News & Opinion

European Tour shows it must walk before it can run

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Belgium's Thomas Detry reads a putt on the 17th green during the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

John Hawkins and Mike Purkey see some positive signs as the tour takes baby steps to improve its pace of play, but the initiative falls short of being a walk-off game-changer

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

The European Tour’s revised pace-of-play policy made a successful debut last week in Abu Dhabi. Is this a cause for optimism or a mere coincidence?

Hawk’s take: It depends largely on your definition of a glass half-full, but to pick up 10 minutes on the same tournament last year (under similar conditions) during the same week as the relaunch, that has to count for something, doesn’t it? It’s a positive sign. Nothing more, nothing less. And it certainly doesn’t amount to a solution, because 4½ hours still does not qualify as an acceptable length of time for three of the world’s best golfers to play 18 holes.

With all that in mind, the European Tour should be commended for continuing to attack the slow-play scourge. Its one-week experiment with a shot clock two summers ago in Austria was the realization of a bold/crazy idea, at least on a trial basis, which also resulted in speedier rounds. The PGA Tour announced that it would be following the Euro Tour’s lead last week with its own altered policy, referring to the first few weeks of the project as an educational process, which translates to an automatic red flag for me.

Education? Wasn’t that supposed to happen when these guys were 12 years old? I don’t think Camp Ponte Vedra is serious about solving the problem, but there’s evidence that the Euro Tour is. Any improvement is a positive sign, but until weekend threesomes start finishing in four hours on both sides of the Atlantic, forgive me for not grabbing the pom-poms.

Purk’s take: Slow play, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Slow players never think they’re slow, and fast players think everyone else is slow.

So, when the European Tour announced that its grand pace-of-play initiative had produced immediate positive results, you’d best examine your lie before hitting the next shot. The tour said the first round at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship was 10 minutes faster, and the second round was six minutes faster.

Before the celebration begins, let’s take a closer look: The field at Abu Dhabi was a smallish 132 players who went off the first and 10th tees in 11-minute intervals, as opposed to the normal 10-minute gap. Groups were comfortably spread out. When the days become longer, the Euro Tour will revert to its normal field of 156 players. Let’s see how fast they play then.

It’s a noble effort for the European Tour – and the PGA Tour, which also has new pace-of-play regulations that will take effect in April, after the Masters – to try to do something definitive about slow play. But in the end, it’s bound to look like putting lipstick on a pig.

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