College, junior ranks working to speed up the game

By Ryan LavnerJune 26, 2013, 12:30 pm

In a few years, we may view what happened to Texas A&M at this year’s NCAA Championship as the seminal moment that changed the culture of slow play in college golf.

Previously, there had been only a few isolated incidents of players being penalized for lagging behind. But at NCAAs, Aggies sophomore Tyler Dunlap was slapped with a one-shot penalty during the third and final round of stroke-play qualifying, sending his team from safely inside the match-play cut to a four-team playoff. Less than an hour later, the Aggies lost on the first extra hole. Their season was over.

Clearly, the NCAA was sending a message with the pace-of-play crackdown at its marquee event. But the controversial decision irked several prominent coaches, not least the man whose team was directly affected.

“We need to play faster, there’s no doubt about it,” Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins said. “But to not have it enforced all year, and then at your national championship all of a sudden it becomes a major issue? I don’t know what to say.”

That coaches were even having this discussion represents progress for the short-pants set, though surely that will serve as little solace for the Aggies.

June is Pace of Play month: Articles, videos and photos

No segment of the sport takes the rap for slow play quite like the college kids, with the loudest critics arguing that the pace-of-play issues on the PGA Tour stem from the next generation ingraining bad habits at the amateur level.  

That’s an oversimplification of the situation, but there’s little doubt that there are fundamental problems that plague the college game – issues that, if not soon corrected, threaten to splinter the amateur ranks.

For starters, look at how slow play affected the NCAA Championship. For the first three rounds at Capital City Club, the NCAA set up four pace-of-play checkpoints on Nos. 4, 9, 13 and 18. Players had 14 minutes to complete each hole and 40 seconds to hit a shot when it was their turn to play. If the group missed two checkpoints, each player in the group was liable for a one-shot penalty. (Texas A&M’s Dunlap was one of only two players to run afoul of the rules at NCAAs.)

It’s a progressive system – similar to what’s used at events run by the American Junior Golf Association – but many coaches took exception with the fact that it’s enforced only once a year. Most regular-season events are run by the host school, an area golf association or another outside organization. There is no uniform pace-of-play policy in place because, essentially, no tournament is run exactly alike, with a different number of volunteers and rules officials each week. Some tournaments have strict pace-of-play policies. Others, not so much.

“We get lulled to sleep all year,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said, “and because there’s no penalty then, guys don’t think they have a problem with playing slow. The only time we talk about slow play is the events that have enough people to do something about it.”

Another issue is the college coaches themselves. There is no other collegiate sport in which the coach is allowed on the field of play with the athlete. It can become a pace-of-play issue when, for example, a coach coddles the least-experienced player, walking with him, talking with him, making each shot a learning experience.

“Sometimes we would see a coach walk with the guy for all 18 holes, like he’s his caddie,” said Luke Guthrie, a former Illinois standout who now plays on the PGA Tour. “We were always thinking: Wow, can you not play by yourself?”

Seawell considers himself a hands-off coach, but agrees that his colleagues should shoulder some of the blame, too.

But his No. 1 culprit for slow play? Course setup.

Too often, he said, the venues try to provide the most exacting test of golf. That’s a worthy pursuit, of course, but it’s also unrealistic to assume that players will finish their rounds in four hours with hole locations that only a dozen or so in the field can reasonably access. “I haven’t seen a pin in the middle of the green in five years,” Seawell said.

Also easily changed is the size of the fields during the regular season. Most are 36-18 events (36 holes on the first day, followed by an 18-hole finale), with at least 15 teams of varying ability in the field. When there are too many players on the course, in threesomes, with a shotgun start and tee times ineight-minute intervals, there will be bottlenecks on the course. No way around it.

Yet the elite junior circuit in the country has been wildly successful at curbing slow play. According to the AJGA, a threesomes’ average pace of play at its tournaments was under 4 hours, 25 minutes in both 2011 and ’12.

How did the AJGA do it?

A tournament committee sets up six timing checkpoints throughout the course to assess not only the group’s gap time relative to the group in front of them but also the designated overall time par for the course (which varies week to week). Two “red cards” can result in either a group or individual penalty, depending on the situation. Also of note: If a player records five bad times during the round – taking more than 40 seconds to play a shot – then he or she could receive a one-shot penalty for undue delay.

In 2011, the AJGA instituted the Play Ready Golf concept that has trimmed, on average, about 10 minutes per round. The first player to putt out must head to the next hole and be the first to tee off, essentially eliminating the honors system.

