Van Cynical Mailbag: Why Golf Needs a Shot Clock and the Nicest Guys on the PGA Tour

Wednesday November 19th, 2014
The only way to eliminate slow play in professional golf is with a shot clock, says Gary Van Sickle.

The USGA and the LPGA put out a release recently about how they’ve been able to speed up play. The LPGA reduced its average playing time by 14 minutes and at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, play was nearly 30 minutes less. What went unmentioned in the release was that even after knocking off half an hour, the pace of play was still 5 hours 10 minutes so I’d hold off on that celebratory woo-hoo party…

When the Women’s Open was at Oakmont in 2010, obviously a difficult course, the first group off played in 5:40 and didn’t get penalized. I covered that tournament for SI and play was so slow, it was unwatchable. The first group I saw on the 18th green took more than 10 minutes just to putt out. Player 1 took four and a half minutes to line up her first putt from 30 feet before stroking it 10 feet past. Player 2, on the same line, still needed two-and-a-half minutes before she hit hers, which she left eight feet short. Player 3 used 90 seconds for her first putt. Like I said, unwatchable…

The only way to eliminate slow play in professional golf is with a shot clock. That takes judgment and subjectivity out of the equation and makes it a yes-or-no question. You either hit before time was up or you didn’t. But there are too many variables -- crowd noise distractions, gallery movement, camera clicks -- to make a shot clock viable…

As a precursor to a shot clock, I’d like to see some data on how long it takes players to play a shot. Assign a spotter to follow each threesome and record how long it took each player to play a shot when it was his/her turn. This would identify who plays slow and who doesn’t and would inform players of their actual pace, which might help. This data should be made public. In fact, this would be a good World Ranking stat -- ordering the players based on pace of play, fastest to slowest. Put the spotlight on the turtles…

Slow play in recreational golf is completely different from slow play in pro tournaments. The number one cause of slow play for us hacks is bad play. It just takes longer to hit 95 shots than it does to hit 75. Number two, looking for lost golf balls. Number three, failing to hit off the next tee even though the fairway is open because nobody is ready to play... Number four, the beverage cart and the snack bar at the turn. What, you guys can’t go two hours without a hot dog and a Milky Way?...

Let’s check the Van Cynical Mailbag.

Van Cynical, I need a couple of PGA Tour players to cheer for. Who are some of the nicest guys on tour?
--Jason Philipps via Twitter

Many of the Europeans seem like really good guys -- Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and even Rory McIlroy, to name a few. Among the Americans, I’d single out Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, David Toms, Stewart Cink and Hunter Mahan. There are too many to list.

Vans, Name a player who will contend in a major next year that would turn golf upside down.
--Frank Rizzo via Twitter

You’re stumping me, Rizzuto. By upside down, I take it to mean somebody who blew it 40 yards past everybody or played with a cross-handed grip or putted with a tree branch or something crazy. There might be some guys out there like that but they won’t be contending in majors. If you’d settle for creating a media frenzy, a guy who would do that by contending in a major (and I think he will) is Dustin Johnson. He’s had the leave of absence, he’s about to become a father with Paulina Gretzky and, oh yeah, he’s got big game. There’s also that Tiger Woods fella.

Van Shankapotamus, What can be done to grow golf? The game is struggling to bring new players in. What would you do? And congrats to Mike Van Sickle for Q-school. He now has conditional status for 2015, correct?
--Klaugh56 via Twitter

The biggest thing you could do to boost golf right now would be reverse that Congressional ruling that removed golf and/or club memberships as a legitimate tax write-off. A lot of corporate memberships went away, hurting the finances of clubs that went on to struggle. As for attracting new players, I don’t have an answer. The middle class, who made up a majority of golfers, has been wiped out as manufacturing jobs left the United States. Lifelike video games have taken players away from golf and all other forms of entertainment and recreation for that matter. You want to grow golf, you’ve gotta do it one player at a time. Go out and personally bring one player into the game. If every golfer did that, it would make a difference. And yes, Mike Van Sickle reached the finals of Web.com Q-school next month, so he’s a Web.com player whose status will be determined by how he finishes in the six-round marathon at PGA National.

Van Cynical, The only way to get back in front of Europe in space race is to go to pod system, put Paul Azinger in charge!
--Lionel Mandrake via Twitter

I don’t disagree, Manley. See my Ryder Cup piece from the week before this year’s matches. I wrote about how Azinger was the only winning captain this century thanks to the innovations he instituted, yet he wasn’t given a second chance and successive captains have steadily drifted further away from his winning formula. As I’ve written before, I’m good with either Azinger, Fred Couples or Phil Mickelson (as a player-captain) as the next captain. They’re the only three choices that make sense to me.

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