GC Am Tour's pace-of-play policy very effective

By Will GrayJune 26, 2013, 7:41 pm

As players descended upon Orange County National Golf Center in Orlando, Fla., for a Golf Channel Amateur Tour event this past April, they headed to a check-in counter where they were reminded by tournament officials of several pre-tournament staples: cart assignments, rules for the upcoming round and where lunch would be served at the conclusion of play. For the first of many times during the day, though, they were also made aware of one of the most important concepts of any Am Tour round – pace of play.

When Golf Channel took over operation of the Am Tour in 2009, its events staff inherited a series of tournaments where 5:30 rounds were accepted as a frustrating but inevitable norm, with some rounds extending to six hours or beyond. By instituting a proactive pace-of-play policy, one that is actively enforced by an on-site team at each event, Am Tour officials have reduced the time it takes to complete a competitive round at any one of their events by more than 45 minutes.

“Our pace-of-play policy is great in that it puts the power into the hands of the individual players,” explained regional director Joe Wagner. “Our emphasis and education of our players on proper pace of play has vastly improved our pace on tour over the years.”

Pace of Play month: Articles and videos

Much like the AJGA, the Am Tour uses a time par on each hole to gauge progress of pace on the course. Though officials inform groups of where they stand “to par” at various points throughout the round, players are officially checked twice during the round, at both the ninth and 18th holes. At that point, they have two options to avoid sanction: finish at or below the prescribed time par for their round, a hole-by-hole breakdown of which is printed on each participant’s scorecard, or finish the hole within 14 minutes of the group in front of them. If unable to satisfy either of the requirements, players are given a one-shot penalty upon their first offense.

While the PGA Tour has not assessed a penalty stroke for slow play in 18 years, Am Tour officials have shown no such hesitancy in adding on additional strokes for groups in violation of the policy they have created. Since the start of the 2013 season, 96 one-shot penalties have been issued nationwide to Am Tour players.

“We’re not afraid to enforce policies,” said Colin Turner, the Am Tour’s director of events. “If we don’t penalize a group that is out of position, we can lose the entire golf course. It’s a domino effect.”

While penalties apply to individual players, they are assessed at Am Tour events on a group-by-group basis. Though officials offer an appeals process after the round where players can make a case that the penalty should apply only to a single slow individual, the vast majority of penalties remain assessed to each player in the offending group.

In addition to introducing an aggressive policy to help monitor the field, the Am Tour makes several other adjustments with pace of play in mind, specifically at 'major' events conducted nationwide. For instance, while the tee sheets of the various host courses allow for foursomes, all Am Tour majors utilize only threesomes, sacrificing potential revenue to help maintain a more manageable pace. On high risk/reward holes with forced carries that can sometimes become problematic for pace of play, volunteers are often stationed to signal to players whether a ball has cleared a hazard to avoid extensive delays that may result from the dreaded return trip to the teeing ground or fairway.

By opening events to players of varying skill levels, Am Tour officials also face the unique challenge of preparing a course for both scratch players as well as bogey (or worse) golfers. At any given event, up to four different tees are used; while Championship Flight participants play a course ranging from 6,500-7,000 yards, the same track is reduced to a range of 5,800-6,300 yards for players in the Snead Flight, who carry handicaps of 20 or higher.

According to Turner, the higher-handicapped players are not necessarily the most frequent offenders of the tour’s pace-of-play policy.

“Level of play does not dictate pace of play,” he explained. “Your higher handicappers hit it more often, but lower handicappers pay more attention to each shot.”

The results from the Am Tour’s extensive efforts can be seen in the significant reduction in overall pace of play. While rounds often pushed six hours in duration as recently as 2009, thus far the national average for the 2013 Am Tour season has been 4 hours, 43 minutes. On June 15, separate local events were conducted in Tampa, Fla., Alma, Ark. and Kannapolis, N.C.; the average pace at each event was 3:55, 4:00 and 4:22, respectively.

Having invested the time into both devising and executing a pace-of-play policy that has proven effective, the Am Tour continues to show that golfers of varying skill can enjoy the structure of a tournament round and compete against their peers on a course that matches their ability – all while still making it to the post-round lunch table before the food gets cold.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.