The ironic reality of Johnny Miller, golf’s best-ever analyst, is that he rarely criticizes a player. He’ll call out a bad shot or a bad choice when he sees one, and he’s usually not wrong. In the creampuff world of TV golf, though, that dose of reality often passes for criticism.
You have to commit a serious gaffe to take a real shot from Miller, and that’s why rookie Andrew Loupe, who was in contention at last weekend’s Valero Texas Open, needs to rethink how he plays golf. Loupe’s frequent unreadiness to hit and his penchant for taking six, seven, nine, ten, twelve practice swings may have been one slow-playing turtle too many in a season where slow play has already been a hot-button topic.
When Johnny Miller calls you out, you’ve got a problem. “If everyone on tour played like him,” Miller said Saturday, “I’d quit announcing.”
Yet when Loupe was asked about his slow play, he didn’t think he had a pace problem and said he didn’t care, he was playing golf. He didn’t care?
He should care. He is going to care when savvy fans start making him the face of slow play on the tour, replacing Kevin Na, who faced some heckling at Bay Hill for his history of being pace-challenged.
Slow play on the PGA Tour isn’t going to go away until you make the players care about it or care about the penalties. Even the players who draw the $10,000 fines for too many bad times just write it off as a business expense as part of playing for a $6 million purse.
I’ve been suggesting for years that the tour use a shot clock for golf. It’s one way to eliminate the gray area of who’s slow and who isn’t. And if not a clock, at least an official timer who keeps track of how long it takes each player in a group to play a stroke.
The problem with my idea is manpower. You’d need an official or a timer and a shot clock with every group. Or possibly ShotLink, the system that tracks where shots go and almost certainly has a time-stamp function you could use to deduce how long each player took to play each shot.
Here’s a better idea: Use the court of public opinion.
The tour currently doesn’t disclose bad times, fines or which players have been put on the clock because the PGA Tour is all about image and brand marketing. Slow play is hurting your brand, PGA Tour. You want to speed these slowpokes up, so release the names of every player who gets put on the clock or has a bad time or gets a fine. Issue a statement after every round. Issue a weekly statement listing the cumulative totals of which players have recorded the most bad times.
Put a spotlight on the turtles. Maybe they’ll start to get heckled, as Na was. That’s not ideal but guess what, it’s motivation for that player to speed up. The more attention a slow player gets, the more the public and the media are going to get on him. Eventually, that’s going to hurt his brand and make sponsors less interested in having that player endorse its products.
Now that’s how you get a player’s attention on slow play. And the beauty of this plan is that it requires no extra manpower or cost. Just tell the media what you already know, who’s racking up the bad times, and let public opinion do the rest. While you’re at it, you might ratchet up that initial $10,000 fine to $50,000. Better yet, forget the fine and just start dropping one-shot penalty bombs.
And there’s got to be a better way of chasing slowpokes than by putting an entire threesome “on the clock” when it falls behind. Robert Garrigus drew a bad time at Innisbrook because Na’s slow play had put their twosome on the clock. Garrigus is one of the fastest players on tour and when he faced a dicey, important pitch shot that he felt it was important to pace off even though he knew that could mean taking more than his allotted time, he still did it. He got that bad time and he laughed it off later.
But Garrigus shouldn’t have been put in that position. Na was the reason the twosome lagged and only he should have been put on the clock.
PGA Tour players need to be accountable for their actions and their pace of play. When a newbie like Loupe gets spotlighted and says he doesn’t care, it’s obvious that the current PGA Tour slow-play rules and regulations aren’t working. Let the public know who the turtles are. Make the five players with the most slow-play offenses wear a scarlet S on their shirt and their bag and maybe even their caddie’s bib. The scarlet letter, golf’s badge of dishonor.
It could work. Give it a shot, PGA Tour. But hey, while we’re young, OK?
This just in from the Van Cynical Mailbag:
Van Cynical, How good would old-timers like Hogan, Nelson and Bobby Jones be with all the new technology from golf balls to clubs and TrackMan, etc.? -- Mike via Twitter
Hey, Mike, did you ever hit persimmon woods? Or those skinny old blades? Or play a ball with a liquid center? The forgiveness factor was light years less than today’s gear and a bad shot not only went considerably less than the full distance, it also curved farther off line. Let the legends grow up with metal woods and video and launch monitors and lob wedges, and -- don’t worry -- they still would’ve been legends, but even better.
Vans, If Augusta National allowed occasional public play, would the Masters be as popular or is its exclusivity a large part of its draw? -- Kris B via Twitter
You need to sign up for the Masters ticket lottery and score tickets for next year’s practice rounds, Kris. Walk the course just once and you wouldn’t ask. It’s hilly terrain with towering pines, babbling brooks and flowering plants from its days as an exotic nursery. Designer Alister MacKenzie dubbed it the World’s Wonder Inland Golf Course, a nickname that didn’t stick. It’s an impressive spot. Yes, it would be just as popular. The course lives up to its hype.
Van Sickle, Does the Masters really deserve the exalted position it occupies? It all started from Bob Jones, but now? -- Gary K. McCormick via Twitter
The customer is always right, G-Mac, and the public is annually mesmerized by Augusta National and this tournament. That said, if you said you were starting a new major championship and it was going to have a field of only 90 and some of them would be amateurs and aging former champions, you’d be laughed off the stage. But there are the magnolias and the dogwoods and the pines and Amen Corner and the most exciting back nine in golf. People think it’s a big deal and, therefore, it is.
Van Cynical, When will we see the next true superstar emerge -- a guy who contends and wins consistently? -- Brian Rosenwald via Twitter
We’re already overdue for him, Bri-Ro. Look at golf history and there was usually another great player who came along about every ten years. The next superstar should be ten years younger than Tiger, who is 38. It could be Rory McIlroy, who turns 25 this summer. But the money has gotten so big (see Rory’s $250 million Nike deal) that I don’t know whether anyone can stay motivated to be a true superstar and chase history the way Tiger has. Patrick Reed? Jordan Spieth? If it’s not Rory, there’s no obvious candidate on the horizon. Maybe he’s a 13-year-old Korean we’ve haven’t even heard of yet.