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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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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”