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Slow play furor was a good reminder to keep up

The controversy over slow play in the final round of last week's Bridgestone Invitational brought to light one of golf's bugaboos.

How big of a problem slow play represents depends on who you ask. During a line of questioning early this week at the PGA Championship, a reporter said it's strangling the game. Others aren't quite so ready to sound a death knell over it.

Gauging by the reaction of local club professionals, it's somewhere in between.

"I think it's a problem," says Scott Lusk of Stone Ridge. "I don't think it's the most serious problem in golf."

Stewart Meadows' Danny Coughlin believes slow play has contributed to a stunting of the sport's growth.

"The game of golf is not growing," he says. "It's staying the same. One of the reasons is, it's taking too long to be able to play a round of golf. People watch the pros on TV and see them taking forever. They try to emulate the pros, and then they take forever."

The issue grabbed the spotlight on Sunday when the group of Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington was warned to speed up on the 16th hole. In doing so, Harrington hit a couple wayward shots that resulted in a triple bogey and effectively decided the tournament.

On the PGA Tour, players have 40 seconds to hit a shot once it becomes their turn. The first violation results in a warning. The second results in a one-shot penalty and a $5,000 fine — a penalty that hasn't been doled out in 17 years. Subsequent violations would command stiffer penalties.

And if you think the PGA is serious about slow play, consider the LPGA.

The women's tour allows players 30 seconds on their shots. There's no warning on the first infraction. They are immediately assessed a two-shot penalty. With a second breach comes disqualification.

There are no such ramifications in public play, but the public should be aware that pace is important, no matter the level.

Eighteen holes should not take five hours, says Coughlin.

The pros on TV have it "down to a science," he says, when they consider the impact a 5-mph breeze will have on their ball as they mull which club to hit.

Similarly, when the best players in the world view putts from every angle, they know what they're doing and do so with a purpose. The general public probably doesn't gain much by doing the same.

"There are different types of slow players," says Lusk. "Some, it's because of a lack of aptitude. They're beginners, and you don't expect them to play fast. But a lot of times, the biggest violators are people you see out there all the time. They get out there and they're gambling little bit — I do that, too — and they line up that little Nassau putt like the guys on TV lining up a $500,000 putt.

"Definitely, people could play a little more quickly, on the average."

There are consequences for slow play in the public arena. It's not uncommon for a group being held up to yell for those ahead to speed up. On rare occasions, physical confrontations ensue.

If there's a problem, says Lusk, the pro shop or a marshal should be contacted.

The worse thing one can do, he says, is to hit into the offending group in an effort to spur them.

"When you start hitting into people, that's when tempers flare," he says. "The golf course is no place for that kind of behavior. But it does happen. Boys will be boys, especially when they're drinking some of that beer stuff."

The best rule of thumb, say Coughlin and Lusk, is to mind your place on the course.

"A lot of people at public golf courses, their attitude is, 'Where is the group behind us?'" says Coughlin. "It should be about the group ahead of them."

Lusk agrees.

"Your place on the golf course is immediately behind the group ahead of you, not the group behind you," he says. "Then you hope the group teeing off at 6:15 in the morning is a fast group."

Here are some other tips to help keep your pace of play up:

  • Walk at a reasonable speed between shots.
  • Play ready golf. Whoever's ready to hit should hit. That flies in the face of golf rules, which stipulate the player furthest away hits. But unless it's a tournament, feel free to break the rule.
  • Play the appropriate set of tees. Beginners or those with handicaps of 20 or higher shouldn't set up on the back tees, for instance. Playing tees conducive to your game will also add to the enjoyment.
  • When it's your turn, be ready to step up and hit. Consider your next shot and club selection on the way to your ball or while a partner is taking his turn. Same holds true when reading greens. Do it when you get there.
  • If you're uncertain whether your ball is inbounds, hit a provisional rather than facing the prospect of returning to the tee. And have an extra ball in your pocket.
  • Mark your scorecard at the next tee, not while lingering at the green just played.
  • If you're coaching someone or providing tips, save it for the driving range, or at least be certain you aren't slowing things down.
  • Don't spend an inordinate amount of time looking for a lost ball. If it's a social round, take a minute or so, then drop one. If you're going to take longer, allow the group behind you to play through.
  • On the tee, watch each other's shots so they're easily found. Also, let shorter hitters go first rather than waiting for the fairway to clear for the long hitters.
  • Don't mark lag putts. Step up and knock them in.
  • Turn your cell phone off, or leave it in the car.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com