The PGA Tour pace of play is a question with no easy answers

By Doug Ferguson
Published on
The PGA Tour pace of play is a question with no easy answers

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Asked why he got off to a slow start at the majors last year, Jason Day mentioned that he was going too fast.

That was all it took to start a new year in golf with an old topic — pace of play — that produced recycled arguments without practical solutions.

Day said he wasn't as deliberate as he should have been over the second half of the season.

"Obviously, everyone wants to speed up the game. That's a big subject in golf," Day said. "In my opinion, I don't care so much about speeding up the game. I've got to get back to what makes me good. If that means I have to back off five times, then I'm going to back off five times before I have to actually hit the shot."

It was only five years ago at Kapalua that slow play was all the rage.

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Steve Stricker and Webb Simpson fell nearly two holes behind on the front nine of the Plantation Course. The final four pairings that week included Jonathan Byrd, Kevin Na and Ben Crane.

"Slow play is killing our sport," tweeted Luke Donald, at the time the No. 1 player in the world.

The sport isn't dead yet.

And there still hasn't been a penalty shot assessed on the PGA Tour since Glen Day at the 1995 Honda Classic.

Day raised a few interesting points. There is a massive difference between recreational golf and tournament golf. Beyond the fact that pros are competing for their jobs and millions of dollars, the golf courses they play have thicker rough and faster greens.

That can be viewed as either an excuse or an explanation.

The PGA Tour policy allows a player 50 seconds if he is the first to hit a particular shot, 40 seconds for the others in the group. But they only are timed when their group is out of position — a par 3 open ahead of them, or a longer hole that is open before they have hit their tee shots.

"You only have a certain amount of time if you're on the clock," Day said. "You look at Tiger, you look at Jack, those guys were deliberate — very deliberate. And you've got to do everything you possibly can. But if you're in position and you take a minute over the ball just to get what you need to ... that's fine. But if you're out of position, then everybody knows, 'Hey, we've got to move on.' I understand that."

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Day's comments was that he was only timed once last season.

Then again, it makes perfect sense.

As a multiple winner, Day gets tee times that are in the middle of a pack for the opening two rounds. PGA Tour fields typically have 144 players in the spring, 156 players in summer, and both are too large to get around quickly. So by the time Day tees off, the course already is clogged and it's next to impossible to fall out of position.

The PGA Tour has a policy that began in 2003 that fines players $20,000 if they are put on the clock 10 times in a season. The first player to be fined was Brent Geiberger, who raised the very point that explains why Day was timed only once last season.

"If you're in the first three groups, those are the ones trying to keep the pace up," Geiberger said in a 2004 interview. "If I'm in the middle of the field — the winner's bracket — and you're a minute or two over, they let it slide a little."

The tour would not deny this. The only cars going 20 mph should be in the traffic jam, not the pace car.

Day said what caused him to speed up — a relative term, indeed — was pressure from the media and his peers. No one wants to be classified as a slow player.

"But thinking about it like now, when I was playing and competing and doing really well, I forgot about that stuff," he said. "I didn't care what people thought, if I were slow or not, and I played better. But I still played fast enough."

Fast enough isn't always good enough. That's sure to cause some consternation, along with Day saying on two occasions that he doesn't care.

Slow play isn't going anywhere. Not caring will make it even worse.

Jordan Spieth doesn't want the reputation as a slow player. In the summer, he consciously tried to go faster when he had the club in hand because he felt he played better with what he called a "quick-fire." He felt he had slipped into the habit of overthinking.

But while Spieth said respect for other players was paramount, he had no problem with Day doing what he thought would give him the best chance to win.

"If Jason wants to be more deliberate and that's better for him, he should do that," Spieth said. "Honestly, guys should do what they're going to be most successful doing. This is the PGA Tour. This is our job."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.