One in a series of stories about pace of play
Late Sunday, thousands of TV viewers watched J.B. Holmes take 4 minutes and 10 seconds to decide to lay up on his second shot at the par-5 18th hole at Torrey Pines during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open. It was a painful pre-shot routine during a round in which the best golfers in the world, playing in threesomes, took almost six hours to play 18 holes.
Junior golfers are impressionable, and what they saw validated some of their own methodical and brutally slow pre-shot routines. The PGA Tour issued no penalty, at least not publicly. The tacit approval sent the wrong message to any golfer – junior or adult – watching.
My golf facility has hosted numerous junior competitions, including 30 Indiana high school state championships for boys or girls. In the past decade, I have seen the pace of play in junior golf gradually erode. After watching girls take 6½ hours to play 18 holes in a regional tournament in late September, I realized that something had to be done (“Juniors’ slow pace of play signals bad omen,” Oct. 30, http://bit.ly/2xAz93f).
Indiana’s golf leaders think that improving junior golf’s pace of play is critical to growing the game in our state. Representatives from the Indiana High School Golf Coaches Association, Indiana Golf Association and the Indiana PGA joined the Indiana High School Athletic Association in formulating an aggressive plan to attack junior pace of play in 2018. The goal will be to increase awareness through education, with an added element of accountability for junior golfers and their coaches. Indiana routinely has 300 junior golf alums on collegiate rosters, so it’s a state that knows junior golf.
“On Sunday, fans of the PGA Tour witnessed yet another example of over-deliberate slow play, which is harming our game,” IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox said. “This instance provides yet another motivation to accelerate the good work being accomplished with our junior golf slow-play initiative and teach our next generation of players to play with appropriate pace and attention.”
In a recent survey completed by 147 Indiana high school golf coaches, the majority believe a reasonable pace of play is 4½ hours or less. Common causes for slow play were identified as players not being ready to play when it’s their turn; players not moving quickly enough between shots; and pre-shot routines taking too long.
Beginning in July with the IHSAA girls golf season, all sectional participants and their coaches will be required to view a 20-minute pace-of-play video and complete testing components contained in the video: course awareness, pre-shot routines, putting green procedures and equipment management.
Anticipating sweeping changes to the USGA Rules of Golf beginning in 2019, the Indiana High School Golf Coaches conference will focus on the rules this season. The goal will be to help coaches better assist players with the rules while on the course. Beginning in 2019, the IHSAA will conduct mandatory rules seminars for all of its high school golf coaches.
Possibly the most dramatic part of this Hoosier pace-of-play initiative will be a regular-season pilot program, developed by the IHSAA and the Indiana PGA, that will require players to complete nine holes in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Procedures and guidelines will be in place to assist and ensure that players complete their rounds in the allotted time or they might have to cease play and receive a pro-rated score. The message to juniors will be clear: If you want to play a full round of golf, then complete it in a reasonable time frame.
Unfortunately, many kids think that a five-hour-plus round of golf is acceptable in competition. What they saw Sunday at Torrey Pines validates that idea. Indiana’s golf leaders have concerns that these same juniors will grow into adult golfers who accept five-hour-plus rounds.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Teaching professionals have an obligation to make sure that their students adopt efficient pre-shot routines for all shots, including putts. I’m not sure there has been enough industrywide emphasis on this point.
“There is no doubt that kids try to emulate the Tour players,” said Mike David, executive director of the Indiana Golf Association and the Indiana PGA. “That can be both positive and negative, as is the case with pace of play.”
So far, a sense of urgency is taught by the example only of golf’s best players. Not much is going to change until the timings are made tougher and offenders are posted and penalized at every level, so that there’s a measure of public accountability handed out. Now that would be interesting. Give Indiana golf credit for its effort.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga