Green: Golfers shouldn’t be forced into change of pace

Jerry Green
Special to The Detroit News

La Quinta, Calif. — Jack Nicklaus dawdled and not one of his competitors dared drop a word of complaint. Times were that Jack required two or three minutes to make his shot, such as that gray day in Scotland when he scored a 77 in the first round of the 1982 British Open at Troon. He was in the weeds, or what the Scots call gorse, it seemed all afternoon.

Now slow play among the pros has become an issue, and Kevin Na is the target of his fellow pros and wannabes who would turn golf into a track meet.

“No, there is no joke about that,” Na said at PGA West, site of the CareerBuilder Challenge tournament here.

“No, I don’t take it personally.

“But at the same time when the whole world saw me — well, technically what they call slow — I had the yips.

“I couldn’t take the club back.”

For goodness sakes!

Target of critics

At times, Na has been heckled by loudmouths in the galleries.

He was notoriously booed and ridiculed at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida in 2012 when he was the leader after the first three rounds.

“You better not choke,” yelled one supposed fan, claiming he had a bet riding on a victory by Na, according to an Associated Press story.

The yips and his waggle cost Na during the final-round Sunday. He shot a 76. His lead vanished, and he would finish in a tie for seventh.

But beyond the bettors and other fans, Na has had critics among his fellow PGA pros and their caddies.

A caddie chipped in as a severe detractor at the Valspar Championship two years ago in Tampa.

“It ain’t fair playing with Kevin Na,” Brent Henley, carrying the bag for pro Robert Garrigus, was quoted as saying on the SB Nation website.

“It ain’t fair.”

Actually, the sport of golf “ain’t fair.” Nobody ever said it was.

And, anybody who has ever gripped a golf club has had the yips. You don’t have to be a pro millionaire. You could be an old grump who started to play golf with some passion at age 80 and have the yips. Such as my, err, alter ego.

So, slow play is not a quick topic.

No time for stopwatches

Now here in the New World not yet, but on the European Tour the muck-mucks who pompously regulate this sometimes joyous sport have taken to clocking the pro golfers. There are guys on courses with stop watches.

Shoot in 40 seconds, feller, or you’re in deep, well, gorse.

That’s what happened to Jordan Spieth — currently the top golfer in the world — at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Thursday. In a globally renowned group with Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, Spieth was clocked naughtily hovering above a birdie putt for more than the allowed 40 seconds. By half a minute.

Spieth was guilty of violating the brand new pace-of-play policy of the European Tour. He was the first victim, according to the Devil Ball Golf – Yahoo website.

This misdeed occurred on the eighth green. And at the ninth tee, Spieth was informed that he was being hit with a monitoring penalty by John Paramor, the European Tour’s chief rules guardian.

The penalty did not cost Spieth any strokes in his round of 68, but he was warned that he could be fined close to $3,000 if he spends more than the allotted 40 seconds next time he is on the clock.

A day after the monitoring penalty became an international controversy, Paramor explained that Spieth was clocked as dawdling for 70 seconds before stroking his infamous putt, according to the Golf Channel’s website.

So far only news of the European monitoring penalty and the pace-of-play decree have journeyed to the American side of the broad Atlantic Ocean.

Thus, the golfers at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the California desert are playing at varied paces, some technically called slow. But preferably, for those of us who strive to break 110, we may call our waggling deliberate and/or methodical.

Standing greenside the other day at PGA West’s new Signature course, Na talked about the yips vs. so-called slow play.

“So, is there a difference?” Na said to me. “Yeah, I think so.

“Obviously, I wasn’t the fastest player anyway, but there’s a difference when I had the yips.

“But at the same time, after that incident, I’ve improved myself. I’ve gotten better. I still got work to do.

“But everyone’s wired differently. Some people need the extra few seconds to get comfortable.

“Some guys, they can rapid fire.”

Still, golf with stopwatches, it ain’t fair. At a track meet, that’s fair.

Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports writer.