News & Opinion

If USGA and R&A really want to hasten play, try this

Golf’s governing bodies made me laugh again Monday. Why? Because I read that they’re considering banning maps and other devices that help players read putts in competition.

Pace of play supposedly is one of the reasons for the possible future ban. Reducing the skill required to putt is another.

Now, name one other thing that golf’s governing bodies have done to improve the pace of play, besides the entertaining but otherwise useless “While We’re Young” campaign that gave little advice about how to play quicker.

The USGA is the same organization that was just about the last to allow laser rangefinders in competition, something that actually would speed up play. Of course, you still won’t see rangefinders in their big events, the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens. So, they aren’t really committed to improving pace of play.

I got into a heated debate a few years ago at the competitors’ dinner at the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship with a USGA official who blamed the R&A for being the ones opposed to rangefinders, which I would have accepted on face value. Then the official added, “Besides, rangefinders don’t make play faster, anyway.”

“What?” I asked incredulously. I promptly offered to go to any spot on the course with a rangefinder and see if the official could get a yardage to the pin faster than I could. The other competitors at the table piled on, too, frustrated by what we considered ignorance from someone who apparently didn’t play golf. It was a short, one-sided debate, and that official didn’t speak to us again for the rest of the banquet. 

The anchored-putting ban was all about the governing bodies, especially the staid R&A, not liking the way it looked. A PGA Tour rules guy told me about the time when he was loading his clubs into his car after a round of golf in the U.K. just before the British Open and bumped into a very high-ranking R&A official, who noticed the Yank had a long-shafted putter. Shaking his head, the R&A official muttered disdainfully, “Does every bad idea come from America?” 

Sorry, but we’re not playing with mashies and featheries anymore, and we like to have yardages before we hit, Old Tom. It’s not 1918 on this side of the Atlantic. You may recall that there was little talk about anchored putters until a belly-putting Ernie Els edged a long-putting Adam Scott to win the Open in the Brits’ backyard. Suddenly, the slow-moving R&A discovered Flash-like powers of super speed in raising the issue and banning the anchored stroke.

Rangefinders, sidesaddle putting and now greens-reading maps may be other things that the governing bodies just don’t like the way they look. 

Pace of play? Maybe golfers who use those greens-reading books take longer, but I’d bet those players, even without the books, would find other ways to waste just as much time. I’m not sure how greens books are different from yardage books or from a caddie helping to read a putt. Are we banning those, too?

A couple of slow-play penalties were doled out last month, events nearly as rare as Halley’s Comet sightings. Don’t be fooled. Nobody’s doing anything about slow play.

The only solution for that is a shot clock. I hereby tweak my numerous previous suggestions on that topic to this: Use the shot clock only for putting. That’s the only way to remove all gray area and subjectivity from the issue and make it a yes-or-no issue: Did you stroke the ball within the allotted 45 seconds or not?

Every PGA Tour event already has some kind of grandstand at each green or, at the least, a ShotLink tower. Simply add a shot clock and a shot-clock operator. When one player holes out or marks, the operator announces that the next player is now “on the clock” and has 45 seconds to make a stroke. No excuses.

It would bring the buzzer-beating shot to golf. And it would make play faster. Are you listening, governing bodies?

I didn’t think so.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal.; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle