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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Miller's biggest on-air regret: Leonard at Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:00 am

Johnny Miller made a broadcasting career out of being brutally honest, calling golf tournaments exactly like he saw them.

His unfiltered style is what kept him on the air for nearly 30 years, but it wasn't always the most popular with players.

After announcing his upcoming retirement, Miller was asked Tuesday if there were any on-air comments he regretted over the last three decades. One immediately came to mind.

"I think that I didn't say the right words about Justin Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV. I meant really - I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that," Miller recalled. "I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."

After struggling on Friday and Saturday in team play, Leonard ended up the U.S. hero after halving his Sunday singles match with José María Olazábal by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole - one of the most famous shots in Ryder Cup history.

"Of course he ended up - after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45-, 50- foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something."

Not only did the putt seal the comeback for the U.S., but it also earned Leonard an apology from Miller. 

"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."

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Love him or not, Miller's authentic style stood out

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2018, 10:11 pm

The comment was vintage Johnny Miller, raw enough to cause most television producers to wince.

Miller was in the NBC Sports booth at Doral in 2004 when he watched Craig Parry hit another beautiful shot to the green. Miller said what he saw. That was his job.

He just didn't say it like other golf analysts.

''The last time you see that swing is in a pro-am with a guy who's about a 15-handicap,'' Miller said. ''It's just over the top, cups it at the bottom and hits it unbelievably good. It doesn't look ... if Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke.''

Parry got the last word, of course, holing out a 6-iron from 176 yards in a playoff to win.

Except that wasn't the last word.

''I was in Ponte Vedra going back to the Honda Classic, and my phone is blowing up,'' said Tommy Roy, the longtime golf producer at NBC. ''It started percolating down in Australia, and you had radio stations demanding Johnny Miller be fired.''

Miller could make golf more fun to hear than to watch.

''He doesn't have a filter. That's why he's so good,'' Roy said. ''What he's thinking comes out. And 99.5 percent of the time, that was a great thing for viewers, and for me. And 0.5 percent of the time, it was a problem for our PR department and for me.

''And it was worth it.''

Roy was in Wisconsin on Monday night for his first look at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1989 that doesn't have Miller in the booth weighing in on good shots and bad with thoughts that immediately become words.

He often entertained. He occasionally irritated. He was rarely dull.

Miller is retiring after three decades calling the shots for NBC. His last tournament will be the Phoenix Open, the perfect exit for a Hall of Fame player once known as the ''Desert Fox'' for winning six times in Arizona. Miller was so good for so long that it was easy for younger generations to forget about that other career he had.

Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

Best of: Photos of Miller through the years

And to think that was nearly his only career in golf.

Miller said he wasn't interested when NBC first approached him, but then his wife stepped in and told him it would be nice to have a steady paycheck. Even then, it took time for him to realize his audience was in the living room, not the locker room.

He made his debut at the Bob Hope Classic in 1990 and it didn't take long for him to leave his mark. Peter Jacobsen faced an awkward lie to the 18th green with water to the left.

''The easiest shot to choke on,'' Miller said.

People thought about choking. Miller said it because that's what he was thinking.

''What came into his brain came out of his mouth,'' said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports. ''He was the first to really talk about the pressure. It's the most important element of the game, especially in those really big moments. He was doing it at a time when others weren't.''

It wasn't just the word ''choke.''

Phil Mickelson was getting up-and-down from everywhere at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Miller suggested that if Lefty weren't such a good putter he'd be selling cars in San Diego. Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing a fourballs match at the 1999 Ryder Cup when Miller blurted out, ''My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television.''

During the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods won in 19 holes over Rocco Mediate, Miller suggested that guys named ''Rocco'' don't get their name on the trophy, and that Mediate looked like ''the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool.''

It wasn't all bad.

Roy, who also has produced NBA Finals and Olympics, said he wants analysts who first-guess, not second-guess. The latter is for talk radio. First-guessing means sharing instincts, and Miller had plenty of them.

Woods was playing the final hole at Newport in the 1995 U.S. Amateur when Miller said, ''It wouldn't surprise me if he knocked this thing a foot from the hole.''

And that's just what Woods did.

McCarley remembers how retired NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol used to worry whenever Miller called because he thought it was about retirement. McCarley soon inherited that feeling.

''Every time I'd see Johnny's number pop up on my cellphone, my heart would skip a beat,'' McCarley said. ''Two years ago, he made that call I had been dreading.''

McCarley kept him working a slightly reduced schedule, but no longer. Miller is 71 and has been on the road for 50 years. His 24th grandchild was born on Sunday. He wants to teach them fly fishing in Utah, perhaps even a little golf.

Miller wasn't sure he would last a week when he started. He never imagined going nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind a style all his own.

Most loved it. Some didn't. But everyone listened, and that might be his legacy in the broadcast booth. Roy said what he has heard from viewers he knows is that 70 percent really like Miller, and 30 percent really don't.

''But they all have an opinion,'' he said.

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."