• Alistair Tait

Time For A Golf Shot Clock


Lexi Thompson and Hye-Jin Choi were reportedly fined $2,000 for impersonating snails in the KPMG Women’s PGA final round at Congressional Country Club.


If ever there was another call to institute a shot clock in professional golf, then is it.


That request will no doubt fall on deaf ears: there is no haste to deal with slow play at the top level. We wouldn’t still be talking about it if there was.


How slow was play in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship? The final group on Saturday took five hours and 45 minutes. Play was so glacial the final half hour was shifted from the NBC network to CNBC because play had gone over the allotted time slot.


Things improved on Sunday: the final three-ball only took five and a half hours by my watch. Officials had to hurry the prize giving ceremony, presenting the trophy to In Gee Chun before she had checked and signed her card.


Contrast the above situation with the refreshing pace of play Matt Fitzpatrick showed in winning the US Open.


This is not to pick on professional women golfers. Slow play is a perennial problem in men’s golf too. Fines are not the answer. Never have been.


A $2,000 fine is pitiful considering the KPMG was a $9 million tournament. Thompson earned $718,827 for sharing second. Choi made $274,166 for equal fifth. Thompson has amassed over $13 million on the LPGA. Choi has “only” made $1.3 million in her rookie year, never mind what she’s made from 11 Korean LPGA wins.


$2,000? The word we're looking for is “pittance.”


The only way to slam the snails is to hand out shot penalties, yet so far professional golf has shown a reluctance to do so even though the Rules of Golf instituted a recommendation in the revised rules released on 1 January 2019.


Rule 5.6b, Prompt Pace of Play, clearly states:

“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.”

Clearly, those who officiate at professional golf tournaments have faulty stopwatches.


The problem with 5.6b is that it’s only a recommendation, and those can be ignored. If I had my way it would be a hard and fast rule.


Many tour players get on with it, but suffer from the snails’ selfishness. The tail is wagging the dog.


We know tour pros can play in 40 seconds. The European Tour ran the Shotclock Masters for a few seasons where the emphasis was on fast play.


The LPGA has been far more progressive on slow play than its PGA Tour counterpart. Finding the last player to receive a stroke penalty on the latter tour is like finding the Holy Grail – the PGA Tour doesn’t do bad news – while the LPGA has handed out a shot penalties in recent years.


Professional tours have policies on slow play, but it’s mere lip service. It’s an issue they really don’t want to deal with. You can bet a strict regime of one-shot penalties for a first offence, two shots for a second and disqualification for the third would soon speed things up.


TV commentators need to speak up too, but most of those are former players and the majority seem reluctant to speak out. Besides, TV networks are so enmeshed with the tours the last thing they want to do is criticise.


Wouldn’t you just to love to watch a televised golf tournament with a shot clock in the top corner indicating the time a player takes to hit a shot?


I first argued for a shot clock nearly thirty years ago after spending time covering tournaments watching players approach straightforward shots as if they were Mensa tests. And don’t give me that rubbish about it being too expensive to hire an official to walk with every group. Money isn’t an issue with today’s astronomical purses.


Sadly, shot clocks aren't going to happen. There clearly isn’t a will at the top level to deal with the golf problem that just won’t go away.


Shame.


#JustSaying: “Hey, hurry up Gene: I’ve got a date tonight.” Walter Hagen’s words to Gene Sarazen

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