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  • Alistair Tait

40 seconds? What were they thinking?

Do you think the USGA and R&A had Winged Foot and the 2020 U.S. Open in mind when they drafted the new Rules of Golf that came into play on 1st January last year? Specifically Rule 5.6B, Prompt Pace of Play?

What on earth were they thinking?

Rule 5.6b isn’t really a rule. It’s a recommendation. Too bad. If it was a rule then maybe we wouldn’t have to watch tour pros approach every shot as if it was a MENSA test. Let me remind you of the salient points of 5.6b. It starts simply enough:

“A round of golf is meant to be played at a prompt pace.”

Most of us welcome that thought. The rule, sorry, recommendation then takes through the ways we can play faster, as if we were three year olds being told how to best use the potty. Or maybe boy scouts, since be prepared seems to be the central theme. The rule literally becomes a recommendation when we’re told how long we should take to play a shot:

“It is recommended that the player make the stroke in no more than 40 seconds after he or she is (or should be) able to play without interference or distraction, and
“The player should be able to play more quickly than that and is encouraged to do so.”

Has anything else written in the variations of the rules of golf since the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith set out the first 13 in 1744 been more ignored by top players than these two paragraphs?

Do you think when the governing bodies were discussing new rule 5.6b they said:

“It’ll work a treat at Winged Foot for the 120th U.S. Open?”

Unsurprisingly, play has been slow for the opening two rounds of this U.S. Open. For once I don’t blame the players: I blame the USGA. When you set up a golf course with narrow fairways, deep rough and lightning fast greens it’s no wonder the best players in the world take their time.

What chance do we have of stamping out slow play when the USGA can’t speed up play in its own championship? Imagine how slow rounds would be if not for the army of ball spotters?

And what does it do to help grow the game? Watching the world’s best players hack out of ankle deep rough and shooting scores in the high 70s can’t be attractive for those who’ve never played golf.

Winged Foot members are no doubt proud Tiger Woods dubbed their course as one of the three hardest courses in the world along with Carnoustie and Oakmont. However, they must be the slowest players in the world if they take on this beast day in and day out. There must be more balls lost in rough than any other club in the world.

They can’t all be single figure handicappers capable of keeping the ball in play. Of course they’re not. This isn’t how the course plays on a regular basis. As ever, the USGA has gone out of its way to protect Old Man Par. The blazers must have been having conniptions when 21 players finished the first round under par. There are now just six, and that’s probably six too many.

Don’t expect that to change much by Sunday. The USGA will be happy if no one is under par after 72 holes. If that means turning what should be wonderful Winged Foot into Wicked Winged Foot then so be it. So what if players need an eternity to figure how not to be made to look like 18 handicappers? Eighteen handicappers would struggle to break 120 around this U.S. Open layout, never mind 100.

Forty seconds! Seriously, what were they thinking?

#JustSaying: “We have a product to sell. People have to turn on the TV to watch us play, and if it takes too long there’s too many alternatives.” Thomas Bjorn

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