessive Shot Time. Any player who receives two excessive shot times in a single tournament will also be placed on the observation list.

‘Without undue delay’

The Rules of Golf addresses pace of play, saying a player “must play without undue delay.” The Tour has adopted its own guidelines, implementing a pace-of-play policy in 1994, and have made nine significant sets of changes, the most recent being at the start of 2017-18. However, penalty strokes rarely have been dished out, with Glen Day being the last Tour pro to be penalized for slow play at the 1995 Honda Classic. Miguel Angel Carballo and Brian Campbell were penalized at the 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a team event.

The amount of time a player is permitted to hit a shot in groups will remain at 40 seconds, plus an additional 10 seconds for “first to play” situations. Any player who receives a bad time – regardless of whether they are on the Observation List or not – will receive a warning, followed by a one-stroke penalty for each additional bad time.

The Tour’s new policy isn’t designed to create a material change in the amount of time it takes to play a round, which on average takes 4 hours, 46 minutes (3 hours, 52 minutes in twosomes).

The new policy was voted on by the PGA Tour Players Advisory Council at a meeting in the fall at the Houston Open and the Policy Board enacted the changes during a November board meeting at PGA Tour headquarters.

The European Tour instituted its own new policy for this season. It goes into effect this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

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