PGA Tour comes up with strong punishment for slow play
by Doug Ferguson
KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP)?
Slow players are going to pay the price this year on the PGA Tour, and it won't just come from their bank accounts.
In its ongoing quest to improve the pace of play, the tour has devised a penalty scale that gives players only one warning for slow play before rules officials assess a one-stroke penalty which goes along with increased fines.
Even getting timed for being out of position could be costly. In the biggest change of all, anyone who gets put on the clock 10 times during the year will be fined $20,000.
"This will get their attention," said Henry Hughes, the tour's chief of operations.
It already has.
Players were talking about the new policy as soon as they arrived at Kapalua for the season-opening Mercedes Championships.
Most of them were hopeful it would work.
"It's about time," Vijay Singh said. "The only problem with that is, are they going to enforce it? I think you need to put in a no-warning, one-stroke penalty. They know who's slow out there."
Until this year, the tour's penalty scale allowed for two warnings before players were assessed a one-stroke penalty for taking too long. Players are allowed 40 seconds for each shot, with an extra 20 seconds for the player who goes first.
Under the new policy:
- One bad time during a round is a warning.
- Two bad times is a one-stroke penalty and a $5,000 fine.
- Three bad times is a two-stroke penalty and a $10,000 fine.
- Four bad times means the player is disqualified.
"Our goal is to enforce the pace of play regulations and to draw attention to the pace of play regulations," Hughes said.
What has some players concerned is the accumulative policy for being put on the clock, even if a player hits his shot within the allotted time.
When a group gets out of position - defined by an open hole ahead of them - each player in that group is considered to be on the clock. The 10th time a player is put on the clock during the year results in a $20,000 fine.
That means if a fast player keeps winding up in groups with notoriously slow players, he could get put on the clock 10 times and face a big fine, even though he's done nothing wrong.
The reason for the accumulative policy is that slow players, once warned that they're on the clock, tend to speed up and never suffer the consequence. Still, that led Nick Price to wonder, "If I'm in a convenience store when it gets robbed, does that make me guilty?"
Rules official Jon Brendle said players can always appeal, and Hughes doesn't see fast players put in that predicament.
"It's possible, but when you look at it historically, it's not probable," he said. "We think peer pressure will be a factor."
Whether the new policies make a difference remains to be seen. The onus falls on rules officials to be willing to assess a one-stroke penalty, even to the point of disqualification. Twenty-two tournaments were decided by one stroke last year.
Singh remains skeptical.
"They can do whatever they want, but it's not going to do any good," he said. "Guys will start off like a greyhound, and finish like a poodle."