There has been recent talk about slow play in golf again in the past few weeks. This topic comes up every year and all anyone talks about is how the game takes too long.
Recently the topic was brought up with a video comparing Danielle Kang to guys running a half-mile race. The caption read "can Kang hit an 8-foot putt before someone can run a half-mile". There is one main problem with the comparison. The day of the LPGA tournament Danielle was playing in had high winds with gusts up to 40mph. You can see in the video leaves blowing across the green and the trees in the background bending. When the ball is wobbling on the greens and debris is blowing across the green any golfer will take longer lining up to attempt their putt.
The issue with Danielle Kang brought up the talks of slow play locally and on the PGA Tour. First, let's talk about the myths of slow play at a local level.
Slow play for the most part is a perception that each individual golfer has. Every golfer has their version of an "ideal" round of golf when it comes to how long it takes to play. For example, I like my golf round at about 4hrs. I tend to play my best when taking my time and while moving at a good pace. A good pace to me means no groups rushing me and not waiting on any shots or a group ahead of me.
To explain perception further while I was working as a club pro there was a group that had been complaining of slow play every Saturday for about a month. Stating out marshalls were not doing their job. As a result, I decided to join the group one weekend to time them. I made sure they all left their phones and watches in the clubhouse for this test. I set a timer the moment we got to the first tee and stopped it once we were all off the last green. We waited a few times on the group ahead but for the most part, we were consistently moving. After asking each golfer how long they thought we were out there I got three very different answers. One who is always in a hurry and never takes a practice swing thought we played the longest, 4hrs 30min. Another who takes multiple practice swings felt rushed and said we played in 3hrs and 30 min. The third golfer whose personality is between the other two felt we played at 4hrs 25min. The truth of the timer said we played in 3hrs and 52 min.
One thing I find most troubling about the conversation of slow play is why are we not talking about the main issue of golfers being in too much of a hurry. Why do golfers want to play in 3hrs now? In my opinion, if you do not have at least 5-6 hrs of your day, including driving time, to dedicate to golf then maybe you shouldn't play that day. Or play 9-holes or an executive course if time is an issue. Golf is a leisure sport and it's outdoors in beautiful nature. Golfers should be relaxing and enjoying it. Instead, so many golfers are in a hurry to get off the course and be somewhere else.
All that said there are days that golf can be slow. Other factors that contribute to that are course difficulty, which may cause golfers extra shots and time searching for golf their golf ball in the rough. The golf course may set their tee times too close together instead of spreading golfers out at the start. Lastly, if the course is iconic or has beautiful views golfer may take their time getting pictures and soaking up the whole experience.
Now that we have taken a look at the local level of slow play there is the other half of the conversation. Why is professional golf slow?
Professional golf has a few factors that make the game at that level slower. Some are the player's fault and some are not. Many viewers only see what is on tv and do not know about other factors that may slow a professional golfer. Like a tee box being close to a green and one group waiting for the other to play so the crowd doesn't affect the other.
First, let's talk about what players do that slows them down. These are things I have personally witnessed playing professionally. The main issue is when they are on the green. Instead of looking at their putt from all angles, they choose to while other golfers are playing their chip or putt they wait until it is their turn to look at the putt, walk around the green, and read the putt from multiple angles before going through their routine to line the putt up and take a stroke. If I was closer to the hole than others in my group I would walk to the opposite side of my putt while one golfer played, then before the next golfer played I would walk behind my ball to get a read there. By the time it was my turn to play all I needed to do is line my ball up and hit my putt.
Professional golfers also do a similar thing in the fairway. When the furthest golfer is preparing for their shot they wait until that golfer has played before getting their own yardages. Unless I would be in the way of a golfer I would walk off my yardages and calculate my shot at the same time the player away did the same.
One thing that falls on both the players and the tour is when they need to call in a rules official. Professional golfers know the rules yet instead of playing by them and taking the action they know to be right they call in a rules official. That official may take some time to get there, then the process of discussion will also take some time. This eventually slows the group and holds up the group behind them.
The thing that the tournament or tour does wrong that slows play drastically is having too many golfers in the field. Most professional tours have 144-156 golfers in the field with split tee times in both the morning and afternoon. Most tournaments have groups of three with players teeing off in 10min increments for 2hrs 10min. 36-42 golfers. What happens here is the first groups to tee off on holes 1 & 10, that are setting the pace for the event, end up waiting for groups to finish their start when they make the turn. Once one group waits 10min so does the next and suddenly the entire event is backed up. If the professional tournaments kept events under 140 golfers with tee times for no longer than 1hr 50 min the pace may speed up.