Nicklaus a slow player in his day

By John FeinsteinMay 22, 2012, 9:15 pm

Glen Day was sitting in the back of the meeting room during a mandatory players meeting at The Players Championship in 1995. He was listening to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem extoll the virtues of Jack Nicklaus, who happened to be sitting a few seats down.

“If you follow the example of Jack Nicklaus,” Finchem said, “you cannot possibly go wrong in golf or in life.”

Day couldn’t resist. He leaned over to Nicklaus and said, “Gee Mr. Nicklaus, I was following your example a few weeks ago, and I got a fine and a one-stroke penalty for it.”

Nicklaus cracked up. A few weeks earlier, Day had been fined and assessed a stroke penalty for slow play. It can be argued that Nicklaus may not have invented slow play, but he certainly perfected it. A year earlier, while playing in his final U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer had talked about the brutally slow pace of play on the first day.

“It took us almost 5 1/2 hours to play a round of golf,” he said. “Back in the 60s, even when Jack was at his absolute slowest, we’d play in 4 1/2 at most.”

Nicklaus was slow in the 60s. Day, whose nickname has been ‘All,’ because of his deliberate pace, played more slowly in the 90s. As it happens, the stroke penalty he received for emulating Nicklaus 17 years ago is the last time a Tour player was assessed a one-stroke penalty during a tournament.

That isn’t because pace-of-play has picked up. In fact, as impossible as it seems, the first and second rounds routinely last well into their sixth hour on Tour, and weekend rounds often take more than 4 hours – even in twosomes.

Ten years after Day’s penalty, Rory Sabbatini got so fed up with Ben Crane’s turtle-like pace at the Booz Allen Classic that he simply left him behind on the 17th hole. Sabbatini has a temper, and he likes to play at a lightning-fast pace. What he did was rude – but understandable. He had played with Crane for three days that week, and he cracked.

Crane admitted afterward that he needed to play faster. And he has. The rules officials, who nicknamed him “the anchor” years ago, all say he’s no longer close to being the slowest player on Tour. But he’s anything but fast.

“To be honest, you’d have to be stupid to get a stroke penalty under our rules,” said Mark Russell, the Tour’s vice president of rules and competition. “First, your group has to be put on the clock for being out of position. Then, if you’re being timed and you get a bad time, you get a warning. It’s only if you’re still out of position and you get another bad time that you get a stroke penalty. That just never happens.”

Except it did happen this past Sunday – but not on the PGA Tour. It happened to Morgan Pressel during her semifinal match against Azahara Munoz in the Sybase Match Play Championships. Munoz and Pressel had been put on the clock and, since there’s no further warning on the LPGA, Pressel was told on the 13th tee that she had just lost the 12th hole because she had exceeded the time limit. That turned a 3-up lead into a 1-up lead, and Munoz ended up winning the match.

The timing of the bad time rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. There were only four golfers on the course, and Pressel and Munoz were in the second match, so they weren’t holding anybody up. That said, if the LPGA wanted to deliver a message on slow play, it certainly did that. What’s a bit unfair is that Pressel is not a slow player habitually; Munoz apparently is. But if you’re told you’re on the clock and you dawdle, no one can say you haven’t been warned.

Such a thing would never happen on the PGA Tour. Once players are told by a rules official that they are out of position and on the clock, they almost always pick up their pace and, according to rules officials, usually play better golf.

More often than not, it’s one player in the group who causes the problem, but sometimes it can be two or even three players meandering. Kevin Na is not the only player on Tour who plays as if he’s hoping his round will be called off by darkness. When it is just one player, the other player or players are likely to let him know they aren’t happy to be on the clock. They will, in most cases, close ground on the group in front of them quickly and be taken off the clock.

But that’s too late. That one slow group has already backed up the entire golf course, and it is almost impossible to rectify. Finchem uses the “it’s impossible to have 26 groups on 18 holes,” argument to explain the paralysis that takes over on Thursdays and Fridays.

There’s something to that, but there’s still no excuse for the early groups to take as long as they do to play, and if they picked things up and got off the golf course, everyone else could play a little faster. If everyone was moving faster, slower players would find themselves out of position sooner and be subjected to being timed more often.

That still doesn’t solve the ultimate problem: which is in the rule. One warning – being put on the clock – should be enough. If a player doesn’t pick up his pace, the way Pressel didn’t, hit him with a stroke penalty.

“The problem with that,” Russell said, “is that sometimes the guy who gets the bad time isn’t the guy who got the group put on the clock.”

Well, that’s really too bad. It isn’t as if the player doesn’t know he’s on the clock – he does. And if a player gets a stroke penalty for being on the clock and another player got him put on the clock, maybe he’ll get angry enough at that player that the slow guy will give some thought to picking things up in the future.

Finchem doesn’t think penalizing players will be a deterrent to slow play. Why not? What could be more embarrassing? And, as Tiger Woods points out, it can potentially hurt them where it matters most: in the wallet – immediately, not at the end of the year if they somehow receive 10 bad times and receive a $20,000 fine, which is little more than a behind-closed-doors wrist slap.

What’s more, what has the Tour got to lose by toughening the rule and penalizing players on the course? Sure, the first victims will be angry, but it will get their attention right away.

Most importantly, it will get everyone’s attention. Nicklaus first came on Tour 50 years ago. It’s way past time for the Tour to figure out a way to stop so many players from emulating him.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – 

Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

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Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.

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Mickelson 'displeased' with iron play; 10 back

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:18 am

All of Phil Mickelson’s offseason work on his driver has paid off through two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

His iron play? Not as sharp, and it’s the reason why he heads into the weekend 10 shots off the lead.

“I’ve been pretty pleased, overall, with the way I’ve been driving the ball, and very displeased with the way my iron game has been,” said Mickelson, who shot 68 Friday on PGA West’s Nicklaus course. He has hit only 21 of 36 greens so far this week. “Usually my iron play is a lot better than what it’s been. So I’ll go work on it and hopefully improve each round in this tournament and build a solid foundation for the upcoming West Coast events.

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“I feel like if I continue to drive the ball the way I am, and if I got my iron play back to my normal standard, I should have the results that I’ve been expecting.”

Mickelson, of course, is always bullish this time of year, but he has been able to find 10 of 14 fairways each of the past two rounds, including at narrower La Quinta Country Club, which doesn’t always fit his eye.

“This is actually the best I’ve driven it in a lot of years,” he said.

Currently in a tie for 67th, Mickelson will need a solid round on the more difficult Stadium course Saturday to ensure that he makes the 54-hole cut. He hasn’t missed a cut in his first West Coast event of the new year since 2009.