FORT WORTH, Texas – Let’s call this the wrong execution of the right idea and count Morgan Pressel, bless her emotional heart, as a wrong-place, wrong-time victim, collateral damage in a campaign that is long overdue.
To do otherwise, would be to miss the point.
No, the LPGA’s pace-of-play policy may not be bulletproof. In fact, to hear some PGA Tour types this week at the Colonial, it’s as riddled with inconsistencies and misconceptions as their own circuit’s convoluted rules on slow play. But there is one glaring exception – the ladies tour is at least trying to put some bite in its small-print bark.
These are the facts. On the 12th tee during her semifinal match against Azahara Munoz at last week’s Sybase Match Play Championship, both players were informed that they were “on the clock.”
According to first-hand reports, Pressel, who was the first to play, was timed starting with her tee shot and given 30 seconds to play each shot with a 10-second grace period. When the dust settled, the stopwatch didn’t lie, Pressel breached the rule by 39 seconds and was assessed a penalty, which in match play was a loss of the hole.
Some Monday morning quarterbacks have called the incident unnecessary, arbitrary, even unfair that a relatively fast player would be penalized because her group was put on the clock because of the actions, or inactions, of a slow player, in this case Munoz.
Lost in all the handwringing , however, is the truth that you may not agree with the LPGA policy, but at least the women’s circuit is making an effort.
By comparison, the PGA Tour hasn’t doled out a stroke penalty, or loss of a hole in match play, in 17 years.
“No one has played slow in 17 years?” smiled one Tour frat brother early Tuesday morning at Colonial.
It seems ill-timed that exactly one week after Kevin Na made headlines with his languid pace of play at The Players Championship that some in the golf world have become indignant over the LPGA’s decision to penalize Pressel at such a crucial moment.
But in golf, officials don’t swallow the whistle in the fourth quarter. Strike zones don’t become larger on Sundays just because the outcome could become uncomfortable, and fouls, however ticky tacky, don’t go unnoticed.
“If I’m in the first group off on Thursday, and I tap down a spike mark, I get the same penalty as the guy who is playing in the last group on Sunday would on the 72nd hole,” Brendon De Jonge said. “I wish they’d do that out here.”
The LPGA’s policy may not be ideal, although compared to the Tour’s laissez faire approach it certainly qualifies as a deterrent, but it is how that circuit’s rule makers have decided to combat slow play, and you don’t let a rule slide just because it doesn’t pass the smell test.
Much of the debate at Colonial focused on the injustice of timing an entire group when it may be just a single player causing the hold up. The venerable locker room at Hogan’s Alley was filled with stories of players who have been penalized – cash, because the Tour doesn’t do stroke penalties for slow play, or at least they haven’t for the better part of two decades – because of the actions of a habitual snail.
“I used to try and speed up when my group got put on the clock before, but I’ve stopped doing that,” Erik Compton said. “I don’t do that anymore. I just keep my same pace.”
But this isn’t about building a better mousetrap. This is about going with the policy you have, and to the LPGA’s credit they have, at least in this instance, followed the letter of the law.
No one wants to see a seemingly innocent player penalized, particularly at a crucial moment, but if the only alternative is a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, then it may be time for the suits in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to look south to Daytona Beach for the answer.
The LPGA’s policy may not be perfect, and Pressel’s plight certainly qualifies as unfortunate, but at least they are trying, and that’s more than the PGA Tour can say.