On the Clock: Slow play study pits Joe’s vs. Pros

June 3, 2011

We took stopwatches to
a busy public course and
the PGA Tour’s Arnold
Palmer Invitational. Top 100
teacher and CBS Sports
analyst Peter Kostis
explains what we learned.

For the Tour pro data, we timed
every shot 45 players hit over nine
holes at Orlando’s Bay Hill during the
second round of the Arnold Palmer
Invitational in March. We started the
clock only when a player had arrived
at his ball and it was his turn to hit.
Some of the groups we followed we
selected at random; other groups we
chose because they included a player,
or players, who have a reputation
for playing either slowly (e.g., J.B.
Holmes) or quickly (e.g., Rickie
Fowler). Cumulatively we clocked
1,497 shots. For the amateur data, we
timed 91 players at the Lonnie Poole
Golf Course at North Carolina State
University on a Saturday in April.
Using the same guidelines that we
employed with the pros, we tracked
every shot the amateurs hit on the
1st and 18th holes (a par 5 and a
par 4), or 581 shots in all. For both
groups we omitted tap-in putts
from our calculations.

I often hear the assertion that
amateurs play slowly because
they mimic the pre-shot routines
of their favorite Tour pros. These
charts show that’s not true. Still,
the amateurs we timed did take
a grueling average of 4 hours
and 58 minutes to complete their
rounds, which means that while
“Joes” may not spend much time
over their shots, they do spend too
much time between shots. To liven
your pace, be smart with your
cart management; save small talk
with your buddies for when you’re
walking or driving to your balls,
not when you’re preparing to hit;
and above all be considerate of
your fellow golfers. A little
respect goes a long way.

AMATEUR DATA: Amateurs spend less time with each successive shot,
which suggests that they lose focus or grow increasingly frustrated.
This variation also tells me that amateurs don’t have a consistent
pre-shot routine. Take it from the pros: the first step toward building
a consistent, repeatable swing is to have a consistent, repeatable
routine. Which doesn’t have to mean a slow routine.

striking how little time
amateurs spend over
their chips and putts.
Don’t shortchange
your short game.
Those shots count
just as much on your
scorecard as your drive
and your approach.
One of the keys to
speeding up play is to
shoot lower scores,
and when you invest
time in your putts the
way the pros do, your
scores will go down and
your pace will go up.

PRO DATA: Perhaps not surprisingly, the two shots the pros take the most
time over are those that can lead to a birdie: the approach and the first putt.
That’s why you see pros taking additional time to commit to their strategy
and stroke on these important scoring opportunities.

Notice how the pros also
invest a good chunk
of time over their
bogey attempts,
which is a good lesson
for amateurs. I’m not
suggesting you eat
up the clock grinding
over bogey putts, but
if you want to score,
you should show as
much respect to those
putts as you do your
par and birdie tries.

Of the 1,497 shots we timed at Bay Hill, 279
of them – or 18.4 percent – exceeded the
Tour’s 45-second limit. Over nine holes, here
are the players who most frequently exceeded
45 seconds to play a shot, including the
percentage of the time they were in violation:

Kevin Na: 58% (18 of 31 shots)
Nick O’Hern: 52% (16 of 31)
J.B. Holmes: 47% (15 of 32)
John Senden: 44% (14 of 32)
(Shot totals exclude tap-in putts)

Other facts and figures from our PGA Tour study*:

Most time per shot (avg.): Nick O’Hern (55 seconds)
Least time per shot (avg.): Rickie Fowler (16 seconds)
Avg. time per tee shot for the field: 31 seconds
Avg. time per putt for the field: 37 seconds
Most time over a single tee shot: Hunter Haas (119 seconds, par-3 second hole)
Most time over a single putt: Kevin Na (91 seconds, 9’11” inch birdie putt on par-5 12th hole; he missed)
Tiger Woods’s avg. time per tee shot: 38 seconds
Tiger Woods’s avg. time per putt: 39 seconds
*These statistics include averages of all 45 players we timed.