Slow play is scourge of the PGA Tour
Two years ago, Jim Furyk backed off a putt at the Memorial tournament three times before calling in his caddie, Fluff Cowan, for a consultation. After much deliberation, he finally got over the ball … only to back off again. When he finally hit the putt, from five feet, the ball didn’t even touch the hole. "Next time, don’t rush it," a spectator yelled as Furyk walked off the green. Laughter followed but slow play in professional golf isn’t funny. It is, as world no. 1 Luke Donald tweeted after watching the interminably long final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Monday, the game’s biggest scourge. "Slow play is killing our sport," he wrote. As anyone who’s had to play behind a group of turtles can attest, it’s no fun taking five and a half hours to do something that the Scots used to do in two. And it’s driving players from the game. Why does the recreational golfer think it’s OK to mark a putt from nine inches instead of finishing, or plumb-bombing a two-footer, or standing in the fairway for several minutes, throwing up blades of grass before deciding on which iron to pull? Because they see the pros do it on television every weekend. It’s the trickle-down theory and until the PGA Tour takes a hard stance on slow play, nothing’s going to change. "I could rant all day long," Donald tweeted. "Don’t think anything will ever change as the slow players don’t realize they are slow." I beg to differ. Unless they’re in total denial, most of them know they’re slow. The real problem is that they’re just too self-absorbed to care. And they’ve got their sports psychologist telling them not to hit till they’re ready and to stick to their routine so even if they wanted to change, they’re scared of hurrying and costing themselves money. Hence you have situations like the one at last year’s Transitions Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., where Webb Simpson, who with garlic, parsley and a splash of wine could easily be turned into escargot, bemoan the fact he cost himself a chance of winning because he hurried. Simpson’s just one of at least 20 players on the tour who are serial slowpokes. Players who wouldn’t dream of hitting a shot until they’re ready; players the television commentators euphemistically call "deliberate." The list includes Jason "All" Day, who’s constantly backing off shots, J.B. Holmes, who has to visualize a shot before he hits it – apparently in slow motion – Simpson, Zach Johnson, Jonathan Byrd, Sean O’Hair, Padraig Harrington, Ben Crane, Sergio Garcia and pretty much any Swede. The worst of them all, however, is Kevin Na, whose selfish slow-play antics have made him about the most disliked player on the tour. In a quasi-scientific study done by Golf magazine last year, Na topped the list of players who took more than the allotted 40 seconds to hit a shot and 60 seconds to hit a putt. Not surprising given the fact that he has his caddie plumb-bob his putts with a wedge. A number of players have campaigned against slow play, like the bombastic Rory Sabbatini, who infamously finished the 17th hole at Congressional in 2005 as a sign of protest while his playing partner, Crane, was still putzing around in the fairway. But no matter how much is said, nothing ever happens. And that’s because there’s no consquence for playing at a snail’s pace. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the last time a player — Dillard Pruitt — was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play on the PGA Tour. And next year will mark the 21st anniversary. That’s because today’s Pruitts know that, at worst, they’ll be handed a $20,000 fine at the end of a season for multiple "bad times." Twenty grand doesn’t even pay for the fuel on the Gulfstream jets favored by today’s touring professionals. To these guys, it’s just another cost of doing business. Nothing’s about to change as Tim Finchem, who it was announced on Wednesday will run the PGA Tour for another four years, is a lawyer-politician who doesn’t like making these kinds of waves. Though he’s acknowledged in the past that "slow play is a legitimate issue," Finchem sees it merely as "bad etiquette." He needs to listen more to the majority of his players. "Sort it out," said Donald, "Please."