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  • Alistair Tait

Time for golf to institute a shot clock

It’s debatable what was more impressive about Matt Jones’s Honda Classic victory: the way he handled the tough conditions that plagued the Champions course at PGA National over the final 36 holes, or winning while paired with JB Holmes in the closing round.

Talk about a tortoise and hare scenario.

Jones is refreshing for his quick pace of play; he gets on with it. Unfortunately, JB doesn’t.

Well done to TV commentators for pointing out how unprepared JB seemed to be in taking 79 strokes to play the 1983 Ryder Cup course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Holmes’s snail-like approach actually had one positive benefit: it showed just how fast Jones plays the game. And the 40-year-old Australian was actually trying to play slower as he chased his second PGA Tour title.

“I probably had a goal this week to walk a little slower and just relax,” Jones said. “I'm normally an up-pace, up-tempo person, play golf quickly, so I tried to stay calm and stay relaxed out there.”

If only all tour pros played like Jones then we wouldn't have rounds in two-balls taking over four hours and 20 minutes. That’s probably about 14 holes for JB if he was allowed to totally dictate pace of play. Remember, this is the man who once took over four minutes to play his second shot to the final hole in the 2018 Farmer’s Insurance Open, completely oblivious to playing companion Alex Noren waiting to play his shot.

This isn’t a rant at Holmes in particular or the PGA Tour in general. All tours have problems with slow play and slow players. I’m reminded of a tweet from Eddie Pepperell not long ago when he was drawn on the European Tour with Padraig Harrington and Paul Dunne, two renowned slow coaches. Pepperell noted two things would happen during the round: they would chip him off the course, and the group would be put on the clock.

We only have to think of the 2019 Solheim Cup ­– the Slowheim Cup ­– when rounds took nearly six hours for a recent, vivid example of professionals imitating snails. I remember rounds taking that long during a Seve Trophy. And that was nearly 20 years ago!

Two years ago, Brooks Koepka said:

"I think it's just gotten out of hand. It seems now that there are so many sports psychologists and everybody telling everybody that they can't hit it until they're ready; that you have to fully process everything. I mean, I take 15 seconds and go, and I've done all right. So I don't understand why they're taking a minute and a half.
“Five and a half hours to play golf is a long time," he added. "Everybody's going to get bored."

Rule 5.6 – Unreasonable Delay; Prompt Pace of Play – allows officials to penalise players strokes for slow play. Yet it hardly ever happens.

Many of us jumped for joy when Klara Spilkova was docked two shots for slow play during last year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. There were kudos all round to the LPGA for acting. Sadly, not all tours are so brave, especially the PGA Tour. Naming the last player on the PGA Tour to be penalised a shot for slow play is the ultimate Mensa test question.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of continued slow play is the new Rule of Golf published 1 January 2019 includes a recommendation of 40 seconds per shot. Rule 5.6b 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.”

As I’ve bemoaned before, too bad it’s just a recommendation.

I've been arguing for most of my golf writing career for a shot clock similar to the ones used in the now defunct Shotclock Masters and Golf Sixes. Players had no problem playing quickly in those events when on the clock. Too bad shot clocks aren’t mandatory in all professional tournaments. Tour pros would soon speed up if they were going to incur penalty strokes.

The final round of the Honda is yet another reminder we still have a long way to go to fix golf's perennial pace of play problem.

Why should the JBs get their way and not the MJs?

#JustSaying: “Slow play comes down to selfishness.” Mark McNulty

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