The United States Golf Association officials have a wicked sense of officials. Much has already been said about their interesting pairings, including the threesome to watch today: reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson, four-time major winner Phil Mickelson and 14-time major champion Tiger Woods. What hasn't been discussed? The group teeing off directly in front of them at 10:22 a.m.: Thomas Bjorn (OK), Branden Grace (OK) and Kevin Na (Oh No!).
The last time we saw Na, his clubs looked like windshield wipers at the The Players Championship. He maintained a painful routine throughout: Waggle. Again. Repeat. It was a cringe-worthy performace, watching Na play mind games with himself until he finally pulled the trigger. After taking the third round lead, he joked about his slow play. And why not, PGA Tour officials, who have yet to address the issue, weren't going to do anything. The USGA hasn't solved the slow-play issue, and neither has anyone in college golf. All of them should take a lesson from the Palmetto Amateur.
Five years ago, Palmetto Amateur officials finally had enough of threesomes finishing in five hours and 30 minutes. In 2009, they enacted a slow-play penalty that goes like this: A golfer has two hours and 17 minutes to finish the more difficult front nine and another two hours and 15 minutes to finish the back nine. If they miss either time, they will be penalized one shot – two if they miss both. Palmetto Amateur officials no longer chase golfers around the course to get them to speed up. They simply let the clock do the work.
This year at the pre-tournament supper two Wednesdays ago, Palmetto Amateur officials spelled out the rules to the 96 competitiors. And how did the golfers do? According to publicity chairman Joe Spencer, the majority of the groups finished the front nine between 2:10-2:15 and the back nine between 2:05-2:08.
I covered the first two rounds of the Palmetto Amateur and the golfers I tracked each day each finished their rounds in 4:20 - 12 minutes ahead of schedule. And were there any penalty shots handed out? No.
"Our experience is showing that when the requirements/penalities are clearly articulated and uniformly implemented the players have little difficulty complying," Spencer said. "There is a way to deal with pace of play issues in tournament golf, if the management is willing to take a stand."
The Augusta Golf Association, and every group that runs a college tournament, needs to adopt the Palmetto Amateur policy. In the final round of Augusta State's home event in April, players were paired in foursomes. The final pairing finished in an unacceptable time of five hours and 50 minutes. Throw in a sudden-death playoff that was held on the par-5 ninth (for some odd reason). Texas and Augusta State played the hole twice, before the Longhorns prevailed. With the playoff, the final pairing finished that day's play in seven hours. Ouch!
Slow play doesn't sprout up in college, though. It begins in junior golf. That's where tournament organizers need to take a stand. Young golfers need to know slow play is frowned upon, and penalties need to be applied early and often.
When those youngsters grow up playing slow golf without penalty, they then move on to college where their actions continue. Then, they end up on the PGA Tour playing in The Players Championship, where Na pulled his club back and forth, waggling till he got in the right frame of mind - all the while torturing the fans on the course and the TV viewers.
It will be interesting to see if Na holds up the featured pairing today. Better yet, will the USGA do anything about it if he does? If not, the organization needs to take a page out of the Palmetto Amateur playbook.