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Randall's Rant: How to stop slow play

By Randall MellJanuary 29, 2018, 8:17 pm

Maybe golf fans need a “honking horn” cellphone app.

So when traffic on the PGA Tour slows like rush hour on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, fans can lay on their horns, like New Yorkers do, to vent at a problem that continues to plague the game.

So when a player like J.B. Holmes chooses to become a one-man traffic jam, as he did in the 18th fairway Sunday at the end of the Farmers Insurance Open, fans can express their frustration.

Or maybe fans should just start booing when play slows down.

Or heckle offenders.

Or get creative and serenade slow players with a mocking variation of the Pointer Sisters hit song from the ‘80s:

I don’t want a man with a slow hand

I want a player in a heated rush

Yeah, OK, these are not serious proposals as solutions for the kind of slow play Holmes was guilty of at Torrey Pines. Still, the furor he created taking 4 minutes and 10 seconds to decide to fly the white flag and lay up appears to call for some extreme measures.

The “honking horn” app and other proposals offered here are intentionally over the top, designed to make a couple serious points:

1. Fans can’t depend on the PGA Tour to do anything serious about slow play, and so any real solution needs to start by changing the Tour’s attitude toward the issue.

2. Public and media pressure can motivate Tour officials to implement change.

We saw a social media mob take up pitchforks in a public-shaming campaign on Sunday. Holmes got lambasted, not only for his slow play, but for the effect his lack of courtesy may have had on playing partners also trying to win.

Bless Luke Donald.

The former No. 1 applied some pressure by boldly weighing in, taking Holmes to task. Donald served a higher purpose by daring to single out a fellow player.

“Last group was over a hole behind, we can all blame JB,” Donald tweeted.

Donald didn’t stop after calling out Holmes. He also called out the rules officials.

“They needed to step in a while ago,” he tweeted.

Mark Calcavecchia, the 13-time PGA Tour winner and three-time PGA Tour Champions winner, wielded a surgeon’s scalpel pointing out that Holmes’ conduct was as much a violation of the spirit of the game as it was any rule.

“Horrendous sportsmanship to [Alex] Noren and [Ryan] Palmer,” Calcavecchia tweeted.

It should be acknowledged that slow play is a complex problem, and it can’t truly be solved, not with 156- and 144-player fields, not with limited daylight, not with the fast greens you get in PGA Tour events and not with the wind that periodically complicates pace of play, as it did Sunday at Torrey Pines.

But that doesn’t mean pace of play can’t be significantly improved, if there is a real will inside the PGA Tour to do so. That won’t happen until the Tour takes it more seriously. When commissioner Jay Monahan revealed last year that a “comprehensive pace-of-play review” was under way, there was hope, but we’ve heard nothing since.

The one-stroke penalty PGA Tour officials assessed at the Zurich Classic last year is the only slow-play penalty issued in the last 23 years. That’s all you need to know about how seriously they take it.

There’s an old saying: First we make our habits, then our habits make us.

That’s how this changes, with the PGA Tour changing player habits.

There are a lot of factors contributing to slow play, and the Tour’s lack of enforcement of its own rules ranks high on the list.

The problem is that sloths and turtles on Tour know how to circumvent the slow-play rules (40 seconds to play a shot, with certain exceptions when playing first, when 60 seconds is permitted). The sloths and turtles also know they get warnings before a penalty. They know how to speed up when they are on the clock, then slow back down when they’re off it.

Obviously, PGA Tour officials let a lot of “bad times” go unsanctioned. How else do you explain one penalty in two decades?

It would be great if the PGA Tour would hire rules officials to time every group. That would be the ideal enforcement effort, as effective as having a State Patrol car in every driver’s rearview mirror. It’s not practical, though.

There are answers in technology.

Monahan hinted as much last year when he revealed the Tour’s Shotlink dashboard records “time par” averages for every player. If that’s a reliable metric, find a way to use it. Identify the sloths and turtles and post time par averages with other public stats.

Also, create a different set of rules for the 30 or so slowest players in any field, based on their time-par average. Tell the sloths and turtles they should assume they are on the clock at the first tee, that they could be timed (as individuals) without notice, and that they won’t be warned with a first “bad time.” They will go directly to a one-stroke penalty and $5,000 fine with their first violation.

Put sloths and turtles on notice.

Use Shotlink’s technology to help police them.

And then start enforcing the rules, start assessing penalty shots.

It’s all about changing habits, but there has to be discretion and allowances, when players are in contention on Sundays. This is why slow play is a complex problem, because it’s different on the back nine on Sundays. There are going to be those extraordinary circumstances when a contender like Jordan Spieth is getting a complicated drop at Royal Birkdale, or Tiger Woods is figuring out how to hole a circuitous chip at the 16th at Augusta National or Phil Mickelson sends his caddie 70 yards ahead at the last hole to tend the flagstick at the Farmers Insurance Open in a bid to hole out from the fairway and force a playoff (that one didn’t work out, but it was cool).

The hope here is that the PGA Tour can change a player’s habits before he unnecessarily creates a traffic jam when he’s in contention late on a Sunday.

Maybe J.B. Holmes isn’t being publicly shamed today if the PGA Tour worked harder to change habits.

Honk your horn if you agree.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”