Is Slow Play Killing Golf?

Penalties for slow play should start at the top with the pros, but it should be done properly and to really improve the pace to play.

Thrash TalkSlow play is slowly killing golf. Recently LPGA golfer Morgan Pressel was penalized in a match play event for slow play. Just the headline by itself is very refreshing. The LPGA has a clear rule for slow play and enforced it. Well played. Sadly there is a bit more to this story and I am not sure the rule was properly enforced.

To the rest of us, slow play is just a part of golf. The five-plus hour round golf has been played by everyone, some of you have probably even played longer rounds. It is a problem because everyone has responsibility and spending so much time on the golf course makes you wonder if golf is worth it. If you have a family, spending five and a half hours on the course plus driving to and fro and a meal is a lot of time away from your family. Add to that all the waiting, standing around, and it really isn’t all that fun.

What surprises me about this topic is that the ruling bodies of golf are not doing more to fix the biggest problem killing our game. A perfect example of this, is recently I played in an NCGA (Northern California Golf Association) sanctioned event and I looked at the card which wisely had the time it should take you to play each hole. I thought, wow, this is great, they are working hard at improving pace of play. Then I look at the total time it should take to play 18 holes and it is 4:34. WHAT? Golf should not take that long. Four hours should be the maximum time it should take. We finished the round in a cool 5:05 which is not that big of a surprise if the first group, which did not have anyone out in from of them, was on pace if they took 4:34.

Add to this, the fact that when you are learning the game of golf there is very little taught to you about how to play faster golf. Take learning to play with a cart as a perfect example. I watch guys all the time drive the cart over to their ball, while the other player sits in the cart to watch the action. Then after hitting his ball he gets in the cart and drives over to the other guy’s ball, and the process is repeated. This is going to slow the pace way down. The driver should have dropped his partner off at his ball then drove to his so both are ready to play when it is their turn.

I will also see guys when they are close to the green, park the cart nearby, walk over examine the situation, then walk all the way back to the cart grab the club and then walk back to the ball to play the shot. Since you are close to the green bring three wedges the first time over to the ball and then play the shot with all the walking back and forth. These are simple ideas to help speed up play that are just not taught to new golfers unless they have someone to help them with this. Simple videos on YouTube by the USGA could help this intensely. Sadly the USGA is too busy marshaling six-hour rounds at the U.S. Open to do anything like this.

Morgan Pressel and Azahara Munoz at the 2012 Sybase Match Play

Back to Morgan. Between Morgan Pressel and Azaraha Munoz it is very clear who the slow player is there. Munoz is a documented slow player, and even admitted as much in the post-round interviews, whereas Pressel is thought of as one of the faster players. Yes, Pressel took too long over a couple of shots on the back nine but I would be willing to bet if you averaged the amount of time over each shot, even with those couple that were too long, it would still be lower than the average of Munoz.

So the idea to penalize Pressel by the letter of the law is correct, but in helping to improve slow play it was wrong. If Pressel averages 30 seconds for each shot hit that day, including the ones that were very long, and Munoz averages 50 seconds for each shot, who contributed more to the slow play? So you penalize Pressel for the average slow play of Munoz. Because on a few shots she went over a pre-set time limit? If that is the case then I think the rule is written poorly. If the ruling body want to improve slow play then penalize the slow players, don’t penalize the faster players who happened to play a few shots slowly.

Personally I think the LPGA was trying to send a message, and in actuality I whole heartedly agree with the message they were trying to send. Slow play is a big problem in golf and fixing it with the pros is an outstanding place to start. Both the LPGA and PGA should penalize more. Much more, but they need to find a way to target the slow players. The ones really slowing down play. Not the ones who took a bit longer on a few shots.

Photo credits: © Tom Canavan.

11 thoughts on “Is Slow Play Killing Golf?”

  1. I am not sure that on the pro circuit you need to time each pro’s shot,….atleast not from the 1st tee,……

    really each group as a whole should be timed,….and the ones identified as going slow they should be investigated and the group made aware they are being watched due to slow play and the slowest player will gain a 1 shot penalty

    after 2-3 holes if a player falls below the requriement of a decent pace, they receive a shot penalty, then its left at that

    qutie simple really

  2. Slow play has got to be addressed. I think enforcing it on tour is a great idea, but there is no way in hell it will ever filter into our local community golf courses. Back in the day there were marshals at every course that kept the idiots under control… now its just a free for all. The only thing that will change the pace of play is to preach it at the clubhouse and enforce it on the course. The simple fact is, it cost money to keep marshals out there and thats not a luxury most can afford.

