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When it comes to slow play, PGA Tour still lagging behind

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ATLANTA – As a general rule, the PGA Tour doesn’t usually follow.

“When you step back and you say, OK, we're the world's leading tour. We want to give our players the single greatest platform to play and compete every single week. We have these incredible athletes who are driving more fans into our sport. Is there an opportunity to improve? And the answer to that is yes," commissioner Jay Monahan said on Tuesday at the Tour Championship.

From nearly every measurable vantage point Monahan’s take is proven, from the circuit’s transition to a post-season more than a decade ago to the introduction of the World Golf Championships, the circuit is normally the trailblazer.

But there is one glaring exception to this rule.

When it comes to the growing discontent over pace of play, the Tour has been a spectator for far too long. Never has this procrastination been so obvious than this week.

On Monday, the European Tour announced a four-point plan to stomp out slow play, which includes increased fines, greater educational programs and even “proactive targeting” of habitually slow players. By contrast, Monahan seemed content to let an ongoing data-driven review of pace of play on the PGA Tour grind on.

Monahan explained that the current review began in February and is using data collected from ShotLink to identify trends and potential areas where pace of play could be improved.

“We're on our path, we have real actionable data from our ShotLink system. We know how every player is performing,” Monahan said. “I kind of announced our plan and the path that we're on, and we're going to stay on that path.”

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The timeline for the review was likely accelerated when the slow burn ignited on social media two weeks ago after Bryson DeChambeau took more than two minutes to hit a putt. Some players, most notably world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, spoke out against slow play, if not DeChambeau specifically.

Depending on whom you ask, slow play may or may not be a problem on Tour, but the bigger concern for executives like Monahan was the extremely public tiff between frat brothers – and it didn’t seem coincidental that the circuit quickly made public its plan. But if news of the Tour’s review quieted the overall concern for slow play it’s done nothing to actually speed things up.

Compared to the European Tour, which has always been more aggressive when it comes to slow play, the Tour’s current strategy seems reactionary at best and indifferent at worst.

By way of example, Monahan explained that the Tour has made various moves in recent years to address slow play, specifically pointing out the reduced cut size to the top 65 and ties starting next season and smaller fields at various events like opposite-field tournaments and at Riviera.

“We've taken steps to make certain that we've got our product in the best possible position from a field size standpoint and quality of presentation,” Monahan said.

Those steps, however, are focused on the symptoms of slow play – long rounds that often end up becoming a race against sunset – not a solution.

“Everybody's known for 20 years that it's slow and getting slower,” Lucas Glover said at East Lake. “We're just now going to take a look at it? No, that's not right. We've been taking a look at it. We're just trying to cut players instead of enforcing the policy.”

Slow play and, specifically, how slower players are treated on Tour isn’t new. Glover explained that these same conversations have been going on behind closed doors for years, but what’s different now is how those situations are handled on social media.

“The problems are identified earlier, and they're identified by more people, and the solutions sometimes are more complicated to get to,” Monahan said. “I feel really good about where we're going to get to, but it takes longer than you want, and you can't be overly reactionary.”

It wasn’t that long ago when Tour officials openly dismissed the notion that slow play was even a problem, which makes the current review at least a step in the right direction, and Monahan was optimistic that the circuit was working toward an answer.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine how endless data points can speed up a game that’s been grinding along at a snail’s pace for decades. Or how the Tour, which leads the game on so many fronts, can become more than just a follower when it comes to pace of play.