Women's Scottish Open: Stacy Lewis still leading war on slow play

Change is never always for the better. Just ask Stacy Lewis. “When I came out on Tour, I would say there were a handful of slow players and now there's a handful of fast players,” said the American in delivering her verdict on how slow play has evolved in the women’s game. “I think that's the best way to put it.”

Defending champion Stacy Lewis in action in the Trust Golf Scottish Women's Open at Dumbarnie Links. Picture: Trust Golf Scottish Women's Open.
Defending champion Stacy Lewis in action in the Trust Golf Scottish Women's Open at Dumbarnie Links. Picture: Trust Golf Scottish Women's Open.

Unlike so many others in the game, Lewis isn’t scared to speak about slow play. She did so after being crowned as the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open champion at The Renaissance Club last October, calling for “aggressive” action after the final gorup had taken five hours and 16 minutes to complete their round.

When the topic was raised again at Dumbarnie Links on the eve of her title defence in what is now the Trust Golf Scottish Women’s Open, she certainly didn’t seem to have any regrets about that.

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“No, probably not,” said Lewis in reply to being asked if things had changed in terms of the pace of play on the LPGA Tour in the interim. “But people are paying attention. Our officials have gotten on to people a little bit more. I know there's been more fines and more penalties have been given out over the last year.”

Stacy Lewis shows off the trophy after her win in the 2020 Ladies Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Tristan Jones.

In May, the notoriously-slow Spaniard, Carlota Ciganda, suffered a painful defeat to Sarah Schmelzel in the Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play in Las Vegas after losing the final hole due to a pace-of-play penalty.

“I think it does,” replied Lewis to being asked she felt more high-profile punishments needed to be dished out. “Everyone initially was ‘wow’ and it looks harsh to the media and everybody on the outside.

“But I do think we need that. Because you start playing with shots that affects where you are on the leaderboard, affects how much money you're making, it affects your status at the end of the year. That affects things a lot more than $1,000 fine does ultimately. I'm okay with it and I'd like to see more of it.”

Another Spaniard, Azahara Munoz, was one of the worst culprits in this event last year, when Lewis found herself singing Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, her daughter’s favourite song at the time, to try and stop herself from being affected by the snail-like pace.

Australian Minjee Lee, a recent first-time major winner, in action in the Trust Golf Scottish Women's Open at Dumbarnie Links. Picture: Trust Golf Scottish Women's Open.

“I did, actually,” revealed Lewis to being asked if there had been any comeback to her views from fellow players. “You know, I was worried that a lot of times when you say things like that, people are going to say you're complaining and this and that.

"So I was a little bit worried talking about it, but the response was actually great. People were like, ‘I'm so happy you talked about it. I'm so glad you put it out there that things need to get better?’

“Aza actually came up to me and talked to me and asked ‘how do you and Travis (her caddie) come up with kind of the shot you're going to hit so quickly’," just kind of asked how she could kind of speed herself up, which I thought that was pretty cool, kind of taking ownership of it and probably realising she is going to play better if she does play faster.

“I think for Aza, it was just making a decision. I think the hardest part about links golf is you can be in a spot and hit four or five different shots. Your first instincts are usually right, and I kind of told her trust your first instinct and try not to over-complicate it.”

Germany's Sophia Popov is making her first appearance in Scotland since winning the AIG Women's Open at Royal Troon last year. Picture: Trust Golf Scottish Women's Open.

While she fears that some lengthy walks on the Clive Clark-designed course on the Fife coast won’t help this week, Lewis seems determined to be vocal on the subject, with her latest remarks coming in the week that Mollie Marcoux Samaan officially took over as the LPGA’s commissioner from Mike Whan.

“What I would like to see is more kind of spot-timing,” said the 36-year-old, who is hoping a strong title defence can help her secure a spot on the US team for next month’s Solheim Cup in her native Toledo.

“They have implemented a policy this year where you can be timed when you're not out of position if an official happens to be there, and if you're over, it's just a fine right now.

