Martin Dempster: Fast solutions needed to the curse of slow play in pro game

J.B. Holmes hits his second shot on the 13th hole during the final round of the Genesis Open. Picture: Ryan Kang/AP
J.B. Holmes hits his second shot on the 13th hole during the final round of the Genesis Open. Picture: Ryan Kang/AP
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Before Sergio Garcia turned the last couple of days into a frenzy following his petulant damaging of greens, an American colleague, Alex Miceli, and I had enjoyed chewing the fat over lunch in the plush Royal Greens clubhouse during the recent Saudi International. Donald Trump and Brexit were among the topics we touched upon, as was slow play in golf after it had reared its ugly head due to Bryson DeChambeau taking an eternity at times in the final round as he won in Dubai the previous weekend.

As I moaned and groaned about the one thing that bugs me most about this great game, Alex was unusually quiet – in fairness, he was maybe just allowing me to let out all my steam – before saying: “You guys over here [in Europe] get more uptight about slow play than we do and, anyway, nothing is going to happen when these guys are playing for vast sums of money every week.”

Well, judging by JB Holmes being allowed to get away with the golfing equivalent of murder as he made DeChambeau look like Usain Bolt when winning the Genesis Open in Los Angeles on Sunday, it seems as though he is right about that.

As Scott Michaux, another American colleague, suggested on social media, Holmes should have received a two-year suspension instead of a two-year exemption for his victory at Riviera Country Club because his actions showed total disrespect for not just his playing partners, Justin Thomas and Adam Scott, but the entire field.

It was no surprise, of course, that Holmes seemed to spend a lot of time during a round that took five hours and 29 minutes to complete – utterly ridiculous even allowing for the fact the conditions were tough due to winds of 25-30mph – poring over a green reading book. They should never been allowed in the first place, and what a pity the R&A and USGA only introduced restrictions last year when the chance seemed to be there to outlaw them from the game completely.

As had been the case when he had been in the spotlight for slow play in another PGA Tour event last season, Holmes offered no apology. “Well, you play in 25mph gusty winds and see how fast you play when you’re playing for the kind of money and points and everything that we’re playing for,” he said in his post-event interview. “You can’t just get up there and whack it when it’s blowing that hard.

“Yeah, when I first got out here I was really slow. But I’ve sped up quite a bit. I’ve gotten better. There’s times when I’m probably too slow, but it is what it is. I was never on the clock. Never even got a warning. TV wants everything to be real fast all the time.”

Okay, he might be right about us living in a world these days where it does indeed seem that everything needs to be done as rapidly as possible, but the fact of the matter is that Holmes was clearly breaking the rules by taking so long on Sunday and yet he still wasn’t put on the clock at any point. No wonder it was suggested on Twitter by Andrew Oldcorn, the former European Tour player, that the “biggest crime is being committed by PGA [Tour] officials who let him get away with it!”

While I can’t comment on PGA Tour referees, what has always struck me about the vast majority of European Tour rules officials is that, with the exception of the odd one or two, they’re quite a scary bunch. Not the type to mess with, you’d have thought. But, as evidenced by DeChambeau on that last day in Dubai, blatant slow play is also going unpunished on the European Tour.

According to Scott, one of Holmes’ playing partners in the final round in Los Angeles, it is going to take sponsors speaking up about the issue for it to be addressed. “The only way it’s going to work is if you enforce it,” said the Australian in an interview with Golf Digest. “We’ve seen too many years, too much complaining about it, and zero action.

“There’s a big media fuss, a big feeling [among fans] that we play slow, and we do, but the tour is an entertainment business and a big money maker for a lot of people. Until sponsors and TV tell the commissioner, you guys play too slow and we’re not putting money up, it’s a waste of time talking about because it’s not going to change.”

Well, it needs to… and sooner rather than later!