A TEARFUL JASON DAY clutching the PGA trophy marked the end of the golf’s four majors for the year and what wonderful golf we have seen during each of the contests in 2015. The phenomenon that is Jordan Spieth has been the highlight, showing how it is possible not only to play inspired golf but also win and lose with style and good grace.
Rather than dwell, some would say interminably, on whether Tiger Woods will or won’t return to anything like form, it now seems far more appropriate to consider how many majors young Spieth can amass over what is already a stellar career. The return to fitness and form of Rory McIlroy only whets the appetite for some epic duels ahead, not only in the majors but also in next year’s Ryder Cup. Could there be a bigger draw than McIlroy going head to head with the world’s new number one* in the last day’s singles?
With outstanding young players like Day also on the scene men’s golf has never appeared less fuddy-duddy than it does as the year draws to an end. How sad it has been to witness then such great tournaments being played at what can only be described as a snail’s pace. And all of the top players are culpable.
It is hard to believe just how slow tournament golf has become with over five and a half hours now the norm for a three-ball on the first two days and, even when the field is reduced, a round of singles is taking anything up to four and a half hours. Given that the pros hit the ball miles and the likelihood of them losing a ball is remote it is scandalous that the game can take so long. McIlroy, Spieth and Johnson were approaching the fifth green at this year’s PGA after 90 minutes.
There are any number of ways that play could be speeded up, not least being a two stroke penalty awarded by the rules officials to any player deemed to be responsible for the hold up. This is a nettle that no one seems keen to grasp and, given the furore that greeted the one-shot penalty given to 14-year old Chinese amateur Tianlang Guan at the 2013 Masters for six-hour round, it is hardly surprising.
Graeme McDowell was one of the many players involved in the online Twtter storm backing Tianlang saying, ‘What message are we trying to send out to the world giving the 14 yr old kid a shot penalty today? It was a 6 hr round. Why single him out?’ The most worrying thing about McDowell’s comment is that a six hour round appears nothing unusual. And the reason it is not unusual is that so few players, and none of the world’s top ranking individuals, have been penalised.
Quite simply players are taking an age to hit the ball. Professional golf is a team game these days with a travelling entourage of mental and physical performance coaches, swing analysts, management consultants before we even get round to the players’ caddies. Out on the course players mentally prepare, they visualise the shot and then they go into their routine over the ball. It can be absolute agony to watch because it takes so long.
Keegan Bradley has more twitches and ticks than a sufferer of St Vitus dance whilst Kevin Na puts one in mind of the the PG Wodehouse golfer who ‘Missed short putts because of the uproar of the butterflies in an adjoining meadow.’ English golfer Eddie Pepperell ‘Tweeted’ from the PGA championship at Whistling Straits, ‘Na even backed off a shot today when someone moved the other side of Lake Michigan.’
The top two at Whistling Straits may be hugely appealing golfers but they could both move a lot more quickly. Day’s visualisation process is time consuming at its best and Spieth’s discussions with his caddy over putts, at one point even bringing out his course planner to consider notes made about contours, can take even longer. Spieth even refers to his team and answers ‘We’ when questioned about his play, something one could never imagine Jack Nicklaus doing. Nicklaus was hardly a whippet around the course himself but was still far faster than today’s number one*.
Factor in the preposterous lengths that courses are being stretched to now, especially when considering the likes of Chambers Bay and Whistling Straits where the players are walking more than 8,000 yards, when coupled with the pre-shot routine and it becomes a recipe for something approaching grid lock, particularly on par three holes.
At least the PGA championship does not have its honorary invitees as at the Open, US Open and the Masters, where a few fine old players of yesteryear invariably shoot somewhere in the mid 80s for two rounds before taking their leave, but it does include 20 club professionals, of whom 19 failed to make the cut this year. Scaling this figure down to a more realistic five might speed things up a fraction.
It seems impossible in this day and age to think of a time when two rounds a day were played on a Thursday and Friday to conclude an Open Championship to allow professionals to get back to work in their shops on a Saturday. Whilst that format is from many lifetimes ago it does show that golf at the highest level can be played quickly.
It is time that rounds were speeded up by the relevant championship authorities and this can only be done by penalising all those responsible not just a few rather than simply putting players ‘On the clock’ and then doing no more. To date the names of Sam Randolph and Ed Fryatt are the only two golfers in 35 years to join Tianlang in infamy as golfers to have received a penalty stroke for slow play.
The most common excuse given by those who decide not to play golf is the time it takes and the professional game shapes much of the perception of the sport. Acceptance of a round taking more than five hours anywhere simply damages the image of golf and until something is done it will continue to harm a game that, at the highest level, has much to be content about.
*At the time of writing this was Jordan Spieth.