Martin Dempster: Remedy required on slow play

Guan Tianlang's slow-play penalty was an all-too-rare event. Picture: Getty

Guan Tianlang's slow-play penalty was an all-too-rare event. Picture: Getty

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IT’S a pity Paul Lawrie isn’t the man tasked with trying to stamp out slow play in golf. Given how he was feeling after being forced to endure a snail’s pace round on Saturday, it wouldn’t be long before he kicked some backsides and started making the game more enjoyable to both play and watch again.

Taking to Twitter to launch a good old rant within minutes of completing his third round in the Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea on Saturday, the Aberdonian wrote: “5 hours 16 mins to play today. Absolute joke as ever. How many players penalised or fined? Zero.”

By the time he got round to commenting on his website blog, Lawrie still seemed to have steam coming out of his ears. “An absolute disgrace but par for the course these days,” he added there.

According to Stephen Gallacher, another Scot competing in the South Korean event, a “swirling wind and massive elevation changes” at Blackstone Golf Club in Icheon was a “recipe for slow play” on this particular occasion.

There’s no doubt, though, that the sport is starting to seriously test the patience of some players and it won’t be long before golf fans are feeling exactly the same.

Yes, Guan Tianlang deserved to be hit with a one-shot penalty in the Masters as he failed to heed a warning about taking too long over shots – young as he is, being a 14-year-old isn’t a justifiable defence.

Suffering the same fate in last year’s Amateur Championship hasn’t done English teenager Nathan Kimsey any harm – he’s a contender for the Walker Cup later this season –and hopefully what happened at Augusta will stand the Chinese lad in good stead, too, as his career develops.

What stinks, though, is that two events have been held on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour since the season’s opening major and it appears slow play hasn’t been a problem in any of them based on a lack of action by officials.

As Lawrie’s frustration clearly illustrates, that’s simply not true and the sooner punishments are handed out on a weekly – make that daily – basis the better as that’s what it’s going to take for golf to get back on the road to recovery as far as an acceptable pace of play is concerned.

For that to happen, the game needs more people like John Paramor, the man who dished out that penalty to Guan.; more people like Jim McArthur, the man who, in his role as championship convenor, got the R&A to start playing its part in the war against the slowcoaches; more people like Shona Malcolm, who has been instrumental in the Ladies Golf Union doing its bit.

Ironically, two events on the doorstep of its St Andrews HQ proved to be the catalyst for that.

“The Women’s British Open in 2007 was slow, but it was after the Curtis Cup the following year that we decided a reality check was in order,” said the CEO Malcolm. “The fourballs were particularly slow and that’s when slow play became high up on our agenda.”

By simply implementing a system that involved four checkpoints being set up around the course – clocks were placed at these locations and players were made aware of what time their group was expected to reach those points by having it printed on pin sheets – the results have been encouraging.

“It has worked quite well,” observed Malcolm. “In the early stages, for example, we were seeing the best part of an hour knocked off rounds in amateur tournaments and that’s got to be a good thing. We’re not complacent and we’re not scared to penalise players either as we’ve done that a couple of times.”

Let’s start hearing about it in just about every big professional and amateur tournament.

That way, we’ll know that steps are being taken to stamp out something that has the potential to make the sport a huge turn-off for future generations.

‘Get bored’ is an excellent motto

WHILE he certainly can’t lay claim to being the first to say it, Nick Faldo’s advice that promising young golfers should get “bored winning amateur events” before even contemplating turning professional is certainly spot on.

It was aimed at Guan Tianlang on the back the Chinese 14-year-old becoming the youngest player to make the cut in Masters history and, having now qualified for the final two rounds of a PGA Tour event as well, the professional game could indeed be his oyster one day.

Closer to home, let’s hope that advice has also registered with the likes of Scottish Boys’ champion Bradley Neil and Ewan Scott, winner of the Scottish Youths’ Championship last year.

There should be no rush for either to join the paid ranks. They have the games to keep winning amateur titles, earning more caps and becoming better all-round players.

“Keep winning, get bored winning in the amateur game then move over,” is Faldo’s advice and, though the face of the game may have changed quite a bit since he was winning events like the Craigmillar Park Open, it’s difficult surely for anyone to take him to task over that.

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