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  • Alistair Tait

Why are the snails still calling the shots?

The final group in the Aberdeen Standards Investments Scottish Ladies Open at the Renaissance Club took five hours and 16 minutes to complete 18 holes.

That’s an hour and 16 minutes too long for a three ball.

And. No. One. Was. Penalised.

I repeat the question I posed yesterday. Why are we still talking about slow play?

Quite how a fast player like Stacy Lewis not only managed to survive that ordeal, but go on to win in a playoff, is a credit to her. Lewis got through the test of patience by concentrating on a Taylor Swift song. However, it took the gloss off winning.

“It shouldn’t take that long to play,” Lewis said. “I knew it was going to; that’s the sad part. I do think an effort needs to be made across the board to play faster. I’m sure it couldn’t have been fun to watch on TV. I’ve been an advocate for changing our pace of play, getting people to play faster for a long time, and we’re still going the other way unfortunately.”

Lewis was blunt on the action needed to solve this perennial problem:

"I think it needs to be aggressive. I think it needs to change because we’re going in the wrong direction”

It wasn’t fun watching it on TV. How many people turned off after watching Jennifer Song take forever to play a shot? I did. I made it to the 15th hole and couldn’t take any more. I took the dog for a five-mile walk. In pouring rain. It was far better for me, mentally and physically, than fuming at the television. Life’s too short to watch professional golfers approach every stroke as if they're trying to find a cure for cancer.

Pace of play wasn't just a problem in the Ladies Scottish Open. Some competitors in the U.S. Amateur Championship weren't exactly sprinting around Bandon Dunes.

It obviously doesn’t have to be this way. As we prepare for this week’s AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon, it’s worth casting our minds back to 2009 when Catriona Matthew became the first Scottish woman to win a major. She and playing companion Christina Kim were so quick the BBC, which then covered golf in some sort of meaningful way, had about 45 minutes of airtime to kill at the end of the broadcast.

The LPGA earned huge plaudits eight years ago when it docked Morgan Pressel a loss of hole penalty in the semi-finals of the Sybase Match Play, which Azahara Munoz went on to win. Munoz was part of that painful final three-ball at the Renaissance Club. She wasn’t quite as slow as Song, but she wasn’t much quicker.

Lewis is correct to highlight the commercial reality of players impersonating snails. It’s a turn off for fans. Literally. That remote control is the gateway to too many options than watching players move like glaciers.

Thomas Bjorn made that very point last year when slow play reared its ugly head on the European Tour. He said:

“We’ve got to come down on it hard because 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. That’s destroying the game commercially. You’ve got to have a commercial hat on and say we’ve got to make our game better. People don’t have all that time to sit and watch a round of golf. Especially young people, and those are the ones we want to try and attract to our game.
“We’ve got to do something about it for the good of the game. The players have to understand that they are destroying it for themselves for the long term. The tours and the governing bodies need to realise this is too big an issue.”

The frustrating thing is the tail is wagging the dog on this issue. As Bjorn noted:

“Ninety percent of the players want to do something about it, but the protection is for the 10% that don’t care.”

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley added:

“We collectively as administrators have to get on the same page on slow play because it isn’t just a European Tour issue. …. There is a will to tackle this issue across the game.”

Really? It doesn’t appear that way. If there truly was a will to stamp out slow play then the snails wouldn't still be calling the shots?

#JustSaying: “The problem is players don’t care if they are five, 10 or 20 minutes behind. If they make €1.5 million a year and they pay a few thousand in fines then they don’t care. When you have some players with that attitude then it spoils it for everyone else.” Edoardo Molinari

Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour

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