Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, believes it is time for golf’s slowcoaches at all levels to be named and shamed after their behaviour was described as both “selfish” and a “form of cheating”. The accusations were made on the second and final day of a pace-of-play symposium in St Andrews, where it was revealed that world No 1 Jordan Spieth had been put on the clock there in this year’s Open Championship.
While normally one of the game’s quicker players, the step was imposed after the American ignored an earlier nudge from rules officials to speed up in the company of Spaniard Sergio Garcia in the third round. “Sergio made an effort and, on the ninth tee, I said, ‘thank you Sergio for your efforts, but Jordan you’ve made no effort whatsoever, so you are on the clock’,” Kevin Feeney, one of the European Tour’s referees, told the conference.
He described that step as sending out a “hugely powerful message” and went on to add that it had a positive effect on Spieth rather than a negative one. “When he was on the clock, Jordan went birdie-birdie-birdie and he came over and thanked me after, saying it was essentially the kick he was needing,” added Feeney.
During his presentation as the focus was turned on players in a bid to improve pace of play in the game, it was revealed that 24 golfers had incurred penalty shots – the last resort after verbal warnings then cash punishments – for slow play in the history of the European Tour.
The list included Seve Ballesteros and two recent Ryder Cup players, Nicolas Colsaerts and Jamie Donaldson, with South African Charl Coetzee and Chinese amateur Guan Tianlang, who was punished at The Masters, among four players hit with penalties in 2013. “There were none in 2014 and 2015, so the message is getting across,” insisted Feeney of the Tour’s education programme.
After watching a video of one professional taking one minute and 33 seconds to hit a shot, Denis Pugh, a leading coach and Sky Sports golf analyst, described players as “selfish” and claimed hitting culprits with shot penalties was the only way to hurt them. “It has cost me money,” he said of pupil Ross Fisher being pipped for the 2012 Wales Open after suffering a one-stroke penalty in the final round. “Ultimately, though, pace of play is the player’s responsibility and fining them does not have the same impact as hitting them with shot penalties.”
Rebecca Hudson, a four-times winner on the Ladies European Tour and now chairman of the circuit’s Players’ Council, hit out at players who will speed up when put on the clock but then slow down again once they come off it. “I think it is a form of cheating, the same as kicking a ball out of the rough,” she said.
Vociferous in the past on the same topic, Stephen Gallacher called for the European Tour to copy the LET by introducing spot checks rather than letting players know they are on the clock as it would “create a little bit of fear”. He added: “I played with a guy in the US who said that he just carries his cheque book to pay for slow play fines. That is a horrendous attitude because it is almost bending the rules. The only way is hitting them with shots.”
While delegates heard that the European Tour posts a list at every tournament of players who have either been timed or fined, it is not normal practice for that to be made public. “I think there is a fear to publish,” said Slumbers in reference to slow play culprits across the game. “But I think it would be better for dialogue to publish some names and numbers in both the club and professional game.”