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Jordan Spieth urges a putt on the first hole to stop in the final round of The Greenbrier Classic tournament in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Sunday. The tournament was delayed for three hours due to inclement weather.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — His hat pulled low, Tiger Woods surveys the green in steely silence. He stands over his putt and looks at the ball, then the hole, then the ball again.
“Hey!” a kid standing nearby shouts. “While we’re young?”
Perhaps you’ve seen that commercial, or one of the four other 30-second spots like it that were recently released by the United States Golf Association. They’re meant to be funny — a play on Rodney Dangerfield’s line in “Caddyshack” — but they have a point, too: Too many golfers play way too slowly.
That’s why it was fascinating to watch the horse race that was Sunday’s final round of The Greenbrier Classic. The pros, jockeying for their share of a $6.5 million purse, apparently didn’t need an ad campaign to ramp up their speed of play.
All they needed was a 3-hour, 8-minute rain delay in the afternoon.
As soon as festivities resumed at 5 p.m., these guys were off and running. Players suffering through poor rounds finished up quickly so they could get on their flights and leave town. Players who knew they weren’t going to win didn’t mull their chips and waggle their hips; they played their shots and got out of the way to give the contenders their best chance to finish the tournament on Sunday.
In the end, the galloping golfers somehow beat nightfall by a nose, with Jonas Blixt surging past Johnson Wagner and Jimmy Walker to win by two strokes.
The final pairing of Wagner and Walker played their round in 3 hours, 42 minutes. That’s blazing. It’s the kind of thing the USGA would love to see at all levels of the sport.
The New York Times reported last month that more than 4 million golfers have abandoned the game in recent years, and researchers identified the tedious pace of play as the primary culprit.
I’m no authority on pace-of-play frustrations. On average, I play one round a year with the gang in the sports department. I don’t care what I shoot, so I pick up my ball and write down double-par if it ever looks like I’m going to hold things up.
But on a local, anecdotal level, the researchers appear to be right. In honor of the PGA Tour making its annual stop in our region, frequent commenter Crooked Road went on a priceless rant on my blog last Tuesday, venting his frustrations about the sluggish pace of play by recreational golfers. A sampling of his suggestions:
n “Only Jack Nicklaus gets to spend 60 seconds crouched over a putt before hitting it. You know you’re going to leave it short anyway, just go ahead and hit it.”
n “If you don’t pull both your wedge and your putter out of the bag when you’re just off the green, what are you thinking? You’re Tom Watson at Pebble Beach?”
n “Guys who toss grass in the air to check the wind? Do they realize they’re getting ready to hit a shot 50 yards in the air and 180 yards down the fairway? How high are they going to toss the grass?”
n “When you leave your putt a foot short, go ahead and putