Everybody (except Jason Day) hates slow play. Indeed, 84 percent of players on the PGA Tour think snail-like pace of play is a problem.
It’s unclear whether it’s more of a problem for the pros, many of whom would prefer to play more quickly, or whether they recognize viewers don’t enjoy watching a player back off a shot three times.
Regardless, the reality of the recent uproar about slow play is that it isn’t recent. “My dad has said it’s been talked about in player meetings since he was a rookie,” Bill Haas told the AP’s Doug Ferguson. His father, Jay Haas, started playing on Tour in the late 70s.
Of course, the Tour hit Miguel Angel Carballo and Brian Campbell with a one-stroke penalty during last week’s Zurich Classic. Whether the reprimand will have any carry over to regular stroke-play events remains to be seen.
But even the most pessimistic observers of the Zurich penalty has to acknowledge the first slow-play penalty since 1995 could represent a shift.
Or, it could not. The problem isn’t just slow play, it’s the slow-play policy. As Doug Ferguson indicates:
“The reason some of the notoriously slow players on the PGA Tour have escaped penalties for taking too long to play their shots (50 seconds for the first to play, 40 seconds for the others in the group) is because they know the system, and it’s easy to beat.
“Players are timed only when they are out of position, either based on the suggested time it should take or if the hole ahead of them is open. Once they are notified the group is “on the clock,” one bad time is a warning, the next one is a penalty.
“Here’s what is not in the book — when players are put on the clock, that’s not their first interaction with a rules official. They first are asked to pick up the pace, a courtesy to allow for outside circumstances (such as a lost ball). Secondly, while timing is not an exact science, players are not given a bad time if they go a few seconds over the limit. A bad time generally is a really bad time.”
In other words, players always get several warnings, and would have to do something as extreme as falling two holes behind the group behind to really be penalized.
With 150-plus players on course playing for millions of dollars. With tough courses with three-foot comebackers that require plenty of attention, the incentive for players to take their time is there. You have to feel the PGA Tour is ultimately sympathetic.
And certainly, too, there’s no data on how slow play affects viewership. While plenty grumble on occasion from within the confines of the Twitterverse, it’s hard to draw large conclusions from that small sample.
We can postulate the steady slide in PGA Tour T.V. ratings has something to do with slow play, but we don’t really have any supporting evidence for that fact. Go back and watch Tiger Woods in his prime, the man was never the swiftest. Networks showed the entirety of his pre-shot and pre-putt routines, and nobody seemed to mind.
While there’s little doubt players on the PGA Tour could pick up the pace, it’s unclear what the effects of slow play really are. It’s also extremely unlikely the Tour will level significant penalties against top-tier offenders, such as Jason Day and Jordan Spieth.