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Slow play gone for too long
The sports media these days loves to generate stories that spawn bad publicity, the break-up in the relationship of Tiger Woods and caddie Steve Williams being a case in point

The 2012 season had hardly begun before a great furore arose (yet again!) regarding slow play. This has been an issue in the professional game since the 1950s, when Bobby Locke, the greatest player of the day, was chastised for being slow. When I was starting off on the golfing trail, professionals had no desire to play with Locke – this being because they considered 2 hours 50 minutes to be far too long for a twoball! And, remember, in those days the spectators were allowed on the fairways and round the greens and Locke, who always had the largest gallery, had to get through the crowds to play his second shot, again to get on to the green, again to get off it, so it was hardly surprising that playing with him took longer than it did with anyone else. When asked about his time spent in the United States, Locke replied:

“I learnt to play slowly.” Sad to say, the modern professionals have learnt from the old master amazingly well.

The most recent culprit of the phenomenon has perhaps been Keegan Bradley, winner of the USPGA Championship in 2011 and already making a mark this year. His routine is rather laughable as well as slow plus, on top of all his posturing, he’s a great spitter, apparently owing to the fact that he chews sunflower seeds. Now spitting is indeed ugly and horrible, but in general it does not have the same detrimental impact as slow play.

Slow play will not end until the players themselves decide that enough is enough. In fact, they decide that’s it’s gone on for too long. There are timing rules in the regulations governing play, but I think these are a waste of time. The truth is that any game slowed down becomes a bore. Take tennis. Some players bounce the ball 18 or 20 times before serving. That often goes into the net, so they have to do it all over again. (Then there’s the grunting, but let’s not get started on that here.)

And so on to something else – the media. How many times have we seen stories about a football manager being about to get the sack. The press agitate, probe, annoy – like poking a stick through the bars of a cage to enrage the gorilla. And this behaviour has percolated into golf. You‘d have thought Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood had suddenly become the greatest of enemies, such were the reports of their semi-final match in the recent World Match Play Championship in Arizona. And how parts of the media adored the story of the Tiger Woods/Steve Williams split!

Of course, McIlroy and Westwood – especially the former – have, God willing, a few good years left yet. But I do sometimes wonder for how much longer will Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Colin Montgomerie and even Darren Clarke continue to play in front of the massed thousands? I was delighted for Darren when he won the Open Championship at Royal St George’s last year but since then, for whatever reason, the light in his game is spluttering like a worn-out candle. Will he and the others recapture some of their wonderful form during the coming year and beyond or will they follow the trail of John Daly, winner of two major championships but now reduced pretty much to being like a fairground attraction?

‘Roll up, roll up, come and see the mighty Daly, Max Miller pants and all.’

Sport is cruel, as I have remarked before. It’s great when things are going well, but there are few other professions where your skills are checked every week. Doctors, dentists and accountants don’t have regular reviews emblazoned in front of the watching world, telling how they failed at some critical moment or how Lady Luck deserted them when her help was most needed. But the golfing bandwagon rolls on. There are still fortunes to be played for. It appears more financially well-grounded than, say, the world of football. There, some great clubs are struggling to survive; some owe millions despite having packed houses at every home game, with their players earning tens of thousands of pounds a week, and yet Joe Public doesn’t chastise them like he does those involved the world of high finance. I wonder why?

If football has its woes, there remains a great deal of money in golf, even if the recently victorious Tiger Woods has really yet to perform like he used to do. And good luck to all the players as they go about try to earn their own particular share of it. I just wish they’d do a bit more hurrying up while they go about it.

May 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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