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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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.