Martin Dempster: Women’s game must tackle slow play
In looking back on last week’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open, it is only right that we should start with the positives because, in the grand scheme of things, they should really outweigh any negatives.
The biggest positive of all, of course, was the fact a world-class event was able to take place on Scottish soil in these difficult times because, make no mistake, that alone was something we should be proud of.
Thanks to a collaboration between title sponsor Aberdeen Standard Investments, tournament promoters IMG and VisitScotland, some of the world’s top players were given their first chance to travel since coming out of lockdown and there was no disguising how much they were grateful for that opportunity.
There was also no hiding how much they were impressed by the safety measures that had been put in place by a team led by Dr Andrew Murray to create the same sort of “bio-bubble” that has been working effectively since the full European Tour restart with its new UK Swing.
Imagine how difficult it must have been from players around the world staying in a hotel in Edinburgh last week and not being allowed to venture out into Auld Reekie. That must have been torture when you have time to kill, as is often the case with professional golfers at tournaments, but, in fairness, they took it on the chin and didn’t breach any of the protocols.
In short, the event set everything up perfectly in terms of what is expected for the second leg on a Scottish Swing, this week’s AIG Women’s British Open at Royal Troon, because it will be exactly the same again as far as delivering the safest possible environment is concerned.
Another positive last week was seeing The Renaissance Club prove that it can bare teeth, as illustrated by this year’s winning total being five under par compared to 20 under in the event’s first visit to the East Lothian venue last year. That wasn’t down to a tough week’s weather because the conditions were actually quite benign overall. What created a good test of golf was the Tom Doak-designed course being allowed to play at its appropriate length for this event and the rough also being a bit juicier than last year.
Here’s hoping it will be exactly the same for the men’s Scottish Open when it returns for a second staging in October and, if so, we certainly shouldn’t be seeing a repeat of 22 under being the winning aggregate in that event.
The cream normally rises to the top when you provide a tough but fair challenge and that was certainly the case on this occasion as players such as world No 2 Danielle Kang and major winners in Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis all headed into the last day in the mix.
In the end, the event got a great champion in Lewis as she added this title to her Women’s British Open win at St Andrews in 2013 and fair play to the American for speaking out, both on Saturday and Sunday, about the big negative to come out of the week.
Yip, slow play reared its ugly head again in the women’s game and, while I agree it is not alone in having that problem, it does appear to be an issue that neither the LPGA nor LET is prepared to tackle.
Playing in three-balls, the final group took five hours and 16 minutes to complete their round. According to Meghan MacLaren, who was playing in the event, it had taken five hours and 45 minutes on Friday evening, with Wallace Booth, who was caddying for sister Carly, saying their second round had taken exactly six hours.
Sorry, but that is simply unacceptable and, if something isn’t done about it, then the women’s game will not get the chance to flourish on the back of an excellent new venture like the recent Rose Ladies Series.
On Saturday, I loved the fact that so many of the players in the field at The Renaissance Club looked to be enjoying themselves as they laughed and smiled their way around the course, the majority producing some fantastic golf in the process.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday, though, as it became tediously slow and no wonder Lewis, who certainly wasn’t one of the culprits, admitted it “couldn’t have been fun to watch on TV”. It wasn’t and that’s a real pity.
Lewis has called for “aggressive” action to be taken over slow play and here’s hoping that David Rickman, the R&A’s rules guru, and his team start that process this week because the first AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon really is a chance to help grow women’s golf rather than it proving a turn-off for a new generation of girl golfers.
Every single player in the 144-strong field should be reminded before stepping on to the first tee on Thursday that she has a responsibility to play her part in trying to deliver quicker rounds and respecting not only fellow players but the game as a whole by doing so.
If Sunday was anything to go by, too many players in the women’s game don’t get themselves prepared for their turn to hit and, in some cases, then take forever to actually pull the trigger. Why doesn’t someone point that out to them?
The positives will again outweigh the negatives this week, no doubt, but here’s hoping it can be a catalyst for change in respect of the one thing that does the sport in general no favours but the women’s game in particular at the top level.
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