Faster Faster

Thought for the Day
If someone tells you there are one billion stars in the universe you will believe them, but if they tell you a wall has wet paint, you will touch it to be sure

Pace of Play
JB Holmes took four minutes and ten seconds to take a shot at the last hole of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last month. After considerable deliberation, he laid up. In fairness to Holmes, he had led the tournament at the start of the last day and needed to make eagle on the par five 18th to regain top position. He eventually concluded that he had a better chance of doing this by hitting a wedge from in close than trying to stop a fairway wood on a hard, fast green. And he was playing a tough course with hard fairways, clinging rough and a gusting 10-15mph wind into his face, making club selection uncertain for his 239-yard shot.

jb holmes

So he needed a birdie to probably go into a playoff and eagle to win. Unfortunately his playing partners included Jason Day, Ryan Palmer and Alex Noren, who shared the lead. Day and Palmer had already played but Noren was left fidgeting while waiting for Holmes to make up his mind. The wind was gusting and Holmes’ caddy was heard to say: ‘You’ve got to be patient.’ The crowd began barracking him and Nick Faldo and Jim Nantz on commentary were critical, saying in effect: ‘Make your mind up and get on with it.’ When he did, he butchered the lay-up and dumped into it the rough short of the water hazard guarding the green. Day, Noren and Palmer eventually competed a playoff, which was extended to the Monday and finally won by Jason Day at the sixth extra hole

Some pros, among then Luke Donald, lambasted him on social media, with the words: ‘Last group was over a hole behind, we can all blame JB,’ while Justin Thomas leapt to his countryman’s defence. So perhaps now is the time, after a few days’ reflection, to reconsider whether Holmes was inconsiderate, selfish and indicative of all that is wrong with the pace of play on tour, or justified in taking all the time he felt he needed. First, it has to be said, this was no ordinary shot. On a difficult day in tough conditions he had a real chance for victory, or at least a playoff place, and those do not come around too often for a player like Holmes – in a 12 year career on the PGA Tour he has won four times, the most recent of which was in May 2015. So this was critically important. It could be argued that he was so wrapped up in his own cocoon of concentration that he failed to register the effect it might be having on others, specifically those unfortunate enough to be yoked with him on the same hole.

Unfortunately, a day later, after he’d had time to reflect, he told Tim Rosaforte of the Golf Channel: ‘If it bothered Alex [Noren], he could have said something and he could have hit. If I messed him up, I apologize. He still made a good swing. He smoked it. I don’t understand what the big hoopla is all about. I was just trying to give myself the best chance to win the tournament. I didn’t want to mess anybody up.’

Which is a fairly mealy-mouthed apology at best, implying that, as Noren eventually hit a good shot, he couldn’t have been too bothered. If he’d simply said: ‘I had no idea how much time was passing and I apologise,’ the story would have died then and there but I fear it will not go away and resurrect the debate about pace of play among pros, which is no bad thing.

On balance it might be time for the PGA Tour to follow its European counterpart, which experiments in June with the 2018 Shot Clock Masters in Austria, in which the first player in a group will have 50 seconds to play a shot, with subsequent ones getting 40 seconds. Every time a golfer takes longer, he gets a one-shot penalty and a red card against his name on the large, mobile timer accompanying each group. Each player can call a ‘time out’ a maximum of twice in a round, during which he will be allowed double the usual time allowance, presumably if faced with a particularly tricky shot. The innovation was trialled at the 2017 GolfSixes team event and was generally welcomed. If fully implemented it should make a threeball complete 18 holes in four hours – as opposed to the six-hour round taken by JB Holmes and partners. A two-ball would be expected to finish in three hours, fifteen minutes.

There is no doubt that such innovation, or something like it, is necessary, although the cynically minded may take note of its date – the week before the US Open when Europe’s biggest stars will be in America, preparing for the season’s second major. If Rory McIlroy gets docked several strokes for slow play it’s big news, less so if the offender is a relative unknown, such as David Horsey or Paul Waring. Both of them finished in the top-60 in Europe last year but might be less likely to be competing in the States.

Whenever I think of slow play, however, I am reminded of the waspish Mark James, who once said of his friend Ken Brown: ‘When he stood over a ball on the green you were never sure which would come first, his putting stroke or nightfall.’ However Frank Lowe was perhaps the first golfer to be vilified for taking an eternity over a putt. In the 1949 Yorkshire Evening News Tournament he prowled the green for so long, surveying his putt from every possible angle that a fan eventually called out in exasperation: ‘It’s all right Mister, the hole hasn’t moved. I’m keeping my eye on it.’

Quote of the Week
When a putter is waiting his turn to hole out a putt of one or two feet in length, on which the match hangs at the last hole, it is of vital importance that he think of nothing. At this supreme moment he ought to fill his mind with vacancy. He must not even allow himself the consolation of religion.
Sir Walter Simpson

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