Slow play is in the golfing news this week, thanks to a ruling on the LPGA Tour over the weekend that, arguably, cost Morgan Pressel a semi-final match and a chance to win the Sybase Match Play Championship. The slow play penalty (loss of hole in match play) came on the 12th hole, which Pressel won to go 3 up in the match. She was then informed that, having been put on the clock previously, and having then taken too much time to play the 12th hole, she was being assessed the penalty. So, instead of being 3 up, she was one up in what was effectively a 2 hole penalty.
How would you react to that? Probably the same way Pressel did, which was to go on to lose the match 2 and 1. I like Morgan Pressel. She yells at her ball. She yells at herself. She seems feisty and emotional, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the ruling cost her the match. She had to be steaming. That was a tough way to lose, and of course we’ll never know if the outcome was truly affected, but there’s a huge difference between being 3 up with 6 holes to go and being only 1 up. Azahara Munoz, the other player in the controversy admitted that she had been just as guilty of slow play earlier in the match, and indeed, the earlier warning was for both and not just Pressel. Munoz also acknowledged that the penalty wasn’t fair and she wouldn’t have assessed it were it her choice. She said this right after she grabbed the $375,000.00 winner’s check, making it a little easier, I suppose, to be magnanimous.
This LPGA slow play incident came on the heels of the Kevin Na situation at the Players Championship. You’ll recall that Na was leading The Players after 54 holes, despite being almost physically unable to pull the trigger on virtually any shot. We watched as he fidgeted, backed off, fidgeted some more, backed off again, and then yelled at himself before finally swinging. This happened throughout the round, and it was painful to watch. And since Na acknowledged the problem and confessed to battling swing demons, we felt sorry for him, and forgave him his slow play. The Tour didn’t assess any penalties; even though his slow play had a much more significant effect on the pace of play, and his competitors, than did Pressel’s.
Slow play is epidemic on the professional tours, and I can’t do anything about that, and apparently neither can the officials (But see: Pressel, Morgan above). And I can’t say I have any particular feelings about slow play on the pro tours. These guys and gals are playing for their livelihood and a lot of money, so if they want to play at a pace resembling the Bataan Death March, only less fun, I say let ‘em. TV coverage does a marvelous job of focusing in on the actual shots and not the sometimes interminable decision making process that goes before, except in Sudden Death playoffs where there are no other players to watch. In the event of Sudden Death, you can always do something else for awhile and come back to the TV when the players reach the green, or you reach retirement age, whichever comes first.
I can, however, offer some suggestions to speed up your play, and that of your foursome. We shouldn’t emulate what we see on TV. We play golf for fun. What we see on TV is tournament golf at its highest level. Those folks are working. Don’t do what they do. Do what I say.
Here’s my list of 5 things you can do, and some things you shouldn’t do on the course:
- Play “ready golf” everywhere but on the green. If your playing companion is further away than you, but not ready to hit, then go ahead and play. This is easy to do and speeds play dramatically. The same applies to the tee. Forget about who has “honors.” Whoever gets there first and is ready should go ahead and tee off. My golf group has played this way for years, and even walking the course, we get around in 3 hours.
- If you are driving a cart, do not under any circumstance feel that you need to park by your playing companion’s ball and watch him hit Instead, drop him off at his ball and go to yours, or have him drop you off and take the cart. If your golf balls are in the same vicinity, find a convenient area to both and park. If one of you is in the fairway, or close to it, and the other hit his last shot way left, or right, the guy in the fairway gets out first. Then the other guy can go look for his ball. In the meantime, fairway guy can hit and start walking to the green.
- Take one and only one practice swing when you are ready to address your ball. If you are “working on something” or you need more than one swing to get the feel for the shot you want to hit, go to the range.
- When on the green, line up your putt before it’s your turn. When it is your turn, be ready to putt. Do not read putts from both sides. This is ok to do, if you must, when you’re on a foreign course, but you absolutely do not need to do this on the course where you regularly play.
- Care less. We’re supposed to have fun on the course, yet we are so competitive, and so focused on playing our best, that we expend a lot of energy fretting over the possible outcome of every swing. In the end, it will matter not one bit what you shot today, so quit caring so much about what you might shoot. I guarantee that if you quit caring so much, you’ll play better…and faster.