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Golf in perpetual slo-mo
It's hard to believe (and tedious to watch) but golf seems to get slower and slower by the year. What to do? How about making everyone in a sluggish threeball pay the penalty? That might shake things up...

Lt. Cdr John St John Pharte, CDM and Bar, RN Retired, and Captain Horatio Reilly-ffloulle, late of the Royal Yorkshire Foot & Mouth, were enjoying a cup of coffee in their newly refurbished clubhouse. Much of what they saw they liked but they felt it still required a woman’s touch. Fat chance of that in a golf club, of course.

Over recent weeks they had enjoyed a feast of televised golf, but surely none of it had been as riveting as the fare laid on from Firestone in the World Golf Championship event in August. Padraig Harrington had looked a most likely winner when he stood a stroke ahead of Tiger Woods with three holes to play, but it wasn’t to be. While Tiger made an exquisite four on the par five, Padraig managed to run up an eight. It was a very ugly eight at that (but, they pondered, are there any pretty ones?), involving a visit to the lake with his fourth shot.

Handshakes all round at the end of the WGC tournament at Firestone, but did the fact that Padraig Harrington had to rush affect the outcome and gift victory to Tiger Woods?

Afterwards it was disclosed that John Paramor, the most respected of rules’ adjudicators, had approached Harrington and Woods while they were playing the 16th hole and told them they were “on the clock”. In other words, get a move on!

They were not holding anyone up because they were the last pairing out and but one sensed that, due to television commitments, the powers- that-be wanted the job finished on time. Whether that warning contributed to Harrington's demise we will never know, although it could hardly have helped him. The man himself made no great fuss but Woods brought it to the attention of the golfing world – “It was a good battle between us; too bad it got ruined” – when in all truth it wasn't his fight. Still, perhaps easier to seem gracious when you’ve won, even if you slight a referee in the process.

The two old boys had been brought up in an era when 2½ hours was about the right time for a singles match played by two relatively talented golfers, never mind perhaps the best two players in the world. Certainly 2 hours 50, up to three hours maximum, was the time professionals took to go round a course, and all this when spectators were allowed to follow the players on the fairways and ring the greens and tees. Furthermore, it was done with just a handful of stewards in tow.

Slow play, slow play – what to do about it? The debate has been going on for much longer than a six-hour round. Unquestionably, the first famous golfer to be so chastised was Jack Nicklaus. There was talk of two-shot penalties being invoked. Nicklaus simply retorted: “Just start me at plus 2 because I can’t play any quicker!” And that, pretty well, was the end of that. The big boys were hardly, if ever, penalised. The people who were chastised were the relatively unknown assistants with little money, who ended up as the scapegoats for the rest of the field – hardly fair. (Well, there was that time with Seve in the Italian Open, but by then he was no longer a star.)

The old boys had noticed that Sunday’s play was often much quicker, especially from those players off early who had a plane to catch. Funnily enough, they frequently seemed to put their best rounds together when they went round in their fastest time of the week.

But what to do, what to do? The rules are made by the professionals but unfortunately they don’t abide by them. That’s not just in golf, they thought, but true for every sport played throughout the world. Players have a fairly good idea of the rules, they just don’t abide by them, and the powers-that-be are too nervous or afraid of litigation to apply the proper penalties.

St John Pharte and Reilly-ffoulle felt it would be sensible to knock an hour off the presently allotted time, which would mean each player in a threeball would have to save just over a minute per hole. That would surely not be too difficult a task. For every minute past the allotted time taken, a stroke or two would be added to the score, not only of the alleged culprit but also his playing partners. That would keep everybody on their toes! Slow play had percolated through the whole game of golf. The old boys could remember a time when people going on golfing holidays would play three rounds in a day. Yes, there may have been fewer players back then, but people got a move on, and unless somebody grabbed the nettle now, matters would continue to disintegrate.

Back to Tiger. They had enjoyed watching his trials and tribulations at the USPGA Championship. He had looked the odds-on winner with a round to go – some bookmakers paid out early on the assumption of his victory – and the TV commentators had all but awarded him the first prize on Saturday evening. But no, it was not to be. Y.E. Yang, a comparative journeyman pro from South Korea, held his nerve even though he was playing in the great man’s company. Woods, missing more putts in one round than probably he had in the previous two years, was beaten. Not humiliated – dammit, he did finish second – but still beaten, which for him is not good enough.

They decided it was pink-gin time. Gammon, the faithful steward, was loitering nearby and in a matter of seconds he had produced two snorters. He could see the old boys were slightly troubled, so he slipped in an extra measure for good luck. He knew in his heart of hearts that their thoughts, although slightly antiquated, were always close to being the answer to many a problem.

October 2009

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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