WSJ: "Hurry Up! Sports Has a Time Problem"

Thanks to reader Todd for this column by the WSJ’s Jason Gay on the time problem all sports are grappling with.

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, he writes:

These are hard days for unhurried athletes. Take too long to putt, to pitch, to pass, to kick, to serve, and you’re going to be targeted for impatient ridicule. This is a world, after all, where people pay extra to cut the line at the amusement park. This is a world where people buy gin and tonic in a can. That’s right: we’re all in such an urgent scramble, we don’t have the two seconds it takes to mix gin with tonic. 

Sports say they are trying to get better. They’re installing time clocks and cutting commercial breaks to lop minutes off the game. 

They might want to get more aggressive. We’re on the go, barreling around, barely tapping the brakes. There’s no more luxurious leisure anymore. The era of the meandering sporting event is over. There’s a pre-made gin and tonic waiting at home. And I think that movie has finally loaded. 

We’ve known this has been looming for some time and many golf writers have addressed (ad nauseum) the various slow play issues on both pro and recreational levels.

Other than the European Tour’s one-off event and more aggressive enforcement by their officials than the PGA Tour—but less than what the USGA and AJGA are doing most weeks—the sport has yawned at any substantial effort to adapt to the times. And this is all long before other sports went into their current panic modes, where some pretty radical changes are on the table.

Take the suggestion of nine hole matches at the Olympics, where rapid fire competition and head-to-head matches within pool play decide medals? That’s generally scoffed at and ridiculed because no championship is currently decided that way or it’s not normal, even though it would have shown the world a shorter, faster, more economical and dynamic side of golf.

How about more match play in general, as golf audiences of all ages are drawn to its better pacing, emotions and strategy? Nope. The TV networks get blamed there even as television networks fueling the passion for more match play.

Until last weekend’s social media fueled outrage over Bryson DeChambeau taking his sweet time, there have been few seminal moments to point to as evidence that we’ve lost the plot. Now the sport has one, it’s just a shame that Bryson is the poster child as he’s a good-hearted soul who genuinely loves the game. While spectacularly immodest at times, he’s also incredibly sensitive to the health and perception of the sport more than most professional golfers.

He just has no support system in the form of penalty strokes to make him play faster.

Oh, and no golf professional should be put on the spot about their role in controversy moments after an 18th hole bogey.

So the bickering will continue, ShotLink will be leveraged and pro tours will stall on the most pressing issue in the sport, the real concern should be about fans both in person and watching at home. I haven’t heard much concern for them, only what would happen to a golf professional’s bank account if we were to penalize them.

If the professional’s livelihood continues to be the focus, the insular world of professional golf will quickly lose fans for not adapting quickly to the times.