SLOW PLAY: SOMETHING MUST BE DONE

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Many Europeans did not to see Trevor Immelman win the Masters – because it took too long. Mark Garrod writes on slow play

The winning of a major should be one of those must-see moments in a golf season.
Yet many people in Europe did not stay up to see Trevor Immelman’s
Masters victory because it just took too long.
Five hours 10 minutes for a two-ball to play 18 holes – what on earth was going on and why on earth can’t something be done about it?
The issue was raised this week by the Royal and Ancient Club at a meeting of all the game’s governing bodies in Florida, but while news of the outcome of that gathering is awaited the European Tour’s senior referee has spoken about that day at Augusta and the efforts already going on to speed up the sport.
Andy McFee is the man who fined England’s Simon Khan £8,000 at the Irish Open three years ago for taking 16 seconds too long over a shot and he was one of the officials on duty in the The Masters.
Khan was also fined £4,000 the week before, but while he has got his act together and not fallen foul of the system since it is clear the problem has not gone away.
McFee does point out, though, that there were some extenuating circumstances at Augusta.
“The last few groups were slowed down by a lengthy ruling after Andres Romero hit into the water behind a leaderboard on the 11th,” he explained.
“He dropped out of the hazard, then had to take further relief and it was very difficult to give it because you just couldn’t see the flag.
“Then there was the debris coming onto the greens, more than I’ve ever seen before. It was a windy day and seven of the greens on the back nine had to be blown.
“When you are doing that on the 11th green players can’t tee off on 12, when it’s on 12 players can’t tee off on 13 and so on. Clearly you can’t putt at Augusta with debris on the greens, so there was just no way round it – players had to wait.
“The Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman games were timed right through to the 17th hole because they were a bit slow. It couldn’t all be explained by the hold-ups, but while they were on the clock there were no bad times at all.”
All tours have pace of play guidelines and Europe takes a tougher line than America.
In Europe it is 50 seconds for first member of a group as opposed to a minute in America and for the other players in the group it is 40 seconds in Europe and 50 seconds in America.
“I don’t believe we have a problem that is getting worse,” added McFee. “We have a pretty robust system and there are a lot of groups timed.
“But with a 156-strong field on the first two days you can’t get round quicker than four and a half hours and while the amount of players is a subject for debate we are a players’ organisation wanting to create opportunities because opportunity is the future.
“The stars of tomorrow have got to start somewhere.
“The guys nowadays hit the ball an awful long way, so there are very few par fives which aren’t reachable and there are driveable par fours. That again means that players have to wait.
“You get natural choke points on the course because of it and that’s nothing to do with people playing slowly. It’s just the way the professional game is.
“We try to limit the amount of time guys are standing and waiting, but we can’t eliminate it.
“There’s also the fact that the penalties for making a mistake are very severe, so rulings are called. And we have a number of courses where the rough is exceptionally penal and if you lose a ball in it that’s a five-minute search.
“We’re doing what we can, though, because we know it’s important. Firstly, because there are people playing with you and behind you and you should be courteous to your fellow competitors.
“Secondly, because television tell us what time they want to finish and we need to deliver that. Obviously satellite time is expensive and if we over-run it has a big impact.
“Thirdly, people’s schedules are affected. Costs are incurred if we run late and flights are missed.
“The message is that when you get out on tour you better come with a game that is quite speedy because otherwise you will have a referee tailing you.
“Under our system there are cumulative fines once players have had three bad times in a season – and they are pretty hefty – while two bad times in a round will incur a one-stroke penalty.
“It doesn’t happen much because we’re required to tell them when they’ve had one bad time and they generally know what to do to avoid the second, but we’ve had 15 in the last 10 years.”
The most talked-about one was Seve Ballesteros at the 2003 Italian Open. He refused to accept it and was disqualified.
“There are also cumulative fines once you’ve been timed 15 times during a season.
“We are willing to help. We video players and then talk about ways they can improve.
“Slow players are coming to us and saying ‘Help’. They are fed up of us being there watching them, but we’re not going to go away just because they don’t like us there.”

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