Gary Van Sickle’s Mailbag: Slow play and swing yips

Kevin Na put himself in the forefront of the slow play debate at the Players Championship.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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

Get your head out of The Swamp. The PGA Tour has moved on from the Stadium Course to Texas for a couple of weeks. So too does the Van Cynical Mailbag. So for the appropriate Texas flavor, pop open an iconic bottle of Lone Star beer, say "Waxahachie, Texas," three times and caress those shiny old Hogan Edge irons you've still got in the basement before reading further. There, now you're ready to read on, podnuh.

What do you have to say about Kevin Na and his stuttering golf swing?
— Doug Schwimmer, via email

Just look away, man. The problem with Na and his constant reloading and failure to launch is that on one hand, you feel sorry for him, especially after his apologetic explanations, and on the other hand, you just want to slap him. Na doesn't need a sports psychologist, he needs a real psychologist. Also, the last thing any of us want is a detailed explanation of what he's thinking or why he's unable to get it done. What he has is like the yips. We don't want to talk about it further because it may be a contagious virus. Don't get any of that on us, Kevin! Moving on now…

Is Matt Kuchar now the best American golfer or is it Rickie Fowler?
— Phillip, via email

One win doesn't make you the nation's best, no matter what the event. Besides, aren't you forgetting Hunter Mahan, who's won twice this year? The fact is, American golf has no clear-cut best player, just as the world rankings have no clear-cut No. 1 in the world. The best American golfer is a title held by committee. Kuchar and Fowler might be on that committee. Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Mahan would be on it, too. Bubba stepped up by winning the Masters, so he's got an edge but to be a clear No. 1, he's going to have to start winning some regular Tour events. It's a tossup for now.

How do you fix slow play on tour? Twosomes, anything more than four hours is a crime. Come on guys, hit the ball already!
— Kirby Laughlin, via Facebook

While it might be ever so slightly different if I was playing for $1.7 million, I couldn't agree more, Kirb. Maybe there's hope. I've written several times over the past few years about my solution for slow play: a shot clock. Each player gets 45 seconds once it's his turn to play. This week in Dallas, Players champion Matt Kuchar spoke up with his idea — a shot clock! Good thinking, Matt. In my scenario, I'd give players five bad times, or "fouls," per round. The sixth would be a $1,000 fine, the seventh $2,000, and keep doubling until the tenth — that would be a one-shot penalty. And each successive violation would be another shot. The shot clock removes the subjectivity for rules officials, who are friendly with the players. It would become a yes or no question — did you beat the buzzer or not? But enough about slow play on Tour. Far more important is how do we get the group ahead of us to get their slow asses moving?!?!

What is the process to identify, warn, penalize and fine slow play?
— Rich Mount, via Facebook

Here's an excerpt from my definitive story about slow play from the 2010 Players championship that appeared in SI's Golf Plus then:


It is known in PGA Tour golf circles as The Prize.

The Prize is the tour's version of The Scarlet Letter. It's what players and tour rules officials call the milestone of getting timed for slow play on ten occasions in a single season. A player gets timed (usually along with everyone else he's paired with) when the group falls behind the pace of play or behind the group ahead of them. It's known as "being on the clock." A player who takes too long to play a shot while his group is on the clock is in danger of being fined and possibly penalized, although the latter is as rare as a funny paleontologist or a golf fan getting tasered (oops, that actually happened here Friday — my bad).

The Prize identifies its recipient as one of the Tour's leading slowpokes, a repeat offender who is compulsively, incurably and undeniably S-L-O-W.

Just what is The Prize? A $20,000 fine. Brent Geiberger earned the first one under PGA Tour rules in 2004. Tour officials I spoke with declined to name names or numbers but another source confirmed that The Prize has been awarded many times — fewer than 20 but definitely in double figures. And the winners include more than one former major champion.

Last year, one player reportedly earned The Prize by the Memorial Tournament in early June.

Each additional timing in a calendar year, by the way, draws another $5,000 fine. That's serious money but in a universe where 87 players topped $1 million in on-course earnings last year, maybe not as bad as it sounds. The concept behind The Prize is peer pressure. Anyone paired with a known tour snail wants to avoid racking up timings and becoming a Prize-winner merely by association. Players who reach eight timings tend to suddenly get speedier and testier they're paired with a known slowballer. "I don't care who you are, nobody wants to write a check for 20 grand," said Mark Russell, the tour's vice president of rules and competitions.


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