Slow Play More Unseemly than Long Putters

By: Jeff Shelley

While the USGA and R&A grabbed headlines a few months ago by proposing a ban on anchored putters, the organizations - along with all the professional tours - should be making concerted efforts to eliminate slow play in golf.

So-called "purists" complained about the putters because they simply don't like the way they look, while alleging that the clubs provide an unfair advantage because the butt end of the putter grip is placed against the body and removes the arms from the swing, thus leading to a more predictable and smoother stroke.

What about the laggards who hold up fields - whether in a big-time tournament or at the public course nearest you? You know what's it like to stand in the fairway and watch - shot-after-shot, hole-after-hole, ad nauseum - the group ahead treating each stroke as if it were going to determine the outcome of a major championship when, in fact, each player in the foursome is trying to avoid a triple-digit score.

Are they being cued to take their bloody good time by the ultra-slow pro-tour players who help set the standards of deportment in golf?

Well, if so, the example shown in the final round on Monday at the Farmers Insurance Open was deplorably typical of a problem that's become the bane of the game. No less a personage that Tiger Woods - the tournament's eventual winner - was affected by the dawdling threesome in front of him.

The television cameras showed in agonizingly drowsy detail one of golf's biggest issues as Woods waited, waited and waited as the next-to-last group - Steve Marino, Brad Fritsch and Erik Compton - managed, though not deliberately, to freeze him out, taking four hours to play the final 11 holes. The effect was similar to what happens at the end of basketball games when coaches call timeouts as an opposing player takes a crucial free throw or a football coach who runs onto the field to halt play just before a field-goal kicker attempts the game-winning boot.

"I started losing my patience out there," Woods told reporters later. Despite the lackadaisical trio in front of him, he still managed to secure his seventh title (and eighth overall, including the 2008 U.S. Open) at Torrey Pines. "It was just so friggin' slow. We played just over three hours and nine holes, and three of them are par-3s. It's like, come on, you know. I started losing my patience a little bit, and that's when I made a few mistakes.

"The group ahead of us was a hole behind most of the entire back nine," Woods added. "I don't know if they were warned or not or they were timed. But we were just playing slow. We were just having to wait on every shot."

For well over the past decade golf has been losing players, not gaining them. The primary reasons for people shifting their focus to other activities are pretty simple: the game's cost and it takes too much time to play. Even with the decreased numbers of golfers, five-hour rounds on busier municipal facilities are de rigueur.

Earlier in 2008, Woods ended a monthly newsletter by saying, "I would like to talk about slow play. It's been an ongoing problem on the PGA Tour for a long time." When asked about an update on his view of the problem at last May's Players Championship, Woods called the situation "worse."

Just before that tournament PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said his organization was going to "experiment with penalty shots" as a way to address slow play. Then he added an ominous caveat. "But I don't think penalty shots make a difference, to be honest with you."

As Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson so poignantly pointed out, "How would he know?"

Ferguson was referring to the last time a one-shot penalty was assessed on a slow player, Glen Day, in the 1995 Honda Classic. Three years before Dillard Pruitt also received a one-stroke penalty at the Byron Nelson Championship. (In an ultimate irony, Pruitt is now a Tour official who carries a stopwatch to monitor the players' pace of play.)

In that same Ferguson article (, Luke Donald was quoted as saying, "Slow play is killing our sport."

U.S. Open champion, Geoff Ogilvy, also noted that because of the Tour's reluctance to make laggards pay by docking them penalty strokes there's a cavalier attitude by some players, who don't feel they need to do anything other than to take their normal tortoise-like approach.

"When I first came out and someone told me to hurry up, I got all flustered and was rushing," Ogilvy told Ferguson last year. "Now, it's a laugh. Yeah, we'll try. But some guys don't even try because (officials) don't do anything. I bet if you polled the Tour, half the fast players would say, 'Give me penalties,' just to scare everyone."

Former Tour regular and long-time on-course TV reporter Roger Maltby offered Ferguson a simple solution to the problem. ''Hand them their cards on the first tee and say, 'If you bring this back to us in less than four hours, you can take a stroke off your score.' Let's see how that works.''

Something must be done. During Monday's telecast of the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open, the CBS Sports' crew of Jim Nance, Nick Faldo, David Feherty, Peter Kostis, Gary McCord, et al each railed against the poky proceedings.

Maybe they needed to catch a flight and were concerned that the unnecessarily drawn-out final round would force them to alter their travel plans.

Much more likely though, they - along with millions of interested onlookers, including me - were getting fed up with the dilly-dallying that now infects the professional tours and is undermining golf in general.

Taking away a popular club from average golfers isn't going to rehabilitate golf. But doing something about accelerating the pace of play just might.