Slow Play Scourge III

Morgan Pressel took a slow-play penalty in Sunday’s quarter-final match against Azahara Munoz in the Sybase Match Play Championship. It turned out to be fatal to the outcome of her match. Here’s the clinical report from the Golf Channel:

After Munoz and Pressel fell eight minutes behind pace on the 11th hole, LPGA rules officials placed the match on the clock at the 12th tee.

Once on the clock, a player has 30 seconds for each shot on the hole and an additional 10 seconds as a cushion. Pressel took a combined 129 seconds to play her three shots for par at No. 12, including 57 seconds for the tee shot. Since she exceeded the allotted time by 29 seconds, Pressel was penalized. In match play, the penalty is loss of hole. It would be a two-shot penalty in a stroke-play event.

It shocked Pressel. She appeared calm as she was informed by the official on the tee and then got ready to hit her tee shot, but she admitted later that it was “disheartening,” and “knocked the wind out of my sails.” She went from 3-up to just 1-up in the blink of an eye, the quiver of the official’s lips.

I have specifically addressed the slow play issue twice before.

In March of 2011, I wrote “Slow Play Scourge” because of general conversations during television broadcasts and as a way to keep the problem highlighted. “People have been talking about it for years, but some things never change,” I wrote. I highlighted the famous slow-play snub by Rory Sabbatini of Ben Crane and my own “bad time” Monday qualifying because a fellow competitor got us on the clock and the wind changed in the middle of my pre-shot routine.

But those were just stories to set up the premise of the post: that players play slowly because they don’t trust themselves. As part of their pre-shot routine, they take inordinate amounts of time analyzing, double-checking and then pondering some more. All of it in order to be truly committed to the shot, committed because everybody knows that’s the most important part of the shot. With commitment in place, the shot just naturally flows.

But the reason commitment is so important is that, on the other hand, players don’t trust themselves to just take a look, check the wind, pull a club and hit the shot. The import of the moment freezes them in their tracks. Why do we know this? Because they don’t play that slowly at home.

And just last week, I wrote “Slow Play Scourge II” in response to the Kevin Na’s inability to pull the trigger on his golf swing. And there, in addition to raising the issue of trusting themselves again, I introduced another explanation for slow play, consciousness.

I made the point that people are also slow because they don’t realize that they’re slow. And when someone suggests to them that they are slow, they offer the heartfelt explanation with a straight face, “Well, if everybody says I’m slow, I must be slow. But I don’t think I’m that slow.” They don’t know they’re slow because they’re not conscious that they are slow. They are thinking about other things, not their pace of play.

Unfortunately, Morgan Pressel had her consciousness raised in the worst possible way. On the other hand, it is the most effective way. As Tiger argued during the Players Championship, players don’t care that much about $5,000 fines, they care about strokes that cost them tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In Pressel’s case, she had the match in hand and, you never know, but it looked like she would prevail when she was hit with the penalty. The difference between the winner’s check of $375,000 and the 3rd place consolation check she did win of $150,000 is a sobering $225,000.

There are some who are upset that the officials called such a penalty in the heat of the match when there was so much on the line. But I’m not one of them. What’s an official to do, chose which rules they will enforce and which they’ll ignore? That’s why the PGA Tour is so chronically slow. They are not serious about enforcing their own rules. The last time the PGA Tour penalized a player was in 1995, when Glen Day received a 1-stroke penalty for slow play at the Honda Classic. Let me assist you with the math: that was 17 years ago!

So I applaud the LPGA Tour for adhering to their rules in accordance with one of the most basic rules of the game, 1 – 3. Agreement to Waive Rules:

Players must not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule or to waive any penalty incurred.

Tour officials shouldn’t be allowed to waive the rules either. Because when they do, you get the stultifying anarchy the PGA Tour continues to suffer under.

So thank you Morgan Pressel for highlighting all of this for us again. We are so sorry for your loss and that it was such a personal and visible event. But one of these days, a very public event such as yours will finally move Tours to do what they should have been doing all along.

And when the Tour players finally pick up the pace of their play and the rest of the world sees it in all its living-color glory, maybe, just maybe, the pace of play will improve all across the lands. And you, dear Morgan, can say that you were the one who started the whole thing. And saved the game of golf.

Call me a romantic.

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