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Tour Confidential: What should the PGA Tour do to speed up play?

Kevin Na
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Kevin Na has been criticized for his pace of play throughout his career.

Every Sunday night, Golf.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

Dave Stockton, two-time major winner, putting guru to the stars and author of the new book “Own Your Game” joins our roundtable this week. For more from Dave, visit StocktonGolf.com.

1. After Robert Garrigus played with Kevin Na on Saturday at the Valspar Championship, Garrigus’ caddie said “it ain’t fair” for his boss to have been paired with Na because Na’s slow play affected Garrigus’ rhythm. Does playing with a slow player present a competitive disadvantage? What, if anything, should the PGA Tour do to speed up play?

Dave Stockton: The point to remember is a player should be aware of his fellow competitor as it relates to his preferred pace of play. Don't change your pace to make up for a slower or faster competitor. As for the PGA Tour, it would be constructive if they did anything to help solve this problem.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Adjusting to the Tour's glacial pace is part of the deal if you want to win. They're all slow, it's just a question of degrees. The speed-of-play is so out-of-whack it likely cannot be fixed without resorting to measures the players don't want -- a true shot clock -- and the Tour exists for the benefit of its members, so, to use a phrase, that ain't gonna happen.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Oh, gawd, are we still kvetching about slow play? What’s the point?! Nothing ever gets done, so it’s really pointless to waste any more time on the subject. It now has to be considered the rub of the green, akin to a sand-filled divot, so the likes of Garrigus just have to learn to deal with it.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Being paired with a slow player can definitely present a competitive disadvantage (see Sabbatini v. Crane). That said, it remains up to the player to assume the proper mindset before he tees off -- and it's up to the PGA Tour to crack down further. Gosh, though, we've been down this road so many times before. There's so much money and careers at stake that the players have disincentives to speed up. Every shot, every decision matters, so why rush it? A further problem is course set-ups. Too many hazards, too much rough, and greens that are way faster than they were a generation ago converge to make for slow play. Yet, with equipment, fitness, teaching and talent being what it is, how else are you supposed to provide proper tests and deserving champions?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): The problem with playing with a slowpoke is that he gets your group on the clock right away, and then when another player has a legit strategy or yardage question, he gets docked for a bad timing. There's a lot of gray area here. The Tour officials know who all the slowpokes are. The only way they can enforce pace-of-play rules is to have a shot clock so that it's a black-or-white issue whether a player got a shot off in 45 seconds or not.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): It's definitely a disadvantage for the fast player in a fast-slow pairing. And in non-tournament golf, I think fast players should have the right to say, ‘See you later, buddy,’ and play ahead, assuming there's an opening. Sounds rude, maybe, but no less rude than the behavior of the oblivious slowpoke whose agonizing pace spoils the day for everyone else. Let's face it: unless you have a physical disability, slow play is a choice, and an inconsiderate one. And no, it has very little to do with shot-making skill, so don't give me that excuse. For a guy like Garrigus, playing in a pro event, it's a bad break to be sure, because a slow guy can play with a fast guy without suffering, but not the other way around. But until the rules change, he should consider it yet another of the many mental challenges of his profession and work out a way to deal with it. As for what the Tour should do, implement a shot clock (surely, the experts can come up with some sort of reasonable time between shots) and enforce it on first violation. Exceptions would have to be made for rulings and other holdups out of player's control. But more complicated obstacles have been overcome before. Slow play is a blight on the game. It makes watching tournaments painful and playing the game more frustrating still. That's a long answer. I could have played three holes by now.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Because the whole Tour is slow, and the problem has gotten so big, it's hard to know where to start. The Tour does put players "on the clock" when they lose touch with the group in front of them, but with everyone playing a four- to five-hour round, it's easy to play slow and still not get busted. Max Homa played the final round in Puerto Rico by himself two Sundays ago and got around in less than two hours. Can you imagine if that was the norm for a round of golf? It would be a much, much better game.

2. John Senden won the Valspar Championship on Sunday, the second consecutive Florida Tour stops with tough conditions and a hard course that created many bogeys. Overkill for golf fans -- and players? Or is this championship golf at its best?

STOCKTON: It's simply courses being set up to get the players ready for the Masters. While it is different to have all these courses in Florida play so difficult, it serves the players’ needs. Whether it’s a new course (Doral) or a tight layout with wind, it creates championship golf.

BAMBERGER: I would say not two -- three in a row, with a fourth, Bay Hill, coming. I think it's good. Tougher courses always favor better players. But I would reverse the Sunday philosophy. I would make Sunday pins the easiest of the week. Pin placement dictates all, hence the crazy-low scores you see in Wednesday pro-ams when the pins are dead-center like a clown's nose.

MORFIT: I don't mind watching some tougher conditions, which is to say a bit of wind. As they say across the pond, if it ain't windy, it ain't golf. (Okay, they don't say it exactly like that, but I will, in honor of the fact that most of the good, young American players today seem to be from the South.)

SHIPNUCK: It’s a fun contrast to the birdie-fests in the desert, and there’s a certain suspense in watching guys trying not to kick away a tournament, but the whole Florida swing has turned into defensive golf. I’d like to see more of a mix -- and I know the players would, too.

VAN SICKLE: All it takes is a little Florida wind to make any of the Florida courses play tough. You saw it at the new Doral, a tough track already. The Copperhead gave up some 64s Saturday when it was nice. I don't think the players want four Florida U.S. Open replicas, and let's face it, fans prefer eagles and birdies. Everything doesn't need to be the Open. It's okay if the winning score is -18. Nothing wrong with that.

SENS: These guys are good, sure. But often, these guys also make it look too easy. Now and then, it's good fun to watch them struggle. Sports shouldn't just be about hero worship. It should also involve human struggle. Tough venues give the Tour a nice mix of the two.

PASSOV: Other than having sand and extra wind for a couple of days in common, Doral's Blue Monster and Innisbrook's Copperhead proved to be brutes for different reasons. The Monster featured firm conditions, new greens and tons of water; Copperhead chomped down with trees, rough and elevated greens where it was tough to get close to the hole with approaches. Because of the differing tests the two courses provided, I was fine with it. I don't want a steady diet of it, however. Challenging set-ups are supposed to elevate the majors. I don't want the rank-and-file events and the big boys being indistinguishable.

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