    Back to the tour… I can give those guys a break. Their careers are on the line, huge sums of money, and I’m sure nerves play a factor as well. Plus, the camera can always switch back over to another group and we as viewers never know the difference. It may be annoying to play a 6hr round with Ben Crane, but its just part of the job… I mean hell, you play golf for a living… you lucky bastards!!!

  3. Playing too slowly when there is a penalty for slow play is cheating, hence the loss of hole penalty. Who cares if Morgan is typically the quicker player? When it counted, she wasn’t. End of story.

  4. sean_miller,

    To me you are saying that you don’t care that Munoz was the reason they got put onto the clock in the first place. Which in my opinion ignores the problem of slow play. They were 2 holes behind, the question in my mind, should be “how did they get that far behind?”

    To the letter of the rule, the way it is written you are right. But for the entire match to be decided by an official because the other player caused them to be behind is a mistake in my opinion. In the case the LPGA cut off their nose to spite their face.

  5. The entire match wasn’t decided by the official. Morgan still held the lead.

    And Morgan is the one who broke the rules. She was warned twice.

    I see nothing wrong here. Sorry.

  6. Yes, Morgan was still up, but after winning the 12th she was 3 up, and then after the penalty she found herself only 1 up, that is quite a switch to have occurred. She was visibly shaken by the ruling and it probably took her a few holes to recover mentally. So, you are right, but certainly it had an enormous affect on the outcome.

    As I said before she did break the rules, there is no debating that, but should the intent of the rule penalize slow players or those that play a few slow shots? In my view we should penalize the slow players.

  7. She didn’t win the 12th.

    Morgan was the slow player. She was on the clock, and broke the rules. There can’t be intent – only a standard method of determining the rules violator and applying the rule and the penalty.

  8. I would help if officials were allowed to home in on slow play by warning a player, not the entire group. In most slow play situations I have read about on tour events, it was abundantly clear that it was one player in the group who was at fault, yet the entire group suffers from incidental association. The LPGA should have been able to give its warning to Munoz alone.

  9. Match play with the possibility of concessions is not as easy to regulate as stroke play. It only needs a couple of conceeded holes to get well in front of the following match where every putt may have to be holed. Regardless of the cause of the slow play, the match was given two warnings and put on the clock The point is that Munoz heeded the warning and improved her pace of play. Pressel was penalised because she failed to speed up. “She lost the hole because she was slow and I wasn’t.”

  10. I was there when the penalties were issued. I don’t want to take anything away from Munoz’s victory, she is an outstanding young lady who played great golf for four days, but Morgan Pressel got robbed. As some of you might know by now, the Munoz, Pressel pairing was put on the clock for slow play. Azahara is known for being the slowest player on the entire tour and was showing why again. Unfortunately both people are warned, even though only one player may be at fault.

    On the 12th tee Morgan (who is faster than most players), stepped up to the tee and was ready to hit her drive. Out of nowhere came this very strong gust of wind, and she went back to her bag to change her club.

    What should she do, use the wrong club? She would go on to win the hole and go 3 up with just 6 holes to play. She was then notified that she took 29 seconds too long, and the hole was awarded to Munoz. Instead of being up 3 holes, Morgan was now up only one. She was clearly upset, and went on to lose the match.

    Let me tell you, slow play is a major problem on both the LPGA and PGA tours. Something has to be done about it to keep play moving and more interesting to watch. Morgan Pressel had never received a penalty for slow play in her entire career. In this case there were only four golfers playing, and no one in back of them. I am all for handing out penalties for slow players, but I don’t think any discretion was used in this case. Morgan was penalized, what amounted to 2 holes, for taking 29 seconds too long. The officials held up play at least ten times that long by doing what they did. Plenty has been written about slow play in recent weeks, and I think Morgan became the scapegoat.

  11. As a golf professional (and a parent to two junior, than college golfers) slow play is always cropping up in some way or another. I watched my daughter literally sprint down the fairway for two holes after being put on the clock at an event in Doral, Fl then argue her way out of the penalty by citing specific reasons why the other girls were slow and not her. Most junior tours and events allow wiggle room for justified slowness – two balls in the water, two lost balls in one hole (you get five minutes a lost ball – that can add up with crazy shot making). It is painful as a parent to watch a child get so caught up in “making the time” that they forget to play the game. However, on the other hand, truely slow players need to learn tips (like the ones above) to play quicker.

    But real golf is not on a clock. Coming down the fairway, one stroke back, I dare someone put tiger on the clock. The points above are all correct. Yes, something needs to be done. Yes, Morgan is not the slow player. Yes, she should have known better and sped up. Should she have chanced the way she plays in competition? I don’t think so.

    Simple thoughts from an old pro – golf just isn’t the same these days… No one put Hogan on a clock, in fact, he probably would have cursed them out for it…

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