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The European Tour’s announcement of a shot clock trial during next year’s Austrian Open should be cause for celebration. I can’t help feeling it’s just the latest case of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.
Each group during next June’s Austrian Open will have a referee. Players will be allocated 40 seconds per shot. Any player who exceeds the 40 seconds will be given a warning. Subsequent breaches will result in one-shot penalties.
Ironically, this news broke during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where rounds often take six hours. The news also came after the final trio of Paul Dunne, Robert Karlsson and Richie Ramsay took four hours and 58 minutes to complete the last round of the British Masters. Dunne shot 61, Karlsson 66 and Ramsay 69, so these guys weren’t spending time looking for balls.
I placed the word trial in the lead sentence in quotes because the European Tour tried a shot clock during the GolfSixes event this year. It was a big success. Players proved they could play quickly when required. Only one player was penalized under the system. Paul Peterson suffered a one-shot penalty, which proved detrimental to Team USA’s chances of advancing in the competition.
GolfSixes showed the system works. Hence the obvious question: Why does it have to be tried again? And why wait until the Austrian Open in June. Presumably the European Tour is quite happy for many of its members to imitate snails up until that point. That’s actually an insult to snails some gastropods move much faster than some tour pros.
The cynic in me thinks this is another example of the European Tour kicking the problem farther down the road. European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley discussed the issue of slow play 18 months ago. During the 2016 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Pelley huddled with journalists and promised he was going to act on the game’s biggest problem, one I think is slowly killing golf.
Our aspirational goal is to cut 15 minutes off a round on a daily basis, Pelley said. We feel that is significant.
The then new chief executive announced a two-pronged monitoring and timing policy to force players to speed up. Chief referee John Paramor said referees would no longer warn players they were out of position and then leave them to get on with it. He promised a different approach.
We feel we are going to have to stay with the players so we will be able to see every shot played from the moment we identify that they are out of position so we can see who the problem is, Paramour said. They are the ones who will get these monitoring penalties which can end up being costly.
The problem with the system Pelley announced then was there wasn’t much incentive for players to change their habits because the tour handed out monetary fines instead of stroke penalties. Jordan Spieth was fined around $2,800 for picking up two bad times in Abu Dhabi. Fining millionaire golfers minimal sums for slow play is plainly ludicrous, notwithstanding the fact Spieth received a reported $1 million appearance fee to play in the Middle East.
The proof Pelley and the Tour’s initiative hasn’t worked is in the pudding. Eighteen months later and rounds haven’t got any quicker. Even worse, we must wait until June for them to speed up.
There is absolutely no need to test a slow-play clock another time. I’ve been arguing for one for about 20 years. It’s such a no-brainer I can’t believe it’s taken all this time for one tour to approve it. As GolfSixes proved, it works. The only problem with GolfSixes was the clock was only used on one hole. It should have been used on every hole. It should be used for every three-ball, every pairing in every tournament.
There will be those who argue a referee with every group is expensive. That argument falls down when we look at the money these guys are playing for. Take the money out of the prize fund to pay for the extra referees.
If I was in charge of the European Tour I’d launch the policy now. We’ve spent too much time parked on slow play. The time is right for us to knock it out of the game once and for all. The sooner the better.
(Note: This story appears in the Oct. 16, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)
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