#AskAlan mailbag: Why didn’t J.B. Holmes get a slow-play penalty at The Open?

July 24, 2019
J.B. Holmes slow play at 2019 Open Championship

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your burning questions about the 2019 Open Championship, including J.B. Holmes’ slow play problems, Portrush’s chances to get another Open, and much more.

Why do you hate David Duval??? -Daniel (@68shooter)

I don’t! I’ve argued in print he should be in the Hall of Fame, because his dominant five-year run was far more impressive than anything many inductees ever did. I think he’s excellent on the Golf Channel. By all accounts Duval is a dedicated family man. None of this is personal…but someone had to say it. (And after I did I had numerous reporters, three caddies, one American Ryder Cupper and another player in the top 50 of the World Ranking tell me they agree but wouldn’t say so publicly.)

The fact is, Duval plays only a few tournaments a year – his game, mind and body simply aren’t ready for the rigors of the Open. In 2016 he went 82-WD. In 2018 he opened with an 80 and withdrew again. We know what happened this year. This can’t be fun for Duval. It’s not fun for the fans. Wouldn’t the tournament be better served opening up that spot to a full-time touring pro who could potentially make a run at the Claret Jug, like this year’s first alternate, Martin Kaymer?

Does Portrush get another Open? [email protected]

Oh, hell yes, and soon. It is destined to be a regular part of the rota. No one really loves Royal St. Georges or Royal Lytham, so we can phase out one or both to make room. In fact, my dream rota would be Old Course, Portrush, Turnberry, Muirfield, and Birkdale. Every 10 years we can mix in Carnoustie and Portmarnock for variety.

Did Brooks’s pace of play put J.B. off his game? [email protected]

Well, Holmes had hardly missed a fairway over the first three rounds and, statistically, that couldn’t last. And he’s shown before he’s capable of a spectacular crack-up under pressure: at the 2017 Players he started Sunday tied for first and shot a ghastly 84. But no doubt Koepka’s very public posturing had an effect on Holmes, and I’m totally okay with that. It’s increasingly clear that the only way things are going to change is by the players policing each other. And there is zero doubt who is now the new sheriff on Tour.

Why why why didn’t the R&A hand out a bad time penalty for J.B. Slow? [email protected]

In this scenario I’m actually a little sympathetic to the tweedy blokes at the R&A. They only run one tournament a year – why do they have to create a huge controversy by being the only organization to hand out slow play penalties? This problem belongs to the PGA Tour and European Tour – they run professional golf week-in-and-week-out and control the livelihoods of the players. The stewards of the tours could change the way the game is played if only they had the balls to do it. It’s not fair to lay the responsibility on the governing bodies who only have one flagship tournament each year.

J.B. Holmes pictured after completing the third round of the 2019 Open Championship.
Getty Images

Is the difficulty of winning a major championship starting to become a reality for Koepka? He had a great major season, but do the near- misses (and the scare on Sunday at the PGA) start to become scar tissue instead of a momentum builder? -Dave (@djlettieri )

Yes, Bamberger and I discussed exactly this in our Sunday night podcast. Historically, only the very best players win even one out of four chances at the majors. At the Masters, Brooks’ watery tee shot on 12 was a killer, and he didn’t convert shortish birdie putts on 17 and 18 that could have dramatically altered the outcome. The four straight bogeys to open his round on Sunday at Portrush was a stunning retreat. Brooks has to be commended for consistently rising to the occasion – it’s been thrilling to watch. But there’s going to be a little scar tissue, too, from these majors that got away this year.

Rory McIlroy, a tragic hero? There seems no progress in his performances when it matters the most. [email protected]_Franz

The 79-65 was the perfect summation of McIlroy’s last five years: maddening and thrilling in equal measure. We know his wedge game can be sloppy and his putting inconsistent, but what happened on Thursday at Portrush was metaphysical. It helps explain why Rory often seems overwhelmed at the Masters, the tournament he wants the most. We all love Rory because he’s real and honest. We’re dazzled by his physical gifts. But what happened at Portrush was a window into his soul. Tragic hero is a very good way to think about Rory.

Rickie has been labeled the best player to not have a major. Is Tommy Fleetwood moving into that category? [email protected]_Lightz

I could watch Tommy Lad hit the ball all day long. Some of the shots he played through the wind on Sunday were awe-inspiring. But his putting let him down. Again. As good as Fleetwood is it’s criminal that a year and a half has gone by since his last win. He’s such a kind, gentle soul – can he access the hardass flintiness that most of the game’s greats possess? Or maybe all he has to do is free up his putter on Sundays and he can remain a sweetheart with a bunch of big, shiny trophies on his mantle. (I think we’d all prefer the latter.) To your question, Fleetwood has certainly had the requisite near-misses in the major championships required to be the BPNTHWAM. But I think he needs to prove he can win more consistently before we worry about his major haul. Right now, I think Kuchar carries the dreaded title of BPNTHWAM.

