Tour Confidential: What should the PGA Tour do to speed up play?
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.
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.
3. John Daly shot 90 at the Valspar Championship on Friday, his worst-ever round on the PGA Tour. Should Daly still receive sponsor’s exemptions to play at PGA Tour events?
STOCKTON: Sure, if the sponsor wants him! Sponsor exemptions are a very valuable tool for a tournament director to use to create value in their local area -- it's their choice.
VAN SICKLE: I would've cut off Daly from exemptions years ago when he refused to go to Q-school to regain his card or even try Monday qualifying. But the exemptions belong to the tournaments and they should give them to any player they think will help the tournament. That includes Michelle Wie, Annika, Michael Jordan or Bozo the Clown. You want Daly, that's fine with me, but you know what you're getting.
MORFIT: Absolutely. Tournament sponsors have to get bodies through the gate. Daly draws. And he's still got enough game to finish in the money, notwithstanding that 90.
BAMBERGER: I'd give Lance Ten Broeck a sponsor's exemption before I'd give one to John Daly. Lance, and about a thousand other serious golfers.
PASSOV: Innisbrook trots out the Copperhead, a superior test of golf -- hard, but fair -- that the players respect and admire. Yet, because of its place on the schedule, the event can't draw Tiger, Phil, Rory or Adam, among others. If John Daly can act as a drawing card, he deserves the exemption, even if the attraction is the same as it is for NASCAR fans who tune in just for the crashes. Half the time he tees it up, Long John appears as if he needs professional help -- and I don't mean from a golf professional -- yet he still compels us to watch. And hey, the guy's bagged two majors. Can anyone else on the weekly exemption bubble claim that?
SENS: The guy won two majors and is a huge fan favorite. He can also still play a little, having made the cut in two of four events this year. It's called a sponsor's exemption because it's not a decision based strictly on the numbers. There are plenty of events Daly WON'T be allowed to play in because of his performance. Until he shows that he can't compete at all, I say we pull a Bad News Bears and "Let him play!"
SHIPNUCK: Absolutely! But he needs his own special course, with windmills and a finishing hole in which he can putt into a clown’s mouth.
4. In an interview with Golf.com, Hank Haney said that Tiger Woods won so many times because he shot lower scores, not because he intimidated his opponents. Do you agree with Haney that Tiger’s “intimidation factor” is overrated?
STOCKTON: Hate to say I disagree with Hank Haney, but Tiger intimidated everyone he came in contact with on Tour. Sure he shot lower scores, but he was mentally tougher than anyone else.
MORFIT: I disagree. In his prime, Tiger could be an intimidating guy to play with, and not just because he was so much better than everyone else. The excitable, migrating hoard that followed Woods was so extreme that I sometimes found myself feeling claustrophobic moving around in it as a media member.
SHIPNUCK: At the 2007 U.S. Open, I was on the first tee at Oakmont when Tiger strutted on to the first tee for the final round. He was wearing a skintight red shirt, and he looked like some kind of superhero. The crowd went bonkers. Aaron Baddeley’s eyes bugged out, cartoon-style, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he triple-bogeyed the first hole to kick away the lead. Beyond the virility of his physical presence, Tiger’s intimidation was in his record as a closer. He forced players to press, to try to do more than they were accustomed to, and that’s why they made so many mistakes competing against him. Those days are long gone now, but at his peak Tiger was certainly intimidating.
VAN SICKLE: Maybe they were intimidated by Tiger, maybe they were intimidated by trying to win. It's hard to separate the two. Few players are comfortable in that situation on the back nine Sunday because they're there so seldom. That was Tiger's big edge. I think there's a lot to what Haney said, but I also remember the first-round 67s that Tiger shot in majors and you could see the other competitors slump and think, ‘Well, this one's over.’
PASSOV: I learned something about this topic when interviewing co-leader Jim Colbert after the third round at the 1991 Senior Tour's Tradition event at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale. Colbert candidly remarked that when he and the other leaders saw all of the red numbers that a charging Jack Nicklaus was putting up, he felt it, and they felt it. Nicklaus did the same thing on Sunday and won by one. Tiger at his best was just like Jack. He knew he was going to beat you, and more importantly, in that 1999-2008 stretch, he knew that you knew he was going to beat you.
SENS: I think there's little doubt that the aura that used to surround Tiger, along with the chaos that followed in his wake, used to make a lot of guys uncomfortable. I've heard a number of Tour pros say so, and the final round numbers used to reflect that. Now, not at all. But that's because intimidation and low scores are two sides of the same coin. Hard to intimidate when you're shooting lousy scores when it matters most, as Tiger has been doing more and more these days.
