Friday, 1 February 2013

At this rate, we'll be here until Oh.

After the breathtakingly pedestrian conclusion to the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Monday, the still-active-yet-unaddressed issue of pace of play came to light again. The ensuing Twitter debate about how this problem can be sorted out has prompted me to repost a piece I wrote back in February 2012 presenting, I think, a workable solution to the problem.

This has been bubbling away for a fair while now with little in the way of action forthcoming from the governing bodies or Tour committees. It has almost got to the point of becoming a bit of a joke, with the usual suspects becoming well-known for their pedestrian approach to playing the game. When was the last time a player was sanctioned for slow play during a tournament?

At the amateur level, pace of play is a serious problem. From regular club players through to the occasional weekend hacker, the experience of 18 holes taking five hours or more is becoming increasingly frequent, which isn't great for the image and attractiveness of the game. Frankly speaking, the amateur game takes its cues from the professional ranks - the armchair fans who take to the course after watching their heroes plod round the course are going to see the approach that the pros take and want to try and emulate it.

In order for steps to be taken, the Tours need to stand up and be counted and I, for one, would like to see a bit more creativity and put some genuine pressure on the players to improve this aspect of the game we love.

On the grounds that the 'shot clock' (a mysterious infringement tool that seems to disappear just when it's actually needed) doesn't seem to have any discernible impact on the pace of play, cash fines have little impact on players who drive cars like this, and that the Tours seem to enjoy the act of retrospective punishment (see my previous post about Peter Whiteford's DQ in India), my suggestion would be for shot penalties - a handicap, if you will - to be imposed for their next tournament on the schedule. Any player whose playing time is above a certain, pre-determined limit would have to start their next event on that Tour with a handicap.

The key to this working is an accurate technological solution to tracking the precise playing time of each competitor. Perhaps it could be stated that once the player has reached/found his ball and has commenced his pre-shot routine, or started sizing up the shot with his caddie, the clock is ticking and counting towards the full round total. This would avoid penalising any player who is either looking for a lost ball, taking a penalty drop or, indeed, caught up behind waiting for things to happen. I'm sure that the statistical analysis software used by many professional football clubs could be utilised and adapted to suit the needs of golf.

Clearly the pro players have a huge amount at stake with each shot and so they want to be able to perform at their very best and make each swipe count. That said, they are experienced and skilled enough to not dawdle and make sure that, particularly, a pre-shot routine is short and sweet. 

Luke Donald was, for him, quite vocal at the end of last season (2011) on this topic and even went as far as stating that 30s pre-shot was more than sufficient time to be able to execute the correct shot.

Well, if it's good enough for the (2nd) best player in the world, that'll do me just fine.

I am the Part-Time Golfer 

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