ARDMORE, Pa. – There is no reason golf should take this long to play.
That’s why players at Merion for the U.S. Open received a notice when they registered that warned about pace of play. The fear was that slow play was damaging the game’s popularity, and the instructions in the notice could not have been clearer.
“Be observant, reach your decision quickly and execute your shots with promptness and dispatch.”
Just don’t get the idea anything will change. This notice was handed out at 1950 U.S. Open.
If the players at the U.S. Open this week would read David Barrett’s book, “Miracle at Merion,” on Ben Hogan’s victory at 1950, they might laugh.
Or maybe cry.
Joe Dey, the USGA’s executive director at the time, is quoted in the book as saying, “The time has come when we simply must act if the game is not to be seriously injured.”
The size of the field for the 1948 U.S. Open at Riviera was 171 players. It was lowered to 162 players the following year at Medinah, but that didn’t seem to help. Dey lamented that the first group (threesomes) took 3 hours, 27 minutes to complete the opening round, while the last group took a whopping 4 hours, 16 minutes.
“That is just awful, and it doesn’t make sense,” Dey said. “It hasn’t been so long since 3 hours was considered adequate for a round. This is murder on spectators as well as on players who wish to play at a reasonable speed.”
At the rate championship golf is going, 3 hours might soon be considered adequate to make the turn.
So when the USGA announces today that it is launching a comprehensive campaign to combat pace of play, there are reasons for skepticism.
The campaign is geared toward the recreational game. It will study what causes slow play and attempt to find solutions aimed at the player and golf course management. It’s a good start, because the problem with slow play is not at the professional level. That distinction must be made.
There are exceptions, to be sure – a lot of them. Kevin Na and his horrific pre-shot routine of intentional misses at The Players Championship last year. Keegan Bradley and his start-stop-start stride into the ball to play the shot. Guan Tianlang at the Masters. Ben Crane at any tournament.
The USGA, along with the PGA Tour, has embarked on its most extensive study on pace of play. Not to poke fun, but this could take a while. It’s not an easy fix, because the time it takes to play golf in America has been sliding in the wrong direction for 60 years or more.
According to a National Golf Foundation study, slow play – defined as having to wait on the group in front more than a few times – was listed by 91 percent of golfers surveyed as taking away from their golf experience.
The USGA’s intentions are noble. But any time words like “campaign” and “education” and “initiative” are involved, it’s fair to wonder if brainstorming will lead to real results.
If this new initiative on pace of play doesn’t provide any answers, perhaps the words of the great Julius Boros should be considered:
“By the time you get to your ball, if you don’t know what to do with it, try another sport.”