Pro Golf. Too Slow

Thought for the Day
Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes

The One Certainty of Pro Golf
I was going to write about the AIG Women’s Open, and how impressive the golfers were. Fifteen or twenty years ago I argued that if you wanted to improve your own game by watching the best in the world, go and watch a women’s event. There was, however, the caveat that, although their ball-striking and especially the rhythms of their swings was mightily impressive, sadly their short game was not quite up to the highest standard – but not any more. The chipping and putting on display at Walton Heath was as impressive as anything you will see anywhere.

Unfortunately, my musings on the quality of golf on display have been superceded by a problem, especially in pro golf, that is as tedious and frustrating as ever, with no signs of improvement. That is the curse of slow play, which has been brought under the spotlight yet again in recent weeks. If you have watched Charley Hull or Open champion Brian Harman look to the target anything up to 13 times before pulling the trigger you have probably, like me, ended up obsessively counting the twitches of their head. Their maddening pre-shot routines cannot be in order to make sure that the green or cup hasn’t moved but is clearly just a mannerism, or tic, that has developed over the years. But just as a flaw in the swing can be remedied by expert advice, so too can this incessant, repetitive mannerism be controlled, for the sake of fellow competitors and observers, if not the golfer themselves.

A few weeks ago, Carlota Ciganda, in the final round of the Evian Championship, was given a two-stroke penalty on the last hole for taking too long over a putt. She refused to accept the penalty but signed her scorecard for what was now an incorrect total and was disqualified. Her reaction has been outraged disbelief.

On Instagram she wrote: ‘Very poor performance from the LPGA rules official, they don’t understand what professional golf is about, they only look at their stopwatch like if 20 seconds is going to make a difference. I had family and friends watching and they all said it was impossible I took that long to hit that putt.’

Few things to discuss here, Carlota. First, LPGA rules officials do know what professional golf is all about; that’s why they’re rules officials and many are ex-players. Second, 20 seconds, and an accumulation of all the additional 20-second infringements make a lot of difference over the course of a round. Third, your family and friends are hardly going to be impartial observers so probably as well not to call on them for unbiased or legitimate support.

On a more personal note, I followed one of Carlota’s matches in the last Solheim Cup and she was ball-crushingly, back-breakingly, abysmally slow, to the extent that I had to go watch another match; it was too painful to bear. Fellow journalists who follow the women’s tour more frequently than me, said that she is notoriously one of the greatest sluggards in the game. It seems that just about everyone sees this truth except Carlota herself.

But she is by no means the only culprit. Watching paint dry is a roller-coaster ride of thrills in comparison to following Patrick Cantlay play a round of golf.

Mike Lorenzo-Vera had to endure a round of five hours and 40 minutes in the ISPS Handa World Invitational that has just finished in Ireland and tweeted that this pace of play was a ‘f***ing joke.’ He’s quite right and his is not the only voice raised in protest. Brooks Koepka is a fierce critic of the laggards and has said more than once that the only solution is to start dishing out penalty strokes to the culprits.

And yet, with an ever-growing sense of frustration and impotence, we have heard and seen this eminently sensible solution so many times before. And despite tours promising to address the problem by revamping slow-play guidelines, nothing changes. The reason, of course, is that tours are member-led organisations, so ultimately it is the golfers themselves who have the power and the tours don’t want to hack them off. In the meantime, you, me and every golf fan has to feel our blood congeal while we wait for yet another slowcoach to agonise over a six-foot putt and wonder if we shouldn’t be watching something a little more engrossing.

Quote of the Week
It is a curious but well ascertained fact that the narration of our own golf matches, like that of our own remarkable dreams, is likely to be of infinitely greater interest to ourselves than to others. Our listeners are inevitably bored, and, if they remain affable, it is only because they hope ultimately to secure us as an audience for a longer and duller story.
Bernard Darwin

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