"But I would like to see if an official is there and you take too long, you should get shots. I mean, I would honestly like to see that.

Designed by Clive Clark, Dumbarnie Links is staging its biggest event since opening 15 months ago. Picture: Trust Golf Scottish Women's Open.

“Because, as a tour, I think we need to make this game more enjoyable, make it more fun to watch. You know, it's just I think with Covid and all that, we could potentially be losing people coming to tournaments, losing eyeballs watching us, and I would like to see us be on the forefront of making the game faster and making it more fun.”

Lewis was speaking after just finishing the pro-am for this week’s £1.1 million event. “The guys I played with today, one is a member at Crail, and he said their time limit is three hours. I mean, granted, tee-to-green is really close, it's a short walk. But that's how the game should be played.

“It's enjoyable, you can take three or four hours out of your day and you can go do whatever else you need to do where now, you're literally spending half of your day at the golf course, and not a lot of people have time for that.”

Lewis felt a tad slow herself compared to an era of fast players when she first came out on tour, but she says a trend of players being too ponderous needs to be bucked by the game’s new generation of top professionals.

“There has not been a whole lot of push for the last five or six years to get people to play faster,” she continued. “I don't think our timing policy is still where it needs to be where you know people still kind of know how to work the system and get away with it.

“I just think it need to be a courtesy thing because we need to realise as a tour, we're going to lose people watching us and we're going to lose fans because we are taking so long to play and I think that's what really needs to be hammered home to people is we need to do it more from that side than anything.

“It's little things. If you are first to hit, you need to walk faster and go get to your ball and if you're last to hit, you'd better be pulling a club out when the person is hitting.”

With one eye on the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie next week, seven of the world’s top-20 ranked players have joined Lewis in this week’s field, including eighth-ranked Philippines player Yuka Saso, who won this year’s US Open in San Francisco.

World No 9 Lydia Ko, fresh from winning an Olympic bronze medal in Japan at the weekend, is also in the line up, as is Australian Minjee, who is bidding to pull off a unique Scottish Open double after her younger brother, Min Woo, landed a sensational success in the men’s equivalent at The Renaissance Club last month.

“Yeah, I didn't think about it until you said,” admitted sister Minjee, who landed her maiden major victory in the Evian Championship in France recently, of her chance to also become a Scottish Open champion. “But It would be cool if we could both pull off a Scottish Open victory.”

The event also marks a return to Scottish soil for Germany’s Sophia Popov for the first time since she pulled off a fairytale victory in last year’s AIG Women’s Open on its first visit to Royal Troon.

“I'm very excited to be back in Scotland,” said Popov, who, at 304th, was the lowest-ranked player ever to win a major but is now up to 27th and is on course to secure a spot on Catriona Matthew’s team to defend the Solheim Cup at Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio, next month. “I quite like it here, as most people would probably think by now.”

Former Ryder Cup player Clive Clark, who designed the course, is arriving on Saturday from California for his first visit since the stunning venue officially opened 15 months ago. According to the man who has been overseeing operations in that period, Popov and Co are in for a totally different test to the one they’ve faced in fairly benign conditions in practice rounds.

“We understand through the forecast that it is set to come from the south-west as from tomorrow and Friday and it is definitely going to increase in strength up to around 25mph,” said David Scott, the general manager of Dumbarnie Links.

“Therefore, it is certainly going to make the golf course bare its teeth a lot more and some of the holes that have been playing downwind in practice will be into the wind. So the mindset will be scrambled when they’ve been used to hitting an 8-iron in and will be hitting an 4-iron.”

On what he’s been hearing from players so far this week, Scott added: “We’ve been delighted with the feedback. We weren’t too sure what the players would think, having not held an event as big as this here before.

"But the feedback has been very positive and they can’t believe the condition of the course considering it’s only been open 17 months, which is great testament to our course manager and his team.

“It’s wonderful to be positioned a week before a major and that has helped attract players here. To have the best players in the world play your golf course, you can’t not think that is a wonderful thing.”

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