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Slow play has no quick fix on PGA Tour

Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Wilmington, N.C. — In a recent magazine survey of PGA Tour players, 84 percent said they believe slow play is a problem.

That might suggest the 16 percent who don’t are the only ones causing the problem.

And it leads to a broader question: Just how big is the problem?

Bill Haas contemplated this Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Championship, and he didn’t have an answer. Haas is supremely qualified to discuss the subject because if everyone played tournament golf like Haas, no one would be talking about it. Instead, that’s all anyone does — talk.

“My Dad has said it’s been talked about in player meetings since he was a rookie,” Haas said. His father, Jay Haas, was a PGA Tour rookie in 1977. “What are we going to do about it?”

Oddly enough, it took the Tour doing something to get everyone talking about it again.

Tour officials assessed a one-shot penalty for slow play last week at the Zurich Classic, the first one at a regular PGA Tour event since 1995. This one was peculiar because it happened at the first team event in 36 years in a format (alternate shot) that had never before been used at an official tournament.

Miguel Angel Carballo was given a bad time on the 12th hole at the TPC Louisiana. His partner, Brian Campbell, received a bad time on the 14th hole. Typically, it takes two bad times for a player to receive a penalty shot, but the Rules of Golf defines partners in foursomes as one player.

Once the shock wore off, the dialogue shifted from “it’s about time” to “what took so long?” All that was missing was a solution.

The problem is with the policy. The reason some of the notoriously slow players on the PGA Tour have escaped penalties for taking too long to play their shots (50 seconds for the first to play, 40 seconds for the others in the group) is because they know the system, and it’s easy to beat.

Players are timed only when they are out of position, either based on the suggested time it should take or if the hole ahead of them is open. Once they are notified the group is “on the clock,” one bad time is a warning, the next one is a penalty.

Here’s what is not in the book — when players are put on the clock, that’s not their first interaction with a rules official. They first are asked to pick up the pace, a courtesy to allow for outside circumstances (such as a lost ball). Secondly, while timing is not an exact science, players are not given a bad time if they go a few seconds over the limit. A bad time generally is a really bad time.

Either way, it’s a bad policy.

“If a slow player gets behind and they’re asked to pick it up, the first question they ask is, ‘Am I on the clock?’ Because if they’re not on the clock, they’re not going to change,” Haas said. “If they are on the clock, they change. I don’t like that. Because then all they do is run down the fairway.”

No one explained this better than Fulton Allem at The Players Championship way back in 2000.

“It would be like you going down the highway 100 mph,” Allem said. “A cop says: ‘Listen, bud, you are doing 100. I am going to follow you now. I am going to measure your speed.’ You’re not going to go over the speed limit. You’re going to drive perfectly.”

Pat Perez suggested putting an official with every group and timing all players regardless if they’re out of position. That would work. That also would be an additional 52 officials for a 156-man field. That’s not practical.

There are other factors that make golf at the highest level different. Total prize money this week is $7.5 million. That cannot be overlooked. Neither can the size of the field, which this week is 156 players. Because the Zurich Classic was a team event, there were 160 players. That’s the largest field on the PGA Tour played over one course.

The greens are faster than ever and the pins are cut closer to edges.

Putts on fast greens run 3 or 4 feet by holes when they miss. Those are marked and given as much care as the original putt. That adds to the time.

Mueller honored

Michigan junior Kyle Mueller is one of 30 semifinalists for the Jack Nicklaus national player of the year. The recipients will be announced June 1.

Mueller also earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive season, after averaging scores of 71.43, which is on pace to be the program record.

PGA TOUR

Wells Fargo Championship

Course: Eagle Point GC, Wilmington, N.C. Yardage: 7,396. Par: 72.

Purse: $7.5 million (First prize: $1,350,000)

TV: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. (GC); Saturday-Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m. (GC); 3-6 p.m. (CBS)

Defending champion: James Hahn.

LPGA TOUR

Lorena Ochoa Match Play

Course: Club de Golf Mexico, Mexico City. Yardage: 6,804. Par: 72.

Purse: $1.2 million (First prize: $200,000).

Defending champion: Carlota Ciganda.

CHAMPIONS TOUR

Insperity Invitational

Course: The Woodlands CC (Tournament Course), The Woodlands, Texas. Yardage: 7,018. Par: 72.

Purse: $2.15 million (First prize: $322,500).

TV: Friday, 6-8 p.m. (GC); Saturday, 3-6 p.m. (GC); Sunday, 3-5:30 p.m. (GC).

Defending champion: Jesper Parnevik.