BAMBERGER: Well, as all these things are, the argument is a matter of semantics. Yes, he shot lower scores. And it's intimidating to try to beat a player on a Sunday when you know you have to play your best, and he had to play less than his best, in order to have a chance. So I don't really agree with Hank. But I'm glad he's talking.
The final two questions are inspired by our special guest Dave Stockton…
5. Ian Poulter kicked off his SiriusXM radio show by relating that Michael Jordan tried -- and failed -- to psych him out at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah. Which event induces more pressure for the players, competing for country at the Ryder Cup or being in the hunt coming down the stretch at a major?
STOCKTON: The Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, and President's Cup all create more pressure on a player than any major. You almost feel you have no control in team atmosphere because it's not just you, it's the whole team that ramps up the emotions.
VAN SICKLE: How many times have players described the Ryder Cup as playing the last hole in a major championship on every hole? I think it's close, but I'll give the nod to the Ryder Cup because of the team concept. Stroke play is a different kind of pressure because you can make any kind of “Tin Cup” number imaginable, while in the Ryder Cup, all you can do is lose one hole at a time. Kind of chippy by Jordan to pull a stunt like that, by the way.
SENS: Those are different kinds of pressure, and it weighs on different players in different ways. Would you wager on Ian Poulter coming down the stretch in a major? Probably not. But in the Ryder Cup. For sure.
SHIPNUCK: They all say it’s the Ryder Cup. If you blow a major, only your wife and accountant care. At the Ryder Cup, you’re playing for your captain, teammates and millions of fans at home. That’s way more pressure.
BAMBERGER: Well, you would think, for American golfers, nothing would offer more pressure than competing for your national championship, but in actual fact, if you listen to the players, it really seems that the team pressure of Ryder Cup play makes that far more difficult.
PASSOV: The earth would have to spin off its axis for me to have a chance at feeling what players must feel when in contention at a major. However, I did compete for my country once, against Japan, in a Writers Cup match in Hawaii. I was fortunate to have a great stick with me in my team match, Mark Soltau, who carried us. In my subsequent singles match, after they announced my name and my United States affiliation, I choked beyond description. At the fifth hole, I actually shanked a 3-iron! Somehow, after being 3-down, I was out-choked by my opponent, and I won on the 14th. I'll go with Ryder Cup pressure.
MORFIT: I can't think of anything worse than knowing the entire Ryder Cup is coming down to your singles match on Sunday, especially if you don't crave that type of situation with every fiber of your being, or if you're not 100 percent on your game, and you know you probably won't be able to hide it much longer.
6. You have one 10-foot putt to sink to save the earth from alien destruction. What player in the game today do you choose to hit that putt, and what player in history do you nominate for the job?
STOCKTON: Steve Stricker. Players throughout history I would nominate would be a tie between Tiger Woods and Billy Casper. Honorable Mention would be Ben Crenshaw.
BAMBERGER: In history, very likely Dave Stockton his own self in his prime. The highlight reel of his Hall-of-Fame career -- I don't care that he doesn't have a locker yet -- is all putts, and a couple 4-woods into par-4 greens. Picking a clutch putter from today, that is really hard. As the game gets bombier and bombier, clutch-putting is an area of the game that is in the doldrums. I'm thinking of Ian Poulter, if he's in a team uniform. Maybe Inbee Park or Russ Cochran. But likely Woods, if he's not wearing red. By the way, when these aliens come in, any chance they'd spare Cypress Point?
PASSOV: The greens she putts aren't as severe/challenging as those that are faced weekly on the PGA Tour, but since there's no one guy that stands out to me right now in 2014, I'll go with Inbee Park to sink that 10-footer. If we can draw from history, Tiger Woods edges Jack Nicklaus by a goatee whisker. It's not just the garden variety 10-footers -- and others -- that he's made, it's the difficulty of some of the putts that he's dropped, with their intoxicating brew of speed, break and pressure. I still shake my head in wonder at the memories.
MORFIT: Today: Zach Johnson. History: Either Tiger Woods circa 2001 or Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones circa 1997.
VAN SICKLE: At this moment in time, I might go with Ian Poulter. He rises to the occasion of the putt, it seems. All time, there are a lot of options. Mr. Stockton would be among them, for sure. A Jack Nicklaus in his 30s would be a good option, but I might go with the 2000-2001 Tiger Woods. The 1930 Bobby Jones is my choice if the green is about half as fast as today's putting surfaces.
SHIPNUCK: Zach Johnson. Historically, you’d have to say Nicklaus, though Seve is a close second. Corey Pavin might be second runner-up.
SENS: I'm tempted to nominate Tiger for both. But because I've come to believe that he may in fact be an alien himself, I'd worry that he'd miss the putt intentionally to ensure the triumph of his species.
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.