PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — Complaints about slow play on the PGA Tour have been around forever, which is about how long it has been since anyone was given a one-stroke penalty for taking too long to hit a shot.
Actually, it was 16 years ago at the Byron Nelson Classic. And the victim of that one-stroke penalty is now a rules official who carries a stop watch.
“It was in Dallas,” Dillard Pruitt said Tuesday. “For two bad times in a round, I got a one-stroke penalty, a $1,000 fine and I had to play in the last group the next two weeks as long as it wasn’t an invitational. That one stroke cost me $9,600 official money. The fact I can still remember that tells you something.”
The policy hasn’t changed much over the years.
Once a group falls out of position and is put on the clock, the first player to hit is allowed 60 seconds; the others get 40 seconds. There is no penalty for the first bad time. The second bad time carries a one-stroke penalty, the third offense is a two-stroke penalty, and a fourth bad time is disqualification.
As slow as it can get on the PGA Tour, why has no one been assessed a one-stroke penalty in 16 years?
Or been disqualified?
“We’re more intelligent than people think we are,” the ever-sarcastic Paul Goydos said.
By that, he means slow players tend to play faster when told they are on the clock. Fulton Allem once compared this to a state trooper who pulls over a motorist for going 100 mph. Instead of writing a ticket, the trooper says he will follow the driver for the next five miles to make sure he doesn’t speed.
“You have to be crazy to get two bad times,” chief rules official Mark Russell said. “People don’t get one bad time.”
In the meantime, the tortoise is transforming into a snail.
Tiger Woods was the latest to gripe about the pace of play. Given his stature in golf, his complaint figures to be the loudest.
In his monthly newsletter, Woods talked about his victory in the Accenture Match Play Championship, seeing his new sports drink on grocery shelves and having Van Halen play at his benefit concert this year. Then out of the blue came this.
“Before I go,” he wrote, “I would like to talk about slow play. It’s been an ongoing problem on the PGA Tour for a long time. I honestly believe the pace of play is faster in Europe and Japan. It has been suggested offenders be penalized with strokes. The problem is, you may get one guy that slows down a group for playing at a snail’s pace and gets them all put on the clock, which isn’t fair. I know this is a complicated issue. Hopefully, it can be addressed in the near future.”
Adam Scott was a little more succinct.
“People play way, way too slow,” he said.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but Woods’ comment came a week after the Match Play, where he played J.B. Holmes in the first round. Holmes already has a reputation as among the tortoises on tour, although not quite to the level of Ben Crane.
He visualizes each shot. He makes quick, repeating practice strokes with every club.
And he makes few apologies.
“A lot of old habits kick in when you’re under pressure,” Holmes said. “You’re playing for $1 million. If somebody thinks I’m slow, or taking long, I don’t care. Personally, I don’t want to take that long. I’m working on that. I would rather be slow and win than rush something, hit a bad shot and not win.”
Goydos and Olin Browne were among those who see no simple solution because of so many factors involved in modern golf.
— In the summer, a 156-man field means putting 26 groups of three on each side of the course in the morning and afternoon. That’s bound to lead to backups.
— With modern technology, more players can reach par 5s in two or go for the green on short par 4s.
— With greens running as fast as linoleum floors, players take more care (and more time) on and around the putting surface.
— More care (and time) is given to each shot when the average purse is in the $6 million range.
“Everyone knows who they are,” Jerry Kelly said of the slow players. “We need to single them out.”
Money apparently is no object. Players who are put on the clock 10 times during a season are fined $20,000. Crane has averaged just under $1.5 million a year in his five healthy years on tour. That amounts to just over 1 percent of his earnings.
The other alternative is being more aggressive with penalty strokes.
Look no further than Sunday in Hawaii on the LPGA Tour, when Angela Park was assessed a two-shot penalty for slow play in the final round. She was in the thick of contention and wound up three shots out of the lead.
Asked about adding shots to slow players, Woods said that might be the solution, “but the guys are a little sensitive about that.”
Still, it is becoming a matter of credibility.
Drug testing starts in July. How will anyone believe the tour will suspend someone for one year and fine him $500,000 for a doping offense when it won’t assess a one-shot penalty for taking too long with a 5-iron to the green?
Even then, it might not matter.
One of the legends about Ben Hogan is the time a U.S. Open rules official warned him for slow play.
“If you’re going to penalize me, do it now so I know where I stand,” Hogan replied. “I’m not playing any faster.”