Foursomes the answer to slow play?


Consider it Gleneagles’ silver lining, the unintended consequence of another boat race and another baffling loss.

No, not the PGA of America’s Ryder Cup task force; the relative impact of the vaunted “Group of 11” won’t be known for years. But the byproduct of another U.S. loss at September’s matches may be a realignment of America’s golf priorities.

Consider that this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team failed to win a full point in foursomes, or alternate-shot, play, and the swoon was hardly a statistical abnormality.

The Continent has owned the U.S. side in foursome play the last two decades, outscoring the red, white and bruised, 46-24-10 over the last 10 matches.

By comparison, over roughly the same period the U.S. Presidents Cup team has outscored the International side, 59 1/2 to 33 1/2.

For PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who behind the blue blazer is a pragmatist at his core, the sliding scale of American team play defies definition.

“It’s funny how these things are. The U.S. in recent years has been winning the Presidents Cup because of their strength in foursomes and yet they’ve been getting killed in the Ryder Cup in foursomes,” Finchem said late last month at the McGladrey Classic. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

For Finchem, who said he was not asked to be a member of the PGA’s task force and that he didn’t expect to be included in the proceedings, the scrutiny that has followed the U.S. team’s loss and inevitable microanalysis misses the 400-pound foursome elephant in the American team room.

“You can’t play foursomes down 7-1 and think you are going to win the cup,” he said. “It’s like climbing a mountain.”

Yet where others see a glaring liability with few, if any solutions, Finchem views America’s foursome misfortunes as a unique opportunity.

Not only has the post-Gleneagles handwringing provided an open format to address the U.S. team’s glaring blind spot in team play, but perhaps a chance to address arguably the game’s greatest obstacle – slow play.

“Maybe practice more foursomes. We don’t play enough foursomes golf,” Finchem said. “One of the byproducts of this is if foursome golf could develop some traction in the U.S.”

Finchem points out a foursome round can take half as much time as a stroke-play round and although it is a staple throughout the United Kingdom it is rarely played on this side of the transatlantic divide.

This week at the USGA’s Pace of Play Symposium the association will unveil a flagstick-mounted device to help golf courses measure pace of play, and the Tour strengthened its own pace-of-play policy for this season.

To Finchem, however, the endless quest to make the game faster – even at the highest levels where it took more than five hours last week to play a round at the WGC-HSBC Champions … in threesomes – is akin to making molehills out of mountains.

“If you go to Augusta or Pine Valley or Cypress Point and you’re playing with some single-digit handicaps how long does it take you to play? Four hours,” he answered. “If it’s 4:15 (hours) or 4:20, you’re going to worry about shaving 10 minutes off [a round]? It’s not a driving factor. Everybody talks about playing faster; that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Instead of picking apart the problem, which many observers say is public enemy No. 1 when it comes to growing the game, in piecemeal fashion Finchem sees a broader, more profound, option in the form of increased foursomes play.

The commish seemed open to the idea of adding some sort of foursomes component to select Tour stops, or perhaps even an event that was played entirely using an alternate-shot format.

“Maybe. We’re strapped for weeks, but maybe an exhibition-type thing we could do tournament weeks with a side thing that would include foursomes,” he said. “A special Monday pro-am or something like that. There are things you can do and I think that should be an area where we can focus.”

For Finchem, the pragmatist, the wrath of the 2014 Ryder Cup goes well beyond the use of “pods” and how future captains or teams may be picked. The loss presents an opportunity to address one of the U.S. team’s glaring weaknesses, and if along the way American golf’s greatest challenge is impacted all the better.