Since 2007, the AJGA has issued no fewer than 2,660 red cards (warnings) and imposed no fewer than 26 penalties per year, while averaging no longer than 4 hours, 35 minutes for a round.

“It’s the best way to scare somebody into stop playing slow,” Guthrie said of the AJGA’s tactics.

The obvious question is why doesn’t the college game just implement the same system? Well, it’s not that simple.

It’s unfair to compare slow play at the college and junior golf levels for two reasons: First, the AJGA has a consistent pace-of-play policy at each tournament it runs because it has the resources to successfully enforce it.That’s not true at the college level, where manpower is an issue because each Division I team plays about a dozen events per season all across the country. Secondly, and perhaps more obviously, the competitive environment (course difficulty, won-lost records) presents a greater challenge for college players. They take longer because, oftentimes, more is at stake.

“But for the first time we’re approaching slow play as a cultural thing,” said Matt Thurmond, the head coach at Washington. “It’s not the rules official talking about Xs and Os of slow play and times and penalties. It’s making those that play slow aware that it’s not OK and that it’s actually cool to play fast.”

Indeed, strides are finally being made, especially on the West Coast. For that, credit coaches like Thurmond.

In 2010, he helped organize the “Under Four” campaign at the Huskies’ home tournament. They educated players on how to play faster; they set up the course to promote faster play; they showed each group’s round time on a scoreboard to incentivize playing faster; and they put players on the clock for all 18 holes. Round times there ranged between 4:07 and 4:15. The system worked.

Even more radical was what Rick LaRose, then the coach at Arizona, implemented a few years ago at the Wildcats’ home event. Players had 40 seconds to hit a shot – essentially, a shot clock. If a rules official was watching, and a player didn’t get off his shot in time, he was dinged for a shot.

Said Cal coach Steve Desimone, “It kicked these guys’ butts into gear and scores were the same, if not better.”

The Pac-12 Conference has led the way in this discussion, implementing a few common-sense ideas that have dramatically improved pace of play at its tournaments:

• Eliminating the traditional “honor system,” teaching players to finish out a hole and head to the next tee – in other words, the Play Ready Golf concept

• Handing out an education sheet – chock full of quick tips for players – that is read and repeated at each tournament hosted by a Pac-12 school

• And beginning with the 2013-14 season, Pac-12 coaches will have a “gentleman’s agreement” that no tournament will have a field with more than 81 players. “Coaches like to point fingers at kids,” Thurmond said, “but when you put more than 80 players on the course, there is nowhere for them to go.”

After each tournament, the Pac-12’s three-man slow-play committee – Thurmond, USC’s Chris Zambri and Colorado’s Roy Edwards – collects data about the format, setup, times and best practices, to be presented at the end of the season. Their system isn’t perfect, Thurmond warns, but “at least it’s something. We’re seeing results.”

“Each coach needs to ask himself: Are they part of the problem or are they trying to fix it?” he said. “There are a bunch of coaches that aren’t going to support it. They may say they want to play faster, but as soon as a rules official shows up and puts them on the clock, they’re crying and moaning.”

Yet surely that beats the alternative – crying and moaning after a controversial NCAA Championship.

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.

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Johnson, Moore co-lead Valero Texas Open through 36

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson was going nowhere in the Valero Texas Open when it all changed with one putt.

He made an 8-foot par putt on the 13th hole of the opening round to stay at 2 under. He followed with a big drive, a hybrid into 12 feet and an eagle. Johnson was on his way, and he kept right on going Friday to a 7-under 65 and a share of the 36-hole lead with Ryan Moore.

''You just never know. That's the beauty of this game,'' Johnson said. ''I felt like I was hitting some solid shots and wasn't getting rewarded, and you've just got to stay in it. You've got to persevere, grind it out, fight for pars. You just never know.''

Moore had three birdies over his last five holes for a 67 and joined Johnson at 9-under 135.

They had a one-shot lead over Grayson Murray (69) and Andrew Landry (67).

Ben Crane (66), Martin Laird (65) and David Hearn (68) were three shots behind. Billy Horschel and Keegan Bradley shot 71 and were four shots behind at 5-under 139.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio, had a short stay in his first time at the Texas Open since 2010. Garcia shot an even-par 72, and at one point became so frustrated he threw his driver into the shrubs.

Garcia finished at 2-over 146 and missed the cut.

It was the first time since 2010 that Garcia missed the cut in successive starts. That was the PGA Championship and, 10 weeks later, the Castello Masters in Spain. This time, he missed the cut in the Masters and Texas Open three weeks apart.

