Pace of play has reared its ugly head again in the professional game after Americans Bryson DeChambeau and JB Holmes both got away with playing at a snail’s pace as they recorded recent victories in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and Genesis Open, respectively.
The latter’s win in Los Angeles on Sunday led Thomas Bjorn, Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup captain in France last year, to say he felt “the tours won’t deal with the biggest problem facing golf” and that view has been echoed by Lawrie, another of the European Tour’s seasoned campaigners.
Speaking at the launch of the Farmfoods Paul Lawrie Invitational – a new pro-am event to be held at Gleneagles this summer with the aim of raising a six-figure sum for three charities – the Aberdonian said: “Slow play is just getting worse and worse.”
On the European Tour, the first player to hit in a group has 50 seconds, which starts once he has been given time to work out the yardage and do his preparation. The second and third player in a group have 40 seconds. A player can be penalised if, “in position”, he takes over 80 seconds.
Referring to a clip that appeared on social media of DeChambeau, pictured, clearly infringing the permitted amount of time to hit a shot in the final round in Dubai, he added: “I don’t understand how the European Tour can show a video online of DeChambeau taking a minute or whatever to play a shot and not do anything about it. It’s a minute or so to take a wedge shot with a yard of air density or whatever?
“I don’t know how they can’t do anything about it. Is it because he’s winning and the sponsors don’t want that? I don’t know the reasons. But there must be reasons. They have monitoring systems in place that can monitor you when you are in position. There’s clearly something that is stopping the tours dealing with it. I don’t want to have a go at the tours. But, if they wanted to sort it out, I think they could and they are not, so there seems to be something behind it.”
Not only has Lawrie been very vocal about his frustration with slow play on social media but, on a couple of occasions over the years, he has actually confronted players in his group. “I hear a lot of people saying, ‘the players need to police it’. Well, I have tried that and that doesn’t work, either,” declared the 50-year-old.
“It doesn’t go well when you do that. I did it twice in my career when it has been outrageous and I said to the player, ‘I think your pace of play has been out of order there, you are putting everyone off as we are on the clock’. Both instances were with players I have always got on well with and both times it went very badly. It was not a nice reaction. I wouldn’t raise it with players again now. I would leave it to the officials to sort it out. Fifteen years ago, you’d be raging as he’s costing you money. Now you just think, ‘if the officials are not going to sort it out, there’s nothing I can do about it!’”
The focus on slow play has coincided with a number of other unsavoury issues in the game, including Sergio Garcia being disqualified in the inaugural Saudi International for serious misconduct as he intentionally damaged greens and also Matt Kuchar being jeered by fans in the Genesis Open before apologising for his handling of a payment to a local caddie when he won the Mayakoba Classic last year.
“These type of things always come up and, on this occasion, they have all come together, which is unfortunate,” said Lawrie. “I know Sergio pretty well. He will be hugely disappointed he’s let himself down. He knows that. I think Rory [McIlroy] had a word and he knows he can’t behave like that. It’s not my job to defend him. But I always got on with him brilliantly and at the Ryder Cup there’s no one better, on and off the course. He’ll know better than anyone he shouldn’t have been doing what he was doing. He’ll be gutted.”
As Garcia, in the words of Brooks Koepka, “acted like a child” in the Middle East, Lawrie was continuing his recovery from a foot operation and, after gradually stepping things up since the turn of the year, the former Open champion is ready to return to European Tour action for the first time since last April. He’s playing in the Oman Open next week then, straight after that, the Qatar Masters, an event he won in 1999 then again in 2012.
“I’ve only played two full 18-hole rounds since I had my surgery, but I thought the events in Oman and Qatar, with it being a little warmer, will give me the perfect chance to see where I am and where my game is. It will allow me to see whether I can crack on or not,” he said. “The signs are really good. The foot has been brilliant. The back has not been 100 per cent, but you’d expect that after such a long lay-off.”
After initially seeking advice from a specialist in Germany, Lawrie has been sorted out by a combination of his surgeon, Professor Gordon MacKay at Ross Hall, and Stuart Barton, the former Scottish Rugby physio who has a couple of practices in Fife.
“When I stopped in April, I had thoughts that I was done,” admitted Lawrie. “It was just by chance that I was in the Lundin clubhouse for the East of Scotland Open – I was down watching my son, Michael, playing in that last June – and Stuart was in the queue behind me when I was paying for a coffee. I’d never met him and he tapped me on the shoulder and said: ‘I know we’ve not met but I’m sorry to hear you’ve had to pull out [of the Scottish Open and Open], are you sure there is nothing that can be done?’
“And it just went from there. I’ve been down a couple of times a week for physio. He’s done the rehab the whole way through. He’s now doing my back, too. He’s just phenomenal at his job.”
MacKay is set to be reunited with Lawrie on the course after taking a team in the aforementioned Farmfoods Paul Lawrie Invitational. To be held on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles on 15 July, it will feature 22 teams each consisting of a tour professional, a celebrity and two amateurs.
Football figures Gordon Strachan, Neil Lennon and Willie Miller have all committed to play in the event, as have the Evans brothers – Max and Thom – and Rory Lawson from the rugby fraternity. Half of the money raised from the event will go to the Paul Lawrie Foundation with the other half split between the Doddie Weir Foundation and Beatson Cancer Charity. “Probably half of the teams have been sold already and we are hoping to raise a six-figure sum that we will give away,” said Lawrie.