August 22, 2012

Professional golf faces pace of play predicament

I started playing golf when I was 4 years old, continue to play the game today and watch the sport on television regularly. Throughout it all, there is one thing about the game that annoys me more than anything else: slow players.

I am not alone in this mindset, and the issue has turned up again on the PGA tour after Kevin Na’s performance at the Players Championship last weekend.

Na, who held the lead after three rounds, eventually lost the tournament to Matt Kuchar but still managed to grab more headlines after some severely slow play.

Na is one of the tour’s lesser known players in terms of talent and success but his pre-shot routine is widely known for featuring multiple waggles and back offs. He is notorious for studying putts for unnecessary amounts of time and regularly takes over five hours to play a round.

As someone who can easily play a round of golf in three hours, I am fully on the side of those who believe habits like these should be eliminated. While some players and fans think that providing more consistent warnings during the round will solve the problem, many others believe that a penalty stroke should be incurred after just one instance of slow play. I am in favor of the latter choice, as it will get rid of the problem completely. Yes, there will be initial blowback, but eventually people will get used to it.

That being said, I do understand why players like Na exist.

Golf is a game of concentration, and it requires a sound mind more than any other sport. Think about it, the time a player actually takes to strike the ball over the course of a round does not add up to 10 minutes, maybe not even five. The rest of the time is spent walking to the ball, and thinking about what you should do next.

Not taking enough time to think through a situation cost me many times while I was playing competitively in high school, and I often regret not having gotten used to playing a little slower growing up.

Add in the fact that Na and the rest of the players on the tour are vying for enormous purses (Kuchar netted over $1.7 million with the victory), something with which I was certainly never faced, and it makes sense why someone would want to be as meticulous as possible in order to perform their best.

But while slow play has reasonable causes, players like Na still need to realize golf is a game, and taking over five hours to play a round kills the entertainment value for viewers.

Television viewers like things in a nicely fitted package. Every pro football game fits into a perfect three hour window, which is why, among many other things, it is the most watched sport in the country. While golf, much like baseball, will never run in perfect time due to a lack of a game clock, the fact is, the game can be played in fairly consistent amount of time.

This is not a personal attack on Na, who is also known for his quiet, friendly demeanor and did not deserve the parade of boo birds that he received during the tournament’s final round, but players like him will continue to exist in the future if nothing is done to address the issue.

Now, of course this is not my decision or even the professional’s decision to make. It is in the hands of the PGA tour, notorious for its lack of clarity on the issue.

But since this happened at the Players Championship (known for the pseudonym of “The Games Fifth Major”) there is a higher likelihood that meaningful action will be taken.

Additionally, the PGA is currently facing scorn for continuing to support the Masters, despite the fact that Augusta National Golf Club does not admit female members. This is an opportunity for the Tour to finally listen to the fan base.

If they don’t, some golf fans may have to find a relief in watching professional paint drying.

Jackson White
Jackson White is a senior double majoring in political science and secondary education. This is his third year as a sports editor for TKS. Over the course of the 2010-2011 academic year, Jackson worked for, writing feature stories and columns about high school and college baseball in central Illinois. Outside of the Publications Office, he is an information assistant for the Knox College Sports Information Department and a two-time all-Midwest Conference baseball player. Jackson is the recipient of five awards from the Illinois College Press Association, including two first place awards for sports game coverage and sports page design.

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