Taking the time to play Golf

The Genesis Open at Riviera has just reached a somewhat undramatic and relatively unexciting conclusion, yet people will be discussing it for weeks.

Was it due to the scenes of exhausted competitors dragging themselves up the final fairway after a gruelling physical challenge that caused much tongue-wagging? Or the sight of Jordan Spieth exploring every adjacent field to the fairway? Maybe it was Tiger looking back to his best as he carded a superb four-hole run of -5 in the third round?

The answer is no. None of those. All eyes were on winner JB Holmes – but not for the right reasons. Whilst JB should rightly be commended for making up five shots on the final round to pip Justin Thomas to the title, it is the manner in which he played that not only got people talking, but enraged much of the world of golf.

The issue that caused so much consternation was that old favourite gripe – Slow play.

JB’s putting routine brought comments of “Pathetic” and “Selfish” amongst others, from some of golf’s respected commentators, particularly so when he continued to ‘Plum-bob’ on tap-ins of less than 18 inches. It’s clearly a routine that works for him, as he ultimately lifted the trophy (Or maybe he bored his playing partners into submission?), but it won him few friends as he often waited until his partners had played up (Or out) before even beginning the routine.

At our level it’s even worse. Nobody in our society is good enough to get close to carding +50 over five rounds, never mind -14, yet we often have our frustrations about our playing partners in Society competitions as they drag the pace back to what seems zombie-like. I’m not going to mention names, as it wouldn’t be fair, but we have one ex-postman who continually asks “Whose turn is it?”, a Publican who appears to be playing in Neil Armstrong’s moon boots, a Stocktaker who forgets to look at his watch before embarking on his five-minute ball search allowance (Which always begins 40 yards further than the ball is often found), a couple of brothers who are known to have occasionally spent more time retrieving thrown golf clubs than using them, an Engineer too hungover to do much more than sleep on the rest benches between shots, a retired publican who…. Oh, you get the picture – We’re all guilty in some way, but when your round is going reasonably well, some bastard has to ruin it by playing slower, and it quite often looks unnecessary.

Many of the top players have lengthy routines: Bryson DeChambeau’s Air Density checks in Dubai were a great example of what we’d consider time wasted, and Jason Day, Keegan Bradley et al would spend all morning over a shot if allowed, seemingly going through rituals for no purpose - however the results seen would suggest otherwise, which is probably why we now see club and society golfers replicating plumb-bobbing and the like. The trouble is, you need to marry those routines up with 8 hours a day practice, and heavily influenced diets – which we just don’t do, so all that crouching, plumb-bobbing, chucking grass in the air and the like are not going to give you any advantage when you’re nursing a San Miguel hangover on a soggy Majorca course in October.

So now, we’ve seen new rules passed, with the emphasis on speeding up play. Ball searching time is reduced to three minutes, putts can be taken without removing the flag, drops are to be taken from knee height, and Out Of Bounds doesn’t need you to go back to the tee. This should speed the professional game up, and make for more watchable golf (Unless we see the aforementioned pros all drawn in the same group), but will it make any difference to our social and society golf? No. Definitely not – because none of this has taken into account that most of our little band of players are fat, old and lazy, and quite often waste enough time to sufficiently get their breath back. Nor does it take into account that all of our members can be irritating old bleeders on or off the course.

So, it’s business as usual after every round for us – drinks, insults, accusations, protestations, and then the realisation and acceptance that we aren’t going to change the pace of a 60-plus year old fat lad who just wants to go back home to his bed.

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