News & Opinion

Euros' slow-play fix is no ‘game changer’

It’s not often that golf moves as quickly as the European Tour has done in announcing a plan to combat slow play, but some might argue that the effort is long overdue.

After all, golfers at all levels have been complaining for years about slow play, but the topic has hit a crescendo only recently. The biting comments by touring pros on both sides of the Atlantic and the fervent defenses by others have made the issue a front-burner topic for weeks.

On Monday, the European Tour announced a four-point plan starting in late November with the 2019-20 season that officials think will be a “game changer,” chief executive Keith Pelley said.

Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour
Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour

The key points:

* Immediate one-shot penalty for two bad times in a round;

* Increased fines for players consistently “on the clock” during the season;

* Player education and technological innovation included in overall plan;

* Reduced field sizes, from 156 players to 144, where appropriate.

Pelley said the initiative is the players’ plan, approved by the tour’s Tournament Committee in July and fine-tuned during the past month before it was announced. Caddies are expected to be briefed on their roles with pace of play, a tour spokesman said.

While these changes would seem to make strides toward slow play, one issue is bothersome in the language released by the tour, and I think it could fundamentally change how the game is played.

According to the plan, referees are now mandated to be proactive in targeting known slow players for in-position timing. Essentially, if a player is in position, he still could be given a bad time, fined or lose a stroke.

Pelley said in an interview on Golf Channel that the players on the Tournament Committee believed that if two fast players were grouped with a perceived slow player, the fast players would be at a competitive disadvantage. So, the referee should single out the slow player, even if the slow player is in position.

A slow player certainly should not dictate to other players the speed of play in a round by his dawdling through 18 holes.

At the same time, should a player’s desire to play fast dictate the others’ pace? Is it more acceptable to be a fast player versus a slow player?

Where should golf draw the line? In fact, what is the line?

If the European Tour is going to target slow players, it had better have a firm grasp of what is “slow.” It should not be what other players might determine, nor should it be what the public perceives.

Under many scenarios, some of the best players in the world play slowly, yet they have not been called out by their peers or the public.

Does this four-point plan do that?

The likelihood is the opposite, that players perceived to be slow will draw attention and that others, because of popularity or stature, will be left to their own devices.

While this announcement has put slow play into the most specific focus, it lacks inherent fairness to everyone in the field.

When every player is independently followed during his round and an unbiased system is in place to judge the speed of play, the issue will be fairly addressed.

More than 40 years ago, metal drivers were introduced. The technology revolutionized the game, but at the expense of the finesse players, who now barely exist on any top professional tour, because they can’t bomb 300-yard-plus drives to keep up with the long hitters.

Some would say that they needed to adapt.

The same thing could be said of the fast players. Don’t they need to adapt as well as the slow players? Neither group should adjust to the detriment of their careers.

The focus of this plan should be to make the game better, not to segregate players because they might be perceived to be slow, while other potential violators are ignored.

It is clear that golf has issues, and speed of play is one of them at every level. At the professional level, where livelihoods are at stake, the process in determining those who should be fined for slow play needs more analysis and thought than the initiative announced by the European Tour.

The plan is not radical nor a “game changer,” as Pelley suggested, but more likely unjust in its application and inherently unfair to a select class of individuals who are perceived to be slow players.

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