Lost amid the celebration, the pats on the back and the self-congratulations on the success of the PGA Championship, an underlying problem in golf – professional and rank-and-file – bubbled to the surface late Saturday evening.
The last two groups of threesomes in the third round of the PGA Championship played 18 holes of golf in 5 hours, 40 minutes. And no one in charge said a word, at least not publicly. Of all the governing bodies, the PGA of America has the most responsibility to take the lead to solve golf’s biggest issue.
The PGA of America represents 28,000 club professionals in the U.S., who are on the front lines every day, trying to get the golfers at their courses around 18 holes in a decent pace. If you’ve ever been at a daily fee course on a busy day, you know what the pros are up against.
But to ignore such an egregious example of slow play at its biggest championship, the PGA turns its back on its own stated values. How are we to grow the game by giving a blind eye to one of the things that keep people from coming to our game and drive some people away from it.
To be fair, the PGA of America deals with this – or chooses not to deal with it – only once a year. While that doesn’t abdicate its responsibility, we can’t lay the entire blame on the slow-play problem at the feet of the club pros.
Where the real issue lies is with the PGA Tour, whose officials day in and day out are supposed to keep their players moving. If you ask anyone at the level of vice president and above at the Tour if there’s a pace-of-play problem, they will publicly deny it. They mistakenly believe that their internal policing of the time it takes to play is sufficient by itself.
They’re wrong. The PGA Tour chooses to pay no more than lip service to its own inability to have leaders on the weekend play in less than 5½ hours. The Tour hands out a few insignificant fines to a handful of dawdlers and washes its hands of the rest.
Nothing significant will ever happen concerning slow play until the Tour – or any governing body – hits the guilty with penalty shots. That’s the only thing touring professionals understand. They can pay the fines in cash on the spot with what they have in their money clips.
And that’s where the PGA of America should come in. Wouldn’t it be brave of the PGA to hand out penalty shots in the middle of its championship? Wouldn’t it tell the rest of the golf world that it draws a line in the sand about pace of play and intends to seriously do something about it?
But that’s never going to happen. There is a faction that says the best players in the world are playing for millions of dollars every week and are playing for history in the four major championships. They should be allowed to take as much time as they need. Officials of the governing bodies are reticent to affect the outcome of a championship with a penalty stroke for slow play.
And that’s why if we are going to do anything about how long it takes to play golf, we will have to do it ourselves. The USGA tried the “While We’re Young” campaign with little measurable success.
So, speeding up play will depend on you and your foursome. That’s where it starts. Play ready golf. When it’s your turn, don’t waste time. Measure the distance to the flag while someone else is hitting. Line up your putt while someone else is putting. When you’re past double bogey, pick up. When you’re out of the hole, pick up.
We all want to play real golf, but we can do so at a quicker pace. All grassroots movements start with the individual. Play faster. It will rub off on the rest of your foursome.
Pay no attention to the Tour players. Left alone, they will grind big-time golf to an agonizing halt.