News & Opinion

PGA Tour’s sleight of hand won’t move feet faster

New regulations, which are needlessly complicated and defy comprehension, will do little to fix the plodding pace of Tour events

The story on PGATour.com began, “After years of meticulous study and thousands of shots analyzed by ShotLink…” And that tells you all you need to know about the Tour’s limp and toothless effort to address slow play.

Instead of recognizing what’s right in front of its nose, the Tour created a new set of regulations so overly and needlessly complicated that practically no one can understand them, much less commit them to memory. Paul Casey attended the Tour’s player meeting to introduce the new rules and conceded that most of it sailed over his head.

2019 BMW Championship
Bryson DeChambeau poses as Exhibit A in the PGA Tour’s slow-play debate.

“With all honesty, I need to read [the rules] again before I answer, because, yes, I sat in that room [in an information session] and the last time [we did this] I thoroughly discussed it,” Casey told Golfweek.

It’s like standing on the first tee when bets start flying so fast that you can’t keep up. Finally, you throw up your hands and say, “Just tell me what I owe at the end.” Which is what a number of Tour players might be saying, as well, about this new policy.

Slow play has been complained about loudly for what seems like forever, but in the past 25 years, only a single one-stroke penalty has been issued in a PGA Tour individual stroke-play event. One. The current wailing and gnashing of teeth bubbled up in earnest in August when Bryson DeChambeau took more than two minutes to hit an 8-foot putt at the Northern Trust.

Inexplicably, the Tour says that speeding up play is not really the objective. “A focus on time creates other problems,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in Hawaii.

Say that again?

But according to PGATour.com, since its pace-of-play policy was first implemented in 1994, the Tour has made nine “significant” changes to the regulations, trying to reduce the time it takes to play a round.

Tyler Dennis, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president and chief of operations, confirmed that none of the nine changes has helped at all. “The overall round times haven’t really changed over the last 20 years,” said Dennis, citing research from historical ShotLink data.

We’re not going to lay out the new regulations here. If you have the time or the inclination, you can dive into the minutiae here. The Tour’s new policy will be implemented beginning at the RBC Heritage in April.

The two most significant changes are: If a player has two bad times in a tournament, he can be penalized one shot. Previously, the two bad times had to occur in one round. Secondly, the Tour has created what it’s calling an “Observation List,” which is essentially, a list of slow players.

But, as is the case with the Tour when it comes to people it’s keeping an eye on, the list will be secret. The media and the public won’t know who’s on the list. And more importantly, the rest of the players won’t know the names.

Which is more than a little counter-productive. Making the list public would create such a shaming that some players would have no choice but to speed up. They’d hear about it from the fans at every tournament, which is probably why the Tour doesn’t want us to know who they are.

“It’s a relatively small number,” Dennis said of the size of the Observation List. “Over the last 12 years, 10 percent of the Tour membership have averaged 45 seconds or more [to play a shot].”

Everyone on Tour knows who the slow players are. You don’t need a list. DeChambeau is one. J.B. Holmes, who took more than four minutes to lay up at the 18th hole during the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open, is another. Jason Day and Kevin Na are also notorious tortoises. But like all slow players, DeChambeau insists he’s not one of the bad guys.

“On the PGA Tour, when stuff was happening, I told you guys, I welcome it," DeChambeau said at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where the European Tour is implementing a similar pace-of-play policy beginning this week. "I was playing under the rules, and there was no rhyme or reason to be called out, other than the fact that it looked like it was a really, really long time that it took. And it was, absolutely. I'm not saying it wasn't.

"But I was playing under the rules at that point in time, and there's no reason why I should have been given so much heat, considering other things that had occurred that day and previous days of other people that I played with, and other things that occurred."

Which is the kind of jibberish excuse that virtually all slow players provide when confronted with their own selfish waste of time. DeChambeau insists that he’s not a slow player because he walks fast from shot-to-shot, which is simply nonsense.

Rather than address slow play as a systemic problem that pervades the Tour at its core, the Tour is going to point at a handful of players to make people believe they are the real problem.

“You talk to players, read articles, hear from fans,” the Tour’s Dennis said. “What gets people, what gnaws at them, are these individual habits that people have. It’s seen as bad etiquette, it’s seen as a distraction, and we’re targeting those individual moments to help their fellow competitors and assist our media partners with presentation.

“We want to keep the focus where it should be: on world-class shot-making.”

A magician’s real skill is to compel you to focus on one spot while he fools you someplace else. To say this will be a cure for slow play on the PGA Tour is nothing more than an illusionist’s trick. You’ll think you see something that’s not really there.


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