Gary Van Sickle’s Mailbag: Slow play and fixing the Hall of Fame

Is Jason Dufner the best American golfer right now?
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There will be no slow play in this week's Van Cynical Mailbag. We'll go right to the questions. Warning: Slow reading may result in penalty or fine. Or worse, you'll get another Van Cynical Mailbag next week.

To control slow play, why not use a system like the clock in a chess match? Give every player a certain amount of time, say 75 shots at 40 seconds per shot for a total of 50 minutes to play their shots. That way if it is a difficult shot they could take longer and make it up on their next shot, or if they waggle on their drivers they would have to putt faster. Start the clock when it is clear for them to play and stop when they hit the shot. When the 50 minutes are gone from the clock the player is DQ'd. On Thursday or Friday it means they miss the cut. On Saturday or Sunday they would drop to the last-place tie for the prize money. That ought to motivate them to play faster.
— Mike A. Travaglini, via email

Thanks for a new wrinkle on the shot clock, Mike. I've been suggesting a shot clock for several years but my idea is more like the basketball clock. I'd give each player 45 seconds to play once it's their turn, then start fining and penalizing them after three violations. My version would involve restarting the shot clock repeatedly. Yours would require a lot more timing and scorekeeping effort, probably from a trained professional, not a tournament volunteer. I think Tasers or low-powered lasers would also be effective. Don't worry, people — we won't turn the settings past Stun.

In the semifinal of a match-play tournament, there are four players on the course. They're told they're on the clock. Both are deliberate-too deliberate. The wind gusts, so you go back to your bag because you need more club. Who are you putting at a disadvantage? Are you holding up the sponsor's TV commercials? I realize rules are there for a reason but sometimes shouldn't common sense take precedent?
— Gibby Lewis, via Facebook

I don't think so, Gibby. Common sense said Apple was about to go out of business when its stock was down to $8 a share about a dozen years ago. That's why I didn't buy any, and that's why I'm not a multibillionaire now. So I'm not a big fan of common sense, not that I'm bitter or anything. I'm a bigger fan of coincidence. As in, the week after Kevin Na's constant swing-fiddling at the Players made slow play an issue, the LPGA finally found a way to grab a headline by penalizing Morgan Pressel for slow play (after it was her playing partner's slow play that put them on the clock) when only four players were on the course, as you shrewdly pointed out. Can you name the tournament winner? Probably not but you remember one thing — oooh, the LPGA is getting tough with slow play. Yeah, we'll just see. As the great Yogi Berra supposedly said, I'll believe it when I believe it.

Do you think that Jason Dufner is the currently the best American golfer? Is he a favorite for one of the three remaining Majors?
— Alvin Nunez via Facebook

There is no best American golfer currently, only a champion golfer each week. Dufner is our latest and he will definitely rank among the favorites for the U.S. Open, the best test of ballstriking of the three remaining majors. While six Americans now rank among the world's top ten, an improvement in recent times, none have separated themselves by winning enough to be classified the best. Dufner stands at the head of the class on my list of Americans who are candidates to win the Open, but let's face it, if Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods romps over the field at the Memorial, no one is going to be talking about the Duffmeister as America's best. But if he wins the Open, we just might.

We played golf together in the summer of 2006 in the One-Ball tournament near Dayton, Ohio. I was curious if anything ever came of that idea? Being an avid golfer I still follow the game closely but haven't seen any talk of the idea since. I'm sure the ball companies have too much invested to let that happen.
— Derek A. Carney via email

Glad to hear that watching my action didn't despoil your own golf swing, Derek. The one-ball concept, requiring all entrants to play the same ball, was a fleeting idea that the grand pooh-bahs of the Masters were considering in an effort to slow down the pros who were hitting it increasingly farther every year (since the USGA and the R&A have done little to stop it). Augusta National has held the pros at bay by substantially lengthening the course, adding trees and placing more of a premium on accuracy, so the one-ball talk has faded. Besides, doing anything like that for a major championship, or any PGA Tour event, would almost surely prompt a lawsuit from a rival ball maker.

I could see the governing bodies acting to limit the number of dimples per ball or require that they be concentric, which may or may not take a little edge off how far the ball flies and make them slightly more difficult to control. But any equipment rule making the game more difficult (like the USGA's ineffective ban on square grooves) is not going to go down well right now, not with people leaving recreational golf because it's too difficult, too slow or too expensive. Now is not the time to make golf harder for us average schmoes (although separate sets of rules for pros and amateurs would solve that). One thing our One-Ball tourney proved, though, was that while players complained about the ball that was provided, everyone adjusted to it and was ultimately satisfied knowing that every other player in the field had the same problem.

What has happened to Dustin Johnson? I can't find any news about him.
— George Gabuzda via email

Dustin Johnson has been sidelined with a back injury and announced last week that he'll tee it up at the Memorial Tournament next. There have been rampant rumors that Johnson was actually sitting out a PGA Tour-suspension for an unspecified infraction but Johnson's agent has denied that. Either way, DJ is scheduled to be back on the course at Muirfield Village.

No disrespect to Phil, but how is it possible that he made the Hall of Fame before Tiger? Is there an age or length-of-service requirement?
— Bob White via email

You have to be 40 to be elected to the Hall, and you have to have won 10 tournaments or two wins in a major championship or the Players Championship to be nominated. Tiger isn't 40 yet. But 40 seems way too young to be inducting Hall of Famers. The age minimum should go to 50 and the voting should be held every other year instead of every year. There aren't that many deserving HOF candidates in the long run to sweep in a handful every year.

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail [email protected] or ask it on Facebook.