Johnson, a two-time winner of the Texas Open, appeared to be headed to a short week until the key par save on the 13th hole, followed by his eagle, par and three straight birdies. He began the second round Friday with five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, a sixth birdie on the par-4 first hole, and then an eagle on the short par-4 fifth when he holed out from a greenside bunker.

The only sour taste to his second round was a three-putt bogey from about 30 feet on his final hole. Even so, the view was much better than it was Thursday afternoon.

Moore thought he had wasted a good birdie opportunity on the par-5 14th hole when he left his 50-foot eagle putt about 6 feet short. But he made that, and then holed a similar putt from 8 feet for birdie on the next hole and capped his good finish with a 15-foot putt on the 17th.

''That was a huge momentum putt there,'' Moore said of the 14th. ''It was a tough putt from down there with a lot of wind. That green is pretty exposed and ... yeah, really short and committed to that second putt really well and knocked it right in the middle.''

The birdies on the 14th and 15th were important to Moore because he missed a pair of 10-foot birdie tries to start the back nine.

''So it was nice to get those and get going in the right direction on the back,'' he said.

The cut was at 1-over 145, and because 80 players made the cut, there will be a 54-hole cut on Saturday.

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Garcia tosses driver, misses Valero cut

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

It wasn't quite to the level of his watery meltdown earlier this month at the Masters, but Sergio Garcia still got frustrated during the second round of the Valero Texas Open - and his driver paid the price.

Garcia had a hand in redesigning the AT&T Oaks Course along with Greg Norman several years ago, but this marked his first return to TPC San Antonio since 2010. After an opening-round 74, Garcia arrived to the tee of the short par-4 fifth hole and decided to get aggressive with driver in hand.

When his shot sailed well left, a heated Garcia chucked the club deep into the bushes that lined the tee box:

It took considerable effort for Garcia to find and retrieve the club amid the branches, and once he did things only got worse. He appeared to shank a chip once he got up to his ball, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on a demanding track.

Garcia closed out his round with four straight pars, and at 2 over he eventually missed the cut by a shot. It marks the first time he has missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour since 2003, when he sat out the weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament in successive weeks.

Garcia entered the week ranked No. 10 in the world, and he was the only top-20 player among the 156-man field. He missed the cut at the Masters in defense of his title after carding an octuple-bogey 13 on the 15th hole during the opening round.

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Daly-Allen team grabs Legends of Golf lead on Day 2

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 11:14 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - John Daly and Michael Allen took the second-round lead Friday in the cool and breezy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Daly and Allen shot an 8-under 46 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course with wind gusting to 15 mph and the temperature only in the high-50s at Big Cedar Lodge. They had three birdies on the front nine in alternate-shot play and added five more on the back in better-ball play to get to 13 under.

''Michael and I go back to the South African days in the late 80s and playing that tour,'' Daly said. ''We've been buddies since. He's just fun to play with. We feed off each other pretty good. And if he's not comfortable guinea-pigging on one hole, I'll go first.''

On Thursday, they opened with a 66 on the regulation Buffalo Ridge course. They will rotate to the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course on Saturday, and return to Top of the Rock for the final round Sunday.

''I went to high school in Jeff City, so it's cool to have the fans behind us,'' Daly said.

Allen won the PGA Tour Champions team event with David Frost in 2012 and Woody Austin in 2016.

''I'm just here to free up John,'' Allen said. ''It was fun. Luckily, I started making good putts today. We just want to keep the good times rolling.''

Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco were a stroke back along with Bernhard Langer-Tom Lehman and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett. Singh and Franco had a 7-under 32 in best-ball play at Mountain Top, and Lehman-Langer and Broadhurst-Tripplet each shot 6-under 48 at Top of the Rock.

''Part of the issue here is all the tees are elevated, so you're up high hitting to a green that's down below and the wind is blowing, and there is more time for that wind to affect it,'' Lehman said. ''If you guess wrong on the wind, you can hit a really good shot and kind of look stupid.''

Former UCLA teammates Scott McCarron and Brandt Jobe were two strokes back at 11 under with Steve Flesch and David Toms and the Spanish side of Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez. McCarron-Jobe had a 47, and Jimenez-Olazabal a 48 at Top of the Rock, and Tom Flesch shot 34 at Mountain Top.

First-round leaders Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik had a 52 at Top of the Rock to fall three shots back at 10 under. Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly also were 10 under after a 32 at Mountain Top. Jay Haas aced the 131-yard seventh hole at Mountain Top with a gap wedge. Haas and fellow 64-year-old Peter Jacobsen were 8 under after a 32.