R&A's McArthur to slow players: Damn the tortoises
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – In the music-to-our-ears category, the officials of the R&A announced a concerted effort at the British Open to crack down on the slow-play tortoises who have blighted the game.
“We have a pace of play policy, which we intend to apply stringently,” said Jim McArthur, the chairman of the championship committee. “This year the R&A championship committee are putting slow play as priority.”
In a strikingly refreshing take on a critical subject that the PGA Tour has proven loathe to tackle, the R&A has warned players in the Open Championship that it will not hesitate to enforce slow play with penalty strokes if necessary.
The tournament has set the bar at 4 hours, 30 minutes for the threesomes in the first two rounds and 3 hours, 45 minutes when twosomes play on the weekend. Weather conditions, however, will be considered in adjusting those target times.
Warnings will start with “words of encouragement” to pick up the pace, to be followed by groups getting put “on the clock” and penalties assessed for violators if necessary.
McArthur could not remember the last time a player was assessed a penalty in the Open for slow play.
“We’ve obviously got to take into account the weather conditions and other mitigating circumstances,” McArthur said. “But we would have no hesitation if we felt the players were over time to take the appropriate action and to tell not only a group of players, but as we have allowed for in the policy to time individual players if we felt that was appropriate.”
Should the group times in the first round grossly exceed the target time, McArthur said “groups that we felt were perhaps not as quick as we would like” would get at least a lecture before the second round.
“I have to say to you, we are intent on doing what we can to improve the pace of play in golf,” he said. “I mean, I think we feel that particularly maybe not so much at professional golf but certainly amateur golf that slow play is, in some ways, if not killing the game, is killing the club membership because of the time it takes to play. ... We’re doing whatever we feel we can in the circumstances to contribute to improving the pace of play.
“But it needs to be a concerted effort, not just the R&A, not just the tours, but the golf unions and other golf organizations to, I think, come to a coordinated effort to improve the speed. Personally I think we should be aiming in club amateur golf for three-and-a-half hours maximum for a threeball. Perhaps elite amateurs, four hours. These should be maximum times, and we should be trying to improve these at all times.”
During both the Masters Tournament and U.S. Open this year, first- and second-round times significantly exceeded five hours and pushed the last groups to finishing near nightfall. That is not a concern at the British Open, where daylight extends to well after 9 p.m. and the full 156-player field is sent off the first tee box.
Rickie Fowler, considered one of the faster players on tour, doesn’t mind the attention brought on the issue.
“I definitely think that there is some common sense that will have to be used at times where certain things take a little bit longer than others, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to see the game speed up a little bit,” Fowler said. “There’s no reason to have waits on tees when you’re playing twosomes.
“I definitely think things can be sped up a little bit, and some guys end up playing a little better when they end up on the clock and have to move through the process a little quicker and maybe not think as much.”