How Can We Deal with Slow Play?

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Jillian Bourdage

This is Jillian Bourdage. I recently watched a clip of the 17-year-old amateur competing in the U.S. Junior Girls final. She took over a minute to putt out from approximately two feet. In such a pressurised environment, one can be forgiven for taking their time to be diligent and to ensure no silly errors are made, but this was different. It was a tap-in. She is young, and definitely has a bright future ahead of her on the LPGA tour, but she isn’t going to win over many hearts playing at that speed.

Of course, it is easy to pick on individuals when it comes down to slow play in golf. Bryson DeChambeau and JB Holmes amongst others are notorious names that come to mind. However, for me the real culprits are the governing bodies, who are simply not doing enough to curb this problem in our game. Not only is slow play damaging to golfers and golf fans, it is damaging to golf’s image.

The Shot Clock Masters in Atzenbrugg, Austria was a great success last year. The event, approved by European Tour CEO Keith Pelley drew attention around the world for introducing a one-stroke penalty if a player exceed a time-limit of 40 seconds for a shot. Journeyman pro Peter Hanson remarked ‘I think this is the way we should play golf, and this is the way I was born and raised to play the game.’ Moreover, the standard of golf improved. The first round average score dropped from the year before by 0.6.

Billy Horschel has been calling out for the PGA Tour to try something similar in the United States, but as of yet it has not happened. For me, the blueprint laid down by the European Tour in Austria, has to be used every week.

Here is my suggestion. 40 seconds should be the maximum time allowed for a shot, once the player has walked up to their ball. If they exceed that time, they receive a strike. Over the duration of a round, a player can have three strikes before they are handed a one-stroke penalty. This would be a positive step in the right direction for professional golf. Round times would drop, and fans won’t be left tearing their hair out.

I’m a traditionalist at heart. I want to retain the fundamentals of golf. However, this is not a radical change. If the R&A and USGA could implement it competently and comprehensively, it would benefit the game. Slow play is an annoyance for all. If we can reduce that annoyance, I am all for it. I am not a big fan of those Super Six events or Hero challenges. They are simply not going to interest players and fans enough. Golf is an endurance sport played over 18 holes. That is what makes it so special. It isn’t darts.

The 2019 rules of golf alterations to attempt to tackle slow play have failed. The three-minute time limit on looking for a ball affects nothing. The problem lies before the shot has been hit. I hope the R&A and USGA come to their senses and realise something needs to be done. It is so simple, too! In football, VAR’s implementation has caused great controversy. A shot-clock warning will not, if introduced properly.

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