The issue of slow play in golf raises an interesting philosophical question. Really. A recent article in USA Today informs us that the issue is not new and is getting worse.
That’s the general consensus as the pace of play has reared its unhurried head in the last two weeks. In the PGA Tour‘s showcase event, the May 10-13 Players Championship, Kevin Na caused a slow burn for fans around the world as he took hundreds of waggles and regularly backed off shots. He even purposely whiffed so he could start over as he struggled with inner demons that wouldn’t allow him to get comfortable.
Last week, Morgan Pressel was assessed a slow-play penalty that cost her a hole in a semifinal bout with Azahara Munoz in the Sybase Match Play Championship, turning a commanding 3-up lead with six holes to play into a 1-up advantage she eventually lost.
It is true that watching golf on TV (I have never attended a tournament myself) is like watching grass grow — in a drought. And the average golfer is mimicking the pros not only in dress but also in behavior, causing slow play on the nation’s golf courses. If I thought that the professionals were taking extra time over their ball to ponder the moral implications of playing a game for millions of dollars in prize money and endorsements while so many of their fellow citizens live in poverty, I would not complain so loudly. But I somehow doubt that this is the case. Nonetheless, while hardly a major issue, slow play is an interesting one.
I say that because sports are one of the few places in our society where rules still apply and when people openly flaunt the rules of golf, in this case, it is somewhat disquieting. After all, there are rules governing pace of play in golf and players at the professional level have been “put on the clock” more than once. But seldom, especially in the men’s game, have any penalties been levied — not even financial penalties even though the players are making millions of dollars.
On the women’s side, the rules were recently enforced against Morgan Pressel, as the article mentions. And it created a flurry of discussion on Golf Channel later on — for several hours. Should she have been penalized, given the fact that she had been warned twice about her pace of play and didn’t show any signs of quickening her pace? Those who defend her talked about the money she stood to lose by, in effect, being ruled out of the match-play tournament. But this is irrelevant — even though Tiger Woods used the same argument to insist that something should be done in the men’s game, but not anything that will cost anyone money. Dismissing stroke penalties, Woods said, “Strokes (cost) money. People don’t realize how valuable one shot out here is.” Really now, have we come to this? Is prize money the sole consideration here? It seems clear that when a rule is broken and warnings have been delivered, a penalty should be enforced — and it should be a stiff penalty. If not money in the form of a fine (which many of these players could pay with the small change in their pockets) then taking strokes away from them, which will indeed cost the players both large sums of money and quite possibly the prestige of winning.
I applaud the LPGA in their attempt to move the game along by enforcing reasonable rules. And I fault the PGA for mouthing platitudes and refusing to apply the same rules against the men who can take five or six hours to play 18 holes of golf these days. Not only does it make for boring TV — which one can always turn off — but it does lead to imitation by amateurs. But, above all else, it is a rule. And in sports rules should be enforced or they aren’t worth the paper they are written on. The lack of enforcement of rules reduces the value of sports in our culture to the level of simply another business endeavor where rules are broken every day in the name of larger profits. But, then, perhaps that is where we have arrived.