If J.B. Holmes isn’t the slowest player on the PGA Tour, he’s in the top two. And now, he has become – fairly or not – an icon for what many believe is the scourge of golf.
Holmes was vilified during the final round of his victory Sunday at the Genesis Open at historic Riviera Country Club. TV announcers and players alike excoriated Holmes for his glacial pace of play. The veritable human rain delay.
Adam Scott, who was in the threesome with Holmes and Justin Thomas on Sunday, has been unusually outspoken lately about the subject. He had more to say after his final round.
"I'll tell you my thing on slow play is, it's never going to change," Scott said. "I think it's, Just get over it. Until television and sponsors say no more money, slow play ain't going to change."
Most slow players are oblivious. They don’t know they’re slow. And those who do know, don’t care. That applies to the professional and the recreational amateur games.
Pace of play on the professional tours and slow play for the rest of us are separate issues, and one has very little to do with the other. It’s a problem for all of us, to be certain. But its effect is entirely different.
“Yeah, when I first got out here, I was really slow,” said Holmes, who famously took 4 minutes, 10 seconds to lay up on the final hole during last year’s Farmers Insurance Open. “But I’ve sped up quite a bit.
“I’ve gotten better. There’s times when I’m probably too slow, but it is what it is. I was never on the clock [during the final round of the Genesis]. Never even got a warning. TV wants everything to be real fast all the time.”
Holmes defended his pace of play, blaming the conditions. “Well, you play in 25-mph gusty winds and see how fast you play when you’re playing for the kind of money and points and everything that we’re playing for,” he said. “You can’t just get up there and whack it when it’s blowing that hard.”
Slow players on the PGA Tour know the drill. When they are put on the clock by Tour officials, they speed up just enough to remain inside the time limit. When the officials leave, they go right back to playing at their own pace.
Most players simply slow down their own pace to fall in line with the slowpokes. But the conscientious objectors say that it’s time to do something. Penalties should be handed out swiftly and surely. Fines are not the answer, they say. Adding strokes to a player’s score is the only way to solve this problem.
However, the complainers want it both ways. They insist that pace of play be enforced – except during the last nine holes among players in contention. Then, they want to be allowed to take all the time they need with the tournament on the line.
Young players who come to the Tour already have a built-in slow clock. Pace of play on the U.S. college circuit is abysmal. Six-hour rounds are routine. And therein lies the genesis of slow play in the professional game. Players already are conditioned to take their sweet time. You can slow down a fast player, but you have a really hard time speeding up a slow player.
For the rest of us, it’s a different issue. When we play, we’re trying not to spend all day at the golf course. We have families and lives. When the round takes five hours or more, it takes away time that we should be spending doing something else.
But the solution is just as difficult for us as it is for the professionals. At public courses, starters and rangers encourage us to keep up with the group immediately in front. When that doesn’t happen, the slow group holds up the rest of the course. And it puts pressure on fast players to play even faster, to make up for the slow player(s) in the group.
Some courses tell players before they reach the first tee that if they fall more than a hole behind, they will be asked to skip a hole to keep up. It’s a great policy, but it’s rarely, if ever, enforced. That’s because slow public-course players claim that the money they pay gives them the right to play at whatever pace they like. And in this golf economy, most courses can’t afford to lose paying customers.
We will hear that slow recreational players take their cues from Tour players regarding pace of play. And maybe that’s true with players who take more than one practice swing or appear to be copying the pros’ pre-shot routines.
But the real problem with amateurs is that they’re not ready when it’s their turn. They’re either busy telling stories or simply not paying attention.
The USGA has tried to tackle the pace-of-play behemoth with a number of initiatives. There was a project about 20 years ago to rate courses with a “time par.” In the early 1990s, the late Stuart Bloch, the USGA’s president, tried to encourage the organization to endorse “ready golf.” In the past few years, the USGA promoted a “While We’re Young” campaign.
Every attempt at curing slow play has failed. It’s a problem without a willingness in the right places to solve it. Scott was right. We’ll just have to live with it.
Except perhaps this: A good friend of mine believes he has a surefire way to speed things up.
“Make practice swings count,” he said.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf