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Slow play in golf is not going away anytime soon

HONOLULU (AP)—Luke Donald took to Twitter to vent about a contentious issue onthe PGA Tour. If nothing else, it was refreshing to see golf with a No. 1 playerwho was willing to express his opinion freely and publicly.

As for that issue that stirred Donald from his holiday in Barbados?

Pace of play, a topic that is not going anywhere in a hurry.

Players can question whether the tour should change the FedEx Cup pointssystem. They can debate the merits of the world ranking. They can be disgustedwith the number of no-shows for the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. And aweek from now, they might really get worked up when they hear details of aproposal to revamp Q-school.

Still, nothing gets them going like slow play.

Trouble is, no one has a reasonable solution.

Donald joined the fray during the final round at Kapalua, where the finalfour pairings featured Kevin Na , Ben Crane , Webb Simpson and Jonathan Byrd , noneof them part of Lanny Wadkins ’ dream foursome if speed were a factor.

It didn’t take long for Byrd and Steve Stricker to fall nearly two holesbehind.

“Sounds like slow play is already an issue 1st week of the (at)PGATOURseason and it’s 2 somes. Sort it out please …” came the first tweet fromDonald. He followed with some advice: “It’s not that hard, be ready when it’syour turn. Slow play is killing our sport.”

Two tweets later, Donald got off his soap box with a final thought: “Icould rant all day long, don’t think anything will ever change as the slowplayers don’t realize they are slow.”

Criticism is less meaningful when not accompanied by solutions, and there isno simple answer for slow play. If there were, it would have been fixed whenNixon occupied the White House.

Nonetheless, a few observations from the last month.

— Tim Herron took about two minutes to figure out how to play his second shotto the green on Friday of the Sony Open. His ball was in the rough, 187 yards toa flag tucked behind the bunker. Was the ball going to take off on him from thatlie? How much? 6-iron or 7-iron? If it had been in the fairway, caddie Lance TenBroeck told him it would be a smooth 6-iron. Aim at the corner of the trap andcut it back toward the flag? Play for the middle of the green?

The entire conversation took place while the group ahead was putting. Assoon as the group left the green, Herron’s shot was in the air. That’s how golfis meant to be played. Beautiful.

— It would be simple to blame the swing coach or mental gurus who preach theimportance of routines, which are fine as long as they don’t take too long.Regardless, it still comes down to a player not wanting to hit until he iscomfortable over the shot.

Think of it this way: How much damage could Tom Brady do if he stood behindcenter as long as he wanted, not having the ball snapped until he felteverything was in place? The penalty is 5 yards in football. Should golf moveplayers back 15 yards for every shot that takes them longer than 40 seconds?That would take even more time.

— This spring marks the 20-year anniversary of the last time a player wasgiven a one-shot penalty for pace of play. To change the policy and make it aone-shot penalty when a player is over his allotted time sounds simple, butwouldn’t work. There are too many extenuating circumstances. Golf doesn’t havemany gray areas; this would be loaded with them.

Until someone gets a penalty shot, the stiffest punishment starts with a$20,000 fine for the 10th time a player is part of a group that gets put on theclock. Yawn. How about docking him 50 points from the FedEx Cup standings?Consider that a year ago, 50 points marked the difference between 125th (andqualifying for the playoffs) and 143rd (and getting a month off).

— Consider the lay of the land. Tour officials allotted 4 hours, 15 minutesfor a twosome at Kapalua, built on a mountain with full-size SUVs used forshuttles between two holes. The final twosome at the Sony Open played in 3hours, 39 minutes. Waialae is old school—flat, with tees next to the greens.

— Television cannot be underestimated when it comes to slow play.

It would seem that TV could at least draw attention from the pace by notshowing a player until he is ready to pull the trigger. Two problems:

One, a number of players have perfected the art of backing off shots. Again.And again.

Furthermore, the beauty of television is spending time with the playerbefore the shot, allowing the fan to anticipate the possibilities. It workedwell when Nick Faldo took forever before deciding on a 2-iron to go for the 13thgreen, a key moment when he won the 1996 Masters. Padraig Harrington walking upto the 17th green to check the hole location at Brookline in the Ryder Cup? Notso much.

Here’s the bigger issue with TV. Mark Russell, one of the chief rulesofficials, showed off his atomic watch at Sherwood last month. The seconds wereticking toward 6 p.m. EST just as the last group on the last green was tappingin. The timing was perfect.

The next day? Not so much.

Despite being in twosomes, play took much longer because of a strong wind.That leads to more time in club selection and on the green. Yet tee times wereleft alone, thus the third round went well past four hours and the 6 p.m. finishtime on NBC Sports.

That wasn’t an accident.

The tour purposely wanted to go long on Saturday so that NBC could directviewers to Golf Channel for the conclusion of the third round. It was anotherexample of NBC Sports trying to help boost the visibility of Golf Channel nowthat both are owned by Comcast. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Especiallynot when TV foots so much of the bill.

— Slow play at public courses has been attributed to amateurs trying to belike the pros. Maybe so. Russell made an observation about recreational golfyears ago that is worth considering: Slow play is only a problem when you haveto wait.