News & Opinion

It’s about time: Euro Tour targets slow play

For years, slow play has been a buzz term in golf.

Players, media, fans and others have continued to harp on golf’s plodding pace and how it is harming the game. 

The USGA, which with the R&A is responsible for administering the Rules of Golf, has done little to help speed up play, leaving it essentially to others.

And yet, the other major golf organizations have come up woefully short in the area as well.

It’s been almost like talking about Social Security reform or universal health care in Congress. Everyone throws up his arms and wonders why golfers aren’t addressing the issue, and then nothing gets accomplished.

On Monday, the European Tour announced a shot-clock plan for the first time over 18 holes. The move follows the success of timed play for one hole in the GolfSixes event earlier this year.

Under the leadership of tour chief executive Keith Pelley, the Europeans will introduce the Shot Clock Masters in Austria in June.

The shot clock is just part of a larger program to speed up play. The European Tour has addressed pace of play through more focused monitoring or penalties and has provided referees with additional powers to target slow players.

Notably, play has sped up. Fancy that.

Now officials are taking enforcement to a new level with the shot clock, which they hope will decrease rounds by 45 minutes: three-ball timings to about four hours, and two-balls to three hours and 15 minutes.

“I personally think they need to be stricter with it,” England’s Andy Sullivan, a participant in GolfSixes, said of the shot clock. “Everyone was quicker because they knew as soon as it [the shot clock] went to zero, they were getting a shot penalty. In a normal event, you have that little bit of leniency.”

Under the shot-clock regimen, each player in the 120-man field will have 50 seconds for the first player in a group to play any given shot, and 40 seconds for subsequent players. Players will incur a one-shot penalty for each bad time incurred, and these infractions will be shown as red cards against their names on the leaderboard. Each player will be awarded two timeouts per round, allowing for a doubling of the allotted time.

Is this the answer? It’s unclear, but every sport is experimenting with speeding up play, and in some cases reinventing the game to attract more fans.

Of all professional tours, the European has been the most proactive in fighting the scourge of slow play.

In 2017, the European Tour has penalized two players with one shot apiece for slow play: Soomin Lee (Volvo China Open) and Paul Peterson (GolfSixes). Since 1998, when the tour started keeping thorough records, 28 players have been docked a shot (24 on the European Tour, two on the Challenge Tour and two at our Qualifying School).

Also in 2017, the tour has issued 20 fines for breaching the monitoring policy.

Besides giving a stroke penalty this year in the Zurich Classic team event to Miguel Angel Carballo and Brian Campbell, the PGA Tour has not issued a stroke penalty for slow play since 1995, when Glen Day was dinged. The PGA Tour does not report fines for any reason, including slow play.

“While we have discussed many different enhancements to the pace-of-play policy over the years and recently updated the policy for the 2017-18 season, we have no plans to introduce a shot clock,” Laura Neal, a PGA Tour spokeswoman, wrote in an email response to Morning Read.

It’s always difficult to change a game that has been around for hundreds of years. Nonetheless, everyone associated with golf should strive to make the game better. 

The European Tour is taking that leap and making an effort, for which it should be applauded.

Now, golf’s other organizations and tours should take a hard look at what happens in Austria in June. If it works, implement a similar program or come up with something else that can make a difference.  

But please, do something.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli