Amateur Championship at Troon latest to get tough in battle with slow play

THEY’RE all coming out of the trenches now in the war against slow play.

First it was the LPGA Tour (imposing a loss of hole on Morgan Pressel in the Cybase Match Play event). Then it was the European Tour (penalising Ross Fisher a shot and hitting him with a £6,000 fine in the Wales Open). Now the R&A has got in on the act as well by taking tangible action over slow play for the first time since the 2004 Open Championship at this very venue.

Playing in the second of two qualifying rounds for the 117th Amateur Championship on the Ayrshire coast, English teenager Nathan Kimsey was penalised a shot, turning a one-over-par 72 into a 73, after he fell victim to a crackdown on slow play that had been spelt out – in black and white, in fact – to every single player in the 288-strong field before the gun went off on Monday.

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“We drew up a briefing paper that was handed to every competitor at check-in,” said Grant Moir, the R&A’s Assistant Director-Rules, as he faced the media to report the action that had been taken against Kimsey.

“It’s been translated into the 15 languages of the competitors at the championship and contains relevant bullet points about the policy.” Those points covered every base, including the responsibilities of players in terms of timing, the procedures when groups are put on the clock and the various penalties that could be meted out by officials. Yet, by some of the competitors at least, they were still either ignored or forgotten about almost instantly.

On Monday, 13 groups were put on the clock at Royal Troon and another four at Glasgow Gailes, the other course being used for the 36-hole qualifying. Four ‘bad times’ were recorded at Royal Troon, resulting in the offenders being given a warning – the last sanction available to officials before moving on to penalty strokes.

Yesterday, Kimsey, an England boys’ international from Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire, paid the price for not heeding the warning he was given by an official at the 16th after his group had been put on the clock with a few holes to play on the Open Championship course. After a second ‘bad time’ on the 18th tee, his one-shot penalty was imposed on the spot.

While Moir insisted the action hadn’t been taken with any “intention to send out messages” ahead of next month’s Open Championship at Royal Lytham, he admitted the R&A had made a conscious decision to “act in the benefit of those players who genuinely want to play at a good pace”.

He added: “We had a referee’s assessment meeting earlier in the year where it was confirmed that our existing pace of play policy would be applied as stringently as possible this season. All the officials have been instructed to apply the policy and the briefing paper was drawn up in order to pursue this as vigorously and consistently as possible.”

As Kimsey licked his wounds – it could have been worse as he still qualified comfortably for the match-play phase starting today with a total of 143 – some research revealed there had been a touch of irony about him becoming the R&A’s first slow play victim in eight years. Earlier this year, he played 18 holes at his home club in a whirlwind 32 minutes – just outside the world record – for charity.

“It’s my first experience of this kind of thing and it’s left a sour taste in my mouth,” he said of his penalty after being deemed, you could say, to have turned from the hare to the tortoise. “It’s the principle of the thing. The rules are there in writing and they have followed it to the absolute letter. I just thought they were being a bit pedantic.”

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On a day when Frenchman Gregoire Schoeb missed out on qualifying as he was disqualified for signing for a wrong score in his opening effort, Daniel Jennevret, a 22-year-old Swede, claimed the top seeding in the match-play phase after setting a new amateur course record at Royal Troon with a six-under-par 65. “I was good off the tee and hit 17 greens in regulation,” said the Texas Christian University student, who is playing in the event for the first time. In near-perfect conditions, he also knocked in a good few putts – seven of them for birdies – in “one of the better rounds I have ever played”.

Reflecting just how cosmopolitan this event has become, a total of 25 countries are represented in the 78 qualifiers. Scotland are one of them, though to have six players still standing – Paul Ferrier (Baberton), Danny Young (Craigie Hill), Jack McDonald (Kilmarnock (Barassie)), James White (Lundin), Brian Soutar (Leven Golfing Society) and James Ross (Royal Burgess) – is a relatively poor return from a starting line-up of 29.

On-form Dutchman Daan Huizing progressed comfortably on 143, one more than both Ferrier and Young, with Ross, a semi-finalist in the Scottish Amateur last summer up the coast at Western Gailes, and Welshman Rhys Pugh, a member of the winning Walker Cup team at Royal Aberdeen in September, among those to scrape in on 145.