Pace of play continues to annoy in golf

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ARDMORE, Pa. — There is no reason golf should take this long to play.

That’s why players at Merion for the U.S. Open received a notice when they registered. The fear was that slow play was damaging golf’s popularity, and the notice could not have been clearer: “Be observant, reach your decision quickly and execute your shots with promptness and dispatch.”

Don’t get the idea anything will change. This notice was handed out in 1950.

If the players at the U.S. Open this week would read David Barrett’s book, Miracle at Merion, on Ben Hogan’s victory at 1950, they might laugh. Or cry.

Joe Dey, the USGA’s executive director at the time, is quoted as saying, “The time has come when we simply must act if the game is not to be seriously injured.”

Dey lamented that the first group (threesomes) at the 1949 U.S. Open at Medinah took 3 hours, 27 minutes to complete the opening round, while the last group took a whopping 4 hours, 16 minutes.

“That is just awful, and it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It hasn’t been so long since three hours was considered adequate for a round. This is murder on spectators as well as on players.”

At the rate championship golf is going, three hours might soon be considered adequate to make the turn. So when the USGA announces today that it is launching a campaign to combat pace of play, there is reason for skepticism.

The campaign is geared toward the recreational game. It will study what causes slow play and attempt to find solutions aimed at the player and golf course management. That’s a good start, because the problem with slow play is not at the professional level.

There are exceptions: Kevin Na and his horrific pre-shot routine of intentional misses at The Players Championship last year. Keegan Bradley and his start-stop-start stride into the ball. Guan Tianlang at the Masters Tournament.

Tournament golf should abide by the rules, in this case Rule 6-7 – play without undue delay. But championship golf is different from recreational. The greens are fast. The courses are bigger. It’s still a game, but for tour players, it’s also their job.

Even so, tour players owe it to the sport to set a good example. One reason often cited for slow play is that regular golfers try to copy what they watch on TV. And what they see are ridiculous pre-shot routines, reading putts from every conceivable angle and endless study of the yardage book.

The USGA, with the PGA Tour, has embarked on its most extensive study on pace of play. This could take a while; the time it takes to play golf in America has been sliding in the wrong direction for 60 years or more.

The intentions are noble. But when words like “campaign,” “education” and “initiative” are involved, it’s fair to wonder if there will be results. If this ini­tiative doesn’t provide an­swers, perhaps the words of the great Julius Boros do: “By the time you get to your ball, if you don’t know what to do with it, try another sport.”


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