PGA – IS A SHOT CLOCK COMING TO THE TOUR?

Last week, it was reported that the European Tour would experiment with a shot clock at an event in 2018 with the objective of addressing the slow pace-of-play problem permeating the sport.

This trial is scheduled to take place during the June 7-10 Austrian Open and will feature a referee with a timer following every group.  Each player will be given an allotment of 40-seconds for each stroke, but a violation of that time will first earn a “yellow card”, and then a penalty stroke for every noncompliance after that.

It is expected that this measure will shorten rounds by at least 45 minutes.

If successful, this stratagem could be expanded to other events on the European tour and likely influence the PGA with the possibility of following suit.

The question remains: Will the players on the PGA Tour go for this?

According to PGA professional Bill Haas, his dad Jay Haas has said the idea of a shot clock has been kicked around the tour “since he was a rookie” (1977).  But, no one has ever done anything serious about it.

Instead, players in a grouping on the PGA Tour are merely asked to keep up with the group in front of them and not “unduly delay play”.  (See Rules here.)

Only when a group falls behind and is deemed “out of position” is the pace addressed.  Initially, they are given a courtesy “hurry-up” gesture by a Tour official.

If they continue to fall off the pace, each player in the grouping is then officially put “on the clock” and timed 40 seconds for each stroke (with exceptions).  Players may then be penalized a stroke or DQ’d if they continue to remain inefficient.

But, the Tour rarely hands out penalty strokes and/or fines for slow play.  There have only been 3 such examples since 1995: 2017 Zurich Classic (to partners Brian Campbell and Miguel Angel Carballo); 2013 (to 14-year-old amateur Tianlang Guan at the Masters); and 1995 (to Glen Day at the 1995 Honda Classic.

As a result, it is not uncommon for PGA pros to take 5+ hours to finish 18 holes instead of the standard 3-4.

In this modern era of shrinking attention spans and limitless choices for alternate sports and entertainment, it’s hard not to think this doesn’t worry the USGA.

So, why hasn’t anyone done anything about this?

At least from some Tour professionals’ perspectives, there is a belief that more time equals success.  Former World No. 1 Jason Day said earlier this year that being more “deliberate” is the best thing for his game and being pressured to speed things up has hurt his outcomes.

And, when 50 players were anonymously polled by GOLF.com in March and asked if the PGA should institute a shot clock, the majority of them said “NO” (58%).

Instead, these players suggested that there are “other” ways to address the problem, or that we should “enforce the current rules instead.” Another player said, “only a few guys cause a problem” with slow play, while another added that “it’s not as big a deal as people make it out to be.”

Hmm, then why did most of the same group vote “YES” (84%) when asked if slow pace was “a problem” on the tour?

From a fan’s perspective, I’m thrilled about the idea of a shot clock for golf.  It frustrates me when players back off of a shot 5 times, or ruminate exponentially over what club to choose.

Plus, the idea of shortening rounds sounds great.  I love to watch the sport on TV, but like MLB games, I think it goes on too long to keep me fully engaged for the duration.

The solution of a shot clock is the perfect one.  It keeps everyone on the same playing field and more importantly, will speed things up, key for growing the game.

Incidentally, when those players polled were asked if they thought it was their responsibility to grow the game, 78% of them said “YES”…

 

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