Wednesday 21 August 2019

Slow play debate is gathering pace

This issue has been simmering for 100 years

Slow hand: American star Bryson DeChambeau is among the slowest on the pro tour. Photo: Getty
Slow hand: American star Bryson DeChambeau is among the slowest on the pro tour. Photo: Getty

Brian Keogh

They say there are only two sure things in life: death and taxes.

Golfers would make an argument for slow play too, but despite all the weeping and gnashing off teeth following Bryson DeChambeau's recent attempts to wrestle the tag of 'world's slowest player' from the sluggardly JB Holmes, the acres of newsprint dedicated to the theme this week is nothing new.

Back in 1950, when Cecil Ewing beat Brud Slattery to win his tenth West of Ireland title, the Sligo Champion's report on yet another weather- lashed 'West' informed readers that the conditions were so frightful for the early rounds that "some players took more than three hours solid trudging to get through the 18 holes".

Such reports of slow play were commonplace. In 1929 the Evening Herald took on the theme, with consternation in the paper about Philip Perkins' slow play en route to victory over Roger Wethered in that year's Amateur Championship at Prestwick.

Recounting the "wigs on the green" caused by "Mr E.T.P. Perkins", the writer recounted an anecdote about two elderly men who consistently held up a couple that liked to play at greyhound pace.

Having sent a caddie forward to ask permission to go through and been refused, things came to a head a few holes later when one of the greyhounds hit "a wow of a drive which pitched among the forward party".

A caddie was sent back at once with a message.

"The gentlemen in front present their compliments to the lady and gentleman behind and beg to inform them that they can, if necessary, go even slower".

The caddie returned at once with the reply: "The lady behind presents her compliments to the gentlemen in front and begs to inform them that it is a question of the quick or the dead."

Alex Herd, the 1902 Open champion, was also on about slow play (and TP Perkins taking over three hours to play) in his syndicated column of 1929, remarking that despite getting some abuse about his pre-shot waggle, he could "get round very comfortably today in two-and-a-half hours and not have to do any sprinting to maintain that time".

By 1937, Archie Compston was suggesting "traffic cops" should roam the course in major events, remarking to the Press Association that "might invest him with more authority if he were given a uniform of say, a helmet and a red coat" and, added Compston facetiously, "he might carry a truncheon".

Things continued in this vein into the 1950s when Col. Charles Hezlet, Irish Close champion in 1920 and twice the Irish Amateur Open winner, vowed as Chairman of the R&A's Championship Committee "to take strong action" against slow play in the 1952 Amateur at Prestwick.

The offender was to be given "a warning immediately his match finishes".

The inaction continued through the 1950s, with the deliberate pace of Bobby Locke forgiven because of his success rate.

The PGA promised "on-the-spot" action in 1957 and in 1958, the leader in the British Assistants' Championship, having taken three hours and 40 minutes for their third round, where admonished in the clubhouse and got just ten minutes for lunch ("two sandwiches and four glasses of milk") before being sent out for the final round.

The late, great Sean Diffley played the slow play theme when reporting from Lahinch for this paper in 1966 when competitors in the South of Ireland were left stranded by darkness.

"The culprits," he wrote, "were a couple of our younger school who for reasons best known to themselves, found it necessary to spend almost five-and-a-half hours going through the (slow) motions."

The GUI swung into action in 1968, promising "on-the-spot penalties" during the Irish Close at Royal Portrush.

And so the debate has raged on for the past 100 years, and while it is a simple question of etiquette, the professionals and the major tours continue to rail against the problem and receive promises that stringent new measures will be put in place to stamp it out.

The situation was summed up by Graeme McDowell's response to a tweet of exasperation from his former Ryder Cup teammate Eduardo Molinari after a five-and-a-half-hour round at the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II this year.

"Listen, golf courses are long, golf courses are hard, we're playing for a lot of money, it's a big business, it is what it is. There's just no way to speed the game up really. You can try these small percentiles, but at the end of the day, it's very hard to get around a 7,600-yard golf course with tucked pins with a three-ball in less than 4:45, 5 hours. You can't do it," he said.

Jack Nicklaus, another 'deliberate' player, has called on golf to rein in the golf ball as a solution to slow play and the distance debate. But if the golfers on the 1920s, 30s and 40s were plagued by the snails using rudimentary equipment, one wonders if it doesn't boil down to our unlimited capacity for selfishness.

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