The late Pat Ward-Thomas, esteemed golf correspondent of The Guardian, had a phrase he liked to trot out if a player took too long over a putt – “Doesn’t he realise my life is ebbing away?” And he was writing in the 1960s, well before J.B. Holmes was a slow-moving thought in anyone’s mind.
At last year’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, San Diego, Holmes took over four minutes to decide whether to go for the par-five 18th green in two. He needed an eagle to get into a playoff. After that deliberation, he laid up. Last month at the Genesis Open in Los Angeles, Holmes won the tournament, but not until after his group, which also included Adam Scott and Justin Thomas (i.e. there were no hackers involved), had taken five and a half hours to complete their rounds. The previous month at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Bryson DeChambeau, holding a seven-shot advantage playing the final hole, took 90 seconds to hit his final wedge shot.
This has got to stop. But it won’t, at least so says Scott, who had (he probably wished) an armchair view of Holmes’ victory at Riviera. “There’s a big feeling that we play slow, and we do,” he said. “But until television and sponsors say ‘you guys play too slow and we’re not putting money up’, it’s not going to change.” Brooks Koepka, who has won three major championships in the past two seasons, said: “We have rules where the caddie can’t be behind you and they also have a rule where you have to hit in 40 seconds, but that one is not enforced.” And if the odd fine is levied, what is a couple of grand to a multi-millionaire? The only action that could achieve the desired outcome would be penalty shots for slow play. Whatever you do, don’t hold your breath.
In a recent column in Golf World magazine, Justin Rose, who has latterly been vying with Koepka and Dustin Johnson for the world No. 1 ranking, wrote: “I think it’s getting a little out of hand and you’re seeing guys taking an inordinate amount of time to hit shots, and that’s not fair. That needs to be aggressively stamped out.” Personally, stamping it out gently would be fine, too, but I’m sure that Scott’s take on the matter is accurate. It’s rather sad; it certainly can’t help attracting more people to follow the sport or to take it up.
Koepka has said he will sometimes take a toilet break early in a round, not because he needs to but because that takes time and his group will then have to play at a brisker pace in order to avoid a sanction, however feeble that might be. Which reminds me. Last summer it was announced that Manchester United had concluded a “multi-year sponsorship” with Kohler, the company founded by Herb Kohler whose Whistling Straits golf course will host next year’s Ryder Cup and whose company makes bathroom fittings. Assuming Koepka makes the US team, which is a not unreasonable prospect, at least he can figure the on-course rest rooms will be of an acceptable standard. And heaven knows the pace of play at the Ryder Cup can be glacial, despite the fact that it’s matchplay. But then no one gets put on the clock at the Ryder Cup, so Brooks would just have to grimace and bear it – like the rest of us.
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