Morgan Pressel’s slow-play penalty in the Sybase Match-Play semifinals last month was crushing; it cost her not only the hole, but the penalty spoiled her attitude and she lost the match. I knew how she felt better than most because when I was on the PGA Tour, I got fined for slow play.
Pressel’s situation was especially interesting because it was a subjective ruling. Also, by all accounts, it was Ashara Munoz, Pressell’s opponent, who had caused their match to be so slow and out of position.
I didn’t get penalized a stroke, but I was fined, and I felt my ruling was also subjective. It happened at the tournament in Greensboro during the final round. My group was notified on the 14th tee that we were out of position, despite having tried to speed up, and then I was singled out by the rules official as we came off the 18th green. The official informed me that I was being fined for slow play because I had twice exceeded the allowable time limit (45 seconds) on shots.
On those shots, I had been closer to the hole than my playing partners so I was supposed to wait for them to hit. Still, knowing we were on the clock, I had offered to go ahead and hit. I didn’t realize that their time to get ready and my time were counting against me. Even though I was only a couple of seconds over my allowed time on those two shots, I still got the slow-play fine.
The fine didn’t sit well with me, and I appealed it. My appeal was denied and I was told not to pursue further action. The officials wouldn’t ask the two other players in my group to verify my claim that they caused me to be so slow. Many years later, I am still stumped as to why I was singled out and given a subjective penalty.
Slow play is a problem on the PGA Tour, the LPGA and at all levels of private and public golf. I watched D.A. Points during the Memorial Tournament a couple of weeks ago. He teed off on the 10th hole in his first round, and he had to wait on the tee at the par-3 12th hole for one full group to play before his group could play. Points also had a long delay at the par 5-15th hole while waiting to play his second
shot at the green. After waiting in the fairway at 15 for at least six minutes, Points jokingly told his playing partner, Rory Sabbatini, “Good luck, have a great round.”
Points meant that the round was so slow that it felt like they were starting over in the 15th fairway.
Tour players set the standard for what the rest of the golf world does, whether it involves equipment, apparel or style of play. The PGA Tour could address slow play in a manner that would be fair to all players by taking an idea from the American Junior Golf Association, which allows the player who putts out first to go to the next hole and tee off. The AJGA’s average round is four hours and 15 minutes, which would be a healthy goal for all golfers.
I would also advocate tracking round times for all Tour players and publishing those statistics. At a minimum, those statistics would reveal who needs to speed up, and the public data might create some potential for embarrassment and thus change.
Golf is at a critical juncture. The game’s participation rates are stagnant, at best, and one huge negative is slow play. Many people are turned away from golf by how long it takes to play a round. Let’s face it: how many people want to take up a game that is not only a big physical challenge, but also can take so darn long to play. And for what reason? None.
Slow play has no place in the game. Speeding up golf will make the game more fun and bring more people into the sport and keep those who already play more involved.