If there was any doubt about the gravity of pushback received at PGA Tour headquarters over Bryson DeChambeau’s slow play boondoggle, look no further than the operation’s first significant comments on slow play in decades.
After Commissioners Tim Finchem and Jay Monahan have both done their best Heisman pose to slow play questions for two decades now, they issued quotes from the Tour’s Chief of Operations Tyler Dennis in a house-organ piece by “Staff” as The Northern Trust played out.
Not often you get a major change in position from a sports organization in the middle of a playoff game, but that’s what occurred Sunday as Patrick Reed was en route (and on the clock) to winning the 2019 playoffs’ first leg.
The TOUR’s current pace-of-play policy only addresses players whose groups have fallen out of position. The TOUR is now exploring whether to expand its policy to also address players whose groups are in position, but who take an excessive amount of time to hit a shot.
“We know that the individual habits of players when they are preparing to hit a shot can quickly become a focal point in today’s world, and our players and fans are very passionate about this issue,” said Tyler Dennis, the PGA TOUR’s Chief of Operations. “We have leveraged our ShotLink technology to provide every player with a pace of play report that they can access which breaks down the varying parts of their game and gives feedback on the amount of time on average that the player takes to hit a particular shot.
“We are currently in the process of reviewing this aspect of pace of play and asking ourselves, ‘Is there a better way to do it?’ We think technology definitely plays a key role in all of this and we are thinking about new and innovative ways to use it to address these situations.”
Publishing those numbers would clean up the problem via simple exposure of slow pokes and incentivizing to not be at the bottom of the list.
Those numbers have been compiled for thirteen years, yet only now the Tour is looking at using them to make meaningful change.
I’ve wrote a column in 2010—2010!—suggesting that a sponsor wanting to be associated speed could put up a bonus pool purse and it’d be watched a lot more closely than Wyndham Rewards chase, that I can assure you. The data and ShotLink 2.0 technology has only made the information more accurate since.
The story took on an Onionesque tone when it went to this comedy:
“We have learned over the years that pace has a lot of factors that play into it, and it’s actually quite complicated,” he added. “The overall time to play a round is affected by things like the number of players on the course, tee time intervals, amount of daylight, course set-up and the weather. Some of these are things we can influence, and some are not.”
The amount of fans and media following a group also can impact the pace of play, said Justin Rose.
“The crowds are a lot bigger here and a lot more vocal and there's a lot more movement and distraction, I think which obviously creates the atmosphere that we want to play in front of,” Rose said. “You can't have it both ways. You can't have it fun and rowdy out here and yet expect guys to hit shots on a clock through situations where the environment isn't ready for them to play.”
This generally impacts one player and one player only. But a fine try to soften the blow of the DeChambeau debacle which was at least explained in detail. Then touted the best players in the world, in a limited field event, playing in 4:51 with people carrying their clubs, volunteers finding lost balls and playing lights-out great golf.
DeChambeau’s group still played in 4:51 on Friday. That was just one minute slower than in Round 1 and consistent with other groups in the second round.
The TOUR has seen positive results from increasing the intervals between tee times this year. “We are seeing great improvements to the flow and in particular to the speed with which we can recover following an issue with a group that results in a momentary slow-down in pace,” Dennis said.
Of course, the issue is not these understandable bits of logjamming, but the pure selfishness of some entitled by a lack of significant penalty strokes or bank account-damaging fines.
And there was one more plug for ShotLink…
“We are really focused at the moment on leveraging our ShotLink technology to assist us with these factors,” Dennis said. “This year, we have rolled out version 2.0 of an application which allows the officials to monitor every group in real-time, from their positions out on the course, and respond more quickly when a group is getting behind.”
The PGA Tour referees, the best in the business when it comes to knowing the players, knowing how to time, understanding complications and keeping an eye on pace, do not need ShotLink to assess a slow player. They need the backing of the players and Commissioners to dish out a few penalties to those who everyone knows are taking too long to hit golf shots, with a workable policy that lets them target repeat offenders.
As for what the Tour’s method of breaking news, keep in mind that Dennis was not made available to press at the Northern Trust or in a conference call, and no statement was sent to media as is the case with things like failed drug tests, quotes about the passing of legends or other significant PGA Tour news.
But as the social media firestorm and ensuing player backlash proved in forcing this policy “review”—mainstream media was not the cause—slow play is the sport’s biggest perception and business matter and has been for decades.