Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I'm No Fan Of Slow Play On Golf Course

I’m not a fan of slow play on the golf course so a recent Sports Illustrated article—On The Clock—which touched on that sometimes problem on the PGA Tour was of extra interest. The Tour issues fines to the slow players, but rarely enforces a slow play penalty. The United States Golf Association has rules for slow play, but many times it’s open to interpretation by the “local” rules committee or the tournament committee.

On the Tour, slow play is a problem to those who prefer a faster pace, and just the discussion of slow play is a sore point to those who have a more deliberate style, usually one most recently brought on by sports psychologists who want the players to “visualize” shots. But, in that article which is part of a weekly special golf section of my SI subscription (you can get it too if you ask), there are several examples of slow play, how to avoid it, how to skirt the rules, how to avoid the fines and penalties, all of which is a slap at the USGA Rules of Golf, if you ask me, which you didn’t but I’ve now offered.

The entire article, less than two full pages of SI’s May 17 edition, is good reading for golfers, but even if you’re not a linkster (I made that one up, I think), what Gary Van Sickle writes is good reading. Some examples:

Speedier Play Secret No. 1: Walk faster. Is that too obvious? Apparently not. Carl Pettersson was the first off in the final round of the recent Quail Hollow Championship as a single. He played in 2:15 because he walked briskly. “Jack Nicklaus got a hard time because he could be slow over the ball,” (rules official Jon) Brendle says, “but he always walked fast so he could afford to be slow over the ball. It’s a pretty simple fix for slow play—walk faster, get there sooner.”

Related to the weekend golfer who rides and has a cart partner as well as two others in a cart together, do not ride to one ball, wait and watch as your cart partner selects a club and then hits. Either drive the cart towards your ball and be ready to hit when the partner is done or select a couple of possible clubs and start walking in the direction of your ball.

Another example from the SI article: The Race for the Cure: Richard Johnson is no longer among the Tour’s slowpokes. “We had a tight TV window in Reno and had to start at daybreak,” (PGA Tour Vice President of Rules and Competition Mark) Russell says. “The lead guy was Richard Johnson, the slowest player you could imagine. I went to the 1st tee and said, ‘Richard, you’re leading off,’ and he said, ‘Mark, you don’t have to say another word. I have an 11 o’clock flight and have to be on it.’ He shot 64 that day and (going from last place) finished in the top 10. I saw him a few weeks later and asked what he learned. ‘Unbelievable,’ is all he said, and we’ve never had another problem with him.”

To the weekend warrior, slow play does not equate to a better score. Better play equates to a better score, and most of the time, all slow play does is exaggerate the bad habits a player who is playing badly. Too much thought process can confuse the situation. Looking at yardage several times; studying the wind; picking a club; picking another club; it’s all too much. The John Daly method of grip it and rip it is not being advocated here but, unless you’re qualifying for the US Open, and even then, getting into a decent pace should result in a decent score.

At nearly every golf course is a chart explaining the pace of play for that particular course: 20 minutes for this hole; 12 minutes for that hole; etc. Total times are posted for the front nine, the back nine and the total for 18 holes, suggesting to the players they be off the course in that allotted time and to enjoy yourself while experience the total golf experience at that course.

We didn’t have that chart at MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary where I was a member several years ago for several years. But we knew that for the enjoyment of golf while considering all the other players on the course four hours and 20 minutes was enough time, walking or riding. Actually, most walking foursomes played at a better pace than the cart riders, even with carts in the fairways. There was one player, always a walker, who stuck by that expected time frame, even when he played as a single or in a twosome or a threesome. No matter what, he was playing golf in four hours and 20 minutes, and he rarely let anyone go through, especially if he was on pace as suggested. Few enjoyed playing with or behind him.

After revealing to many others, in addition to those who read my post of last Thursday in which I discussed playing 58 holes of golf on my 58th birthday, the most stated statement was, “Wow! That must have taken you a long time.”

Not really. The first 27 holes went by fast, playing those three 9-holers in three hours as I worked my way around Lonnie Poole Golf Course at NC State University by myself with the use of good old #6 gas-powered golf cart. In real time, the other 27 only took about four and a half hours. In either case, I believe I played at an enjoyable pace AND found the time to carry on conversation with various playing partners.

To enjoy golf, I believe, you must have a rhythm to your game and to get that rhythm you must play at a steady pace, paying attention to your game while also taking note of the others in your group. Most importantly, you must be aware of others on the golf course. Respect their space and right to be there.

To get that rhythm, it’s also imperative that you keep an eye or two on your own ball when you hit it. To hit a bad shot to the right into tall grass and to look away and never see where it might be found is a golf sin. When that happens in my group, when another player pulls one towards the woods to the left and then slams the club into the ground and looks away as the ball sails out of sight, that’s when I quit looking for his ball. If he’s not interested in knowing where it’s going, why should I?

In the SI article, speedier play secret No 2 had to do with taping in a short putt instead of marking and waiting your turn, lining up a 12 inch putt as if capping the oil leak at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico depended on making it. In a casual game, just putt out, especially if your stance does not harm your playing partners’ lines, or even if it does if you have a wager.

And, then there’s Speedier Play secret No. 3: When it’s your turn to play, go ahead and play. “I tell guys, ‘You don’t hit balls on the range like this, and you hit ’em pretty good,’” says Russell (the Tour VP). “You don’t wait two minutes to hit every seven-iron shot.”

No kidding. And good advice. I enjoy playing golf: 18 holes, 36 holes, 58 holes at a time. It’s a great outdoor sport. It’s not a race by any means, but it should be played at an enjoyable and steady pace with all those involved. I’m not out there to set a land speed record for carrying a bag of clubs and balls 8,000 yards. I want to get better at the game, and playing at a steady pace without delay is important to the success of my wants.

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