This week’s big incident in golf was concerning slow play, and it involved World No. 8 ranked golfer Bryson DeChambeau, who was timed as taking over two minutes to read and hit a putt during the second round of The Northern Trust last Friday. For context, the official rule on the PGA Tour is that no player is allowed to take more than 40 seconds to hit a shot, but players are rarely — if ever — penalized for going over the allotted time.
DeChambeau — whose incredibly scientific approach to the game makes him a lightning rod as it is — drew harsh criticism after the round, and he even received criticism from fellow Tour players like Justin Thomas, Eddie Pepperell and World No. 1 ranked golfer Brooks Koepka.
As a recreational golfer and an observer of the professional game, there are few things that get under my skin more than slow play.
Now, there are two different ways that I look at the issue of slow play in golf and that’s in part because I play the game recreationally. When I’m out on the course playing a round with my buddies, there’s nothing worse than getting stuck behind a slow group. It’s hard to explain unless you experience it out on the course, but getting stuck behind a foursome in which each player takes several minutes to hit each shot absolutely destroys the rhythm of the round for everyone else. Not to mention, it’s incredibly frustrating to have to wait, which in itself can ruin an otherwise nice day on the course. This type of slow play would largely be avoidable if the perpetrators showed a little bit of consideration and made a conscious effort to play “ready golf.” After all, there’s really not anything on the line when you’re playing a Sunday match-play with your three best friends, right?
But in the professional game, where players literally have millions of dollars on the line on every shot they make, it’s harder to justify rushing a guy to take every shot. At the same time, if you actually stand there and count out 40 seconds, you’ll see that it’s plenty of time to line up a shot and hit it. The key for the PGA Tour going forward is going to be policing the policy that is already in place.
This brings us to the real question in this debate. It’s not whether or not players should be penalized for slow play, because they should. The real question is, how do you punish them?
One may think that monetary fines would work as a deterrent, which is what other leagues do. But, as with athletes in those other leagues, professional golfers make enough money to withstand even the harshest financial punishments. It also wouldn’t make much sense for the PGA Tour to start suspending players for slow play, as that would be too harsh.
One suggestion that’s been floating around is to penalize players with strokes in tournaments when they violate the slow play rules. This sounds like it may be the most sensible solution considering the alternatives, but it’s not without its flaws. By penalizing players with strokes in tournaments, the PGA Tour would be affecting those players’ livelihoods to the tune of potentially millions of dollars. And when you start getting into people’s pockets, those people are going to start to speak up against it.
The PGA Tour has already released a statement saying that it is currently reviewing its pace of play policies. We’ll just have to see what kinds of changes they’ll be able to make.