Golf: The cancer of slow play at professional level

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Rounds of golf that can take a total of five hours or more; players who are diplomatically described as being "methodical" or "deliberate"; inordinate waiting times on tee boxes for greens or fairways to clear.

The cancer of slow play is a problem that affects every professional tour around the world, and a variety of methods has been implemented in a bid to resolve the issue.

On the U.S. PGA Tour, players are fined $20,000 if they get 'put on the clock' for slow play a minimum of 10 times during a single season.

In January, the European Tour introduced a new 'monitoring penalty' which can lead to one stroke being docked from the score of a multiple offender.

Five players were given penalties by the European Tour after the first three events where the policy was implemented, among them American world number two Jordan Spieth who is renowned for his 'deliberate' play.

For England's world number 10 Justin Rose, the problem of slow play is more of a general traffic issue than a problem caused by individual players.

"If you try and drive home in no time at all during rush hour, you're obviously not going to be able to do it," Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, told Reuters.

"With 156 guys on the golf course you're going to run into slow play, not because we're playing slowly but because of the traffic on the golf course.

"Over the years, the PGA Tour literally and metaphorically has brought the ropes in tighter and tighter upon us. They're trying to give fans and sponsors more and more access and a greater experience, so with that comes more distractions too."

A 10-MINUTE SAVING

If concerted efforts were made by players to complete rounds more quickly, Rose felt that an improvement of only 10 minutes, at best, would be achieved over 18 holes.

"And really is that worth the whole hassle of what it would entail?" the Englishman said. "Do we need to monitor and do we need to keep on top of guys? Absolutely, but I think the real solution is the traffic on the golf course.

"On the right kind of golf course, like Colonial, guys are whipping it around in three hours and 20 minutes, even less than that, and that's with guys grinding (taking time) on three or four-foot putts."

American Brandt Snedeker, a fast-talking winner of eight PGA Tour titles who is known for his speedy play on the course, has long felt that rounds taking five hours or more was "unacceptable" at the professional level.

"Granted there are a lot of tough golf courses and we've got big fields and we need to get around," Snedeker said. "I understand that, and the Tour staff does a great job of trying to make the golf course play as fast as possible.

"But the way our policy is set up, there is no real penalty for playing slow. You might get fined a little bit of money, but guys put aside that money at the beginning of the year knowing it's going to happen and they go ahead and do it.

"That's a flawed policy if guys are okay with that. We need to have a policy where if you break a rule there is a penalty attached to it. Our policy should be a stroke penalty. If you have two bad times in a round, then you get the shot penalty."

The last time a player was handed a one-stroke penalty during a regular PGA Tour event was 21 years ago at the Honda Classic where Glen Day was docked for taking too much time.

Like Snedeker, Rose believes the re-introduction of a one-shot policy would have the greatest effect in speeding up play.

"I'm not sure that an end-of-season fine is the fairest rule but, at the same time, you would be very unlucky to be timed 10 times by being in bad groups if you're not the slow player," said Rose.

"I think docking shots is the way that guys will get the most afraid."

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