I saw Jaime Diaz say this was one of the great major seasons of all time. I don’t get that. Yes people liked Tiger winning, but Brooks made the PGA boring for 65 holes, and Woodland and Lowry are pretty underwhelming winners. How would you rank this year? -Jeff (@War_Eagle1988)

Coming up with an actual ranking would require more thinking than I’m prepared in this jet-lagged state but my feelings are much closer to Jaime’s than yours. This year’s Masters was utterly epic and will be talked about as long as golf is played. The PGA Championship featured the number 1 and 2 players in the World Ranking slugging it out on a big, brawny golf course…what more could you want? The U.S. Open had a lot of glittery names on the leaderboard, Koepka made a stirring run at another historic win and Woodland hit maybe the two most memorable shots of the year to pull out the win on an iconic course. The Open Championship was imbued by so much emotion. If Sunday lacked a certain dramatic tension that’s only because the day before Lowry produced the round of the year. He was the right champion at the right time. All in all, I think it was a helluva year.

Tiger looked dejected, very slow through the ball and creaky old. Enough with the Masters hangover talk, there must be more going on here. [email protected]

I think there was a legit emotional hangover after the Masters, and it clearly spilled into the PGA Championship. At the two Opens it was more about Tiger’s physical limitations. He pushed really, really hard last year, trying to build a new swing and reinvent himself as a golfer. Then he maxed out again leading to the Masters and throughout that week, when he climbed the tallest mountain imaginable. It’s pretty clear now that Tiger pushed himself to the breaking point. I’d love to see him just shut it down for six months and then show up at Torrey next year and build toward the Masters again. He only has a finite number of swings left – I hope he uses them wisely.

Tiger Woods missed the cut at the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports

Aship, there seems to be a level of reverence reserved for The Open that no other major gets. Our scribes romanticize the courses and towns and fawn over the weather. The Masters gets nailed for its snobbery and past, the U.S. Open for the blazers and gimmicks, and the PGA for…something. It seems the R&A is held in a special place above criticism. If the U.S. Open had in-course O.B., or 5 feet behind a green, we’d call it Mickey Mouse. What gives??? Why the love affair?? [email protected]

Well, the R&A was savaged for some of the nonsensical new tee boxes on the Old Course and the ridiculous condition of the greens there during the 2015 Open, and it was deservedly part of the blowback for Muirfield’s embarrassing male-only policy. But in general the R & A has had far fewer setup issues, which helps temper criticism. (So does making common sense decisions like denying John Daly a buggy.) I agree with your general thesis, though. There is something undeniably romantic about these ancient courses and the little towns around them. The players feel it and so do the scribes. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to call a spade a spade, like, say, my rant on GOLF.com last week about the O.B. stakes at Portrush.

Has J.B. taken over the top spot of golf twitter’s favorite villain? (Or at least until the next Jason Day WD…) [email protected]

It think Holmes solidified that honorific with his tedious layup at Torrey. It’s really a shame because J.B. has a moving personal story and should be easy to root for, but the incredibly selfish way he plays the game has destroyed any and all goodwill. Hopefully he takes to heart Brooks’, uh, encouragement. Kevin Na has learned to play faster and it’s no coincidence he’s won twice since. So maybe there’s hope for us all.

Looks like internal O.B. > rough to control the bombers. [email protected]

Yeah, sure, if you line any hole with O.B. stakes it becomes a lot tougher and forces players to be more defensive. That doesn’t make it right, or pleasing. My only critique of Portrush is that it needs to lose the O.B. down the left side of No. 1 and 18. Neither is necessary on this great links. (The out-of-bounds behind 5 green makes a little sense since there’s no way play a ball from the steep cliffs beyond the white line.)

Is it the player’s responsibility to ensure their clubs are conforming? [email protected]

Of course, because they are the ones that will pay the penalty if the clubs aren’t conforming in the form of a P.R. hit or the stress of having to replace them at the last minute or, in Xander’s case, both. We know that manufacturers are building drivers right up to the legal limit, and that after hitting thousands of balls the face gets fractionally thinner, which can push a club into non-conforming territory. Clearly players and manufacturers are going to have test drivers much more regularly or this is going to be a recurring problem.

Regarding Koepka’s comment that he doesn’t practice before regular Tour events…Isn’t it a bit insulting to fellow pros and the Tour brass that are trying to promote every event? What does it say about those events? Or him? -Vaidya (@vs2k2)

There is a certain lack of professionalism there. I think about Joe DiMaggio being asked once why he played his heart out in every game and he said, to paraphrase, because there might be a boy in the stands watching me for the first time. If Brooks is going to turn up at a Tour event you’d like him to put in a little effort to play well, since fans have paid good money to be there, thousands of volunteers have given their time and various corporations have invested a lot to put on the event. But Koepka has made the correct calculation that majors will define his legacy and that’s where he can scoop up the long money and World Ranking points. So, why sweat the small stuff? He’s certainly a lot fresher physically and mentally this way. But his milquetoast performances in everyday events just throws into sharp relief Tiger Woods’ grind and pride as he fought so hard to win every single time he teed it up.

Would you root for a WGC in Europe, possibly in Ireland instead of Memphis or Mexico? [email protected]

I love the Mexico City event, and it’s important to have a WGC in Latin America, though I wish it would visit some other parts of the region. We have a WGC in Asia, too, and that’s a good thing. The European Tour visits so many corners of the continent I’m not sure we need a WGC there. I’d rather see it get to Australia, South Africa and the Caribbean.

Given the recent Apollo 11 hoopla, who is golf’s Michael Collins? – Brian (@HailFlutie)

It’s gotta be Gary Player. He was in the orbit of the stars but so often overlooked.

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