News & Opinion

It's a dark day for golf as gridlock prevails

Time comes to concede fight with plodders slowly has been lost

Let’s just stop already.

We’re powerless to do anything that would cause any kind of measurable change. All we can do is complain and demand action, and that’s turned out to be nothing but wasted breath and misplaced anger.

The fight is over. It’s a technical knockout, and the slow players won.

2014 Alfred Dunhill Championship
As so often happens in golf, the sun starts to set before a round has been completed, this time on Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

The major tours say they care, but they don’t. They say they will do something, but they don’t. Everyone knows who the slow players are, and they keep crawling along with the tacit approval of those who make the rules, ignore them and turn a blind eye to enforcing them.

Touring professionals are just numb, and even the fast players are slowing down for nothing more than self-defense.

The bottom line is the bottom line. Players compete for millions of dollars every week all around the world, and they are going to take as much time as they think they need over every shot and every putt, no matter what anyone else thinks or says or writes.

Some say that’s the way it should be. Regardless, no matter how badly you despise it, that’s the way it is. For now and forever more.

And for those who maintain that slow play doesn’t trickle down, they’re wrong. College players and juniors of both sexes are among the worst culprits.

It’s not that certain people haven’t tried. For instance, the American Junior Golf Association is proud of its efforts to get its tournament players to move faster. The LPGA has been posting in locker rooms a “shame” list of players who have been fined and penalized for bad times. Players told Golfweek that hardly anyone reads the list, and the slow players just don’t care.

The LPGA average for threesomes in the first two rounds is 4 hours, 50 minutes. The PGA Tour likely has similar averages; it just seems longer.

But the higher up the game’s food chain, officials just give the problem useless and worthless lip service. They either genuinely don’t care or they’re afraid to affect a tournament outcome with a slow-play penalty, which is more likely the case.

So, what do the rest of us do? We turn our attention away from the professionals and toward our playing companions. If we really want to solve slow play, we must concentrate on it where we live.

There’s a guy in our regular dogfight who says he’s slow. He knows it, and he’s not going to do anything about it. We berate him, shame him and cajole him. Maybe he has become a little faster. But the guys who play in his foursome each week all pick up their pace to account for his dawdling and incessant storytelling. He shouldn’t be their responsibility.

Most slow play has its genesis in not being ready to play when it’s your turn. We can do something about that. And it starts by not being gentle with the members of your foursome. A couple of weeks ago, our group, which had a couple of notoriously slow players, fell behind the group in front of us, and the group behind was waiting on every shot.

I decided not to be polite. I firmly told the guys to notice the group behind us and that we needed to pick up the pace. The slow players didn’t like it, but they played faster until we caught up with the group ahead.

People will move along if encouraged by their peers. Rangers at daily-fee courses are too concerned with making players angry, and those who do instruct groups to pick up the pace all too often wind up on the front end of a lecture from the players, being arrogantly told that they paid their money and they will take all the time they want.

In our entitled society, too many people think they are the only important people who exist, and the same attitude permeates our golf courses. Until we all realize that our behavior affects a number of other people – and that we actually care about that – courses will continue to clog up, and every group behind slow players will seethe and swear never to come back to this place that signs off on people playing at any damn pace they choose.

Come to think of it, that would be the one thing that might affect pace of play at the professional level: for fans to quit coming out to tournaments and stop watching on TV until competitors are forced to play faster.

But we all know that ain’t happening. Spectators at events are too busy enjoying the local food and drink and the social aspect of live golf to care how fast the players are getting from shot to shot. And TV rarely shows a live shot, so slow play is hardly an issue on telecasts. So, the pro tours are in no danger whatever from a potential loss of support, no matter how long it takes to play.

The sad truth is undeniable: The towel has been thrown in, and this bout has been called to a tragic halt. And we all lost.