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Tuesday, December 23, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 5/23/2012

COMMENTARY

Slow play damaging golf's appeal

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If memory serves, Jack Nicklaus is responsible for a classic nickname. After playing a round of slow-poke golf with Glen Day, Nicklaus christened him "All Day."

In 1995, Day was assessed a penalty in the middle of a round for his on-course paralysis. Would you care to guess how many times the PGA Tour has penalized someone for slow play in the 17 years since?

That's right. Zero.

This brings us to last weekend's slow-play penalty dealt by the LPGA Tour to Morgan Pressel. Playing in the Sybase Match Play Championship semifinals, Pressel had just birdied the 12th hole to take a 3-up lead over Spain's Azahara Munoz with six holes to play.

But Pressel was slapped on the spot with a penalty, and in match play that means loss of hole. Instead of being 3-up her lead dwindled to 1-up. And Munoz eventually won the match.

It was an interesting decision for a couple reasons. The LPGA needs American winners the way fish need water. So, on the surface, Pressel winning a domestic event is in the best interest of the tour and its sponsors.

Also, being the semifinal round of a match play event, there were four players in two twosomes on the entire golf course. It's not as if slow play was backing up the field.

Still, rules are rules. Pressel and Munoz, a self-described slow player, had been informed on the ninth hole that they were on the clock.

On the 12th hole, Pressel took 57 seconds to hit her tee shot. By the time she putted out, she was 39 seconds over the allotted time for all shots on that hole.

So the rules officials did their job and sent a message about slow play. Good for them, because nobody else is doing anything about it.

Golf is dying a slow death, pun intended. Earlier this year, Luke Donald, then ranked No. 1 in the world, said, "Slow play is killing our game." And he wasn't exaggerating by much.

In the most recent available study, the National Golf Foundation reported that 4.5 million Americans who played golf in 2009 never touched a club in 2010.

The economy was presumed to be the culprit, but so is the fact that an 18-hole game that should take about four hours, tops, has slowed to a 5 1/2-hour weekend crawl at about any course you try.

I used to play three times a week. Now it's about three times a year. The game ceased being fun because it takes too long and has become too tedious. We've all watched far too many players go through far too many pre-shot routines, all the waggles, all the backing off, more waggles, more indecision, changing clubs, and starting all over. Just hit the damn ball.

It happens at a course near you because it happens on the pro tours. The PGA has a guy named Kevin Na who is just a box of wacko. There's so much going on inside his head, so many swing thoughts speaking to him in tongues that he takes forever to pull the trigger.

Watching him and some others play is a joke -- it's 10 times worse in person than on TV, where coverage hops and skips around the course and shields viewers from the lengthy interludes in an already slow-paced sport.

It's a bigger joke that the PGA Tour has for years preferred to look the other way, to the detriment of the game, and let its golfers repeatedly break the pace-of-play rules.

The LPGA's ruling last weekend was a tad odd because of the when, where, and who, but I applaud the statement.

Golf, after all, was never meant to take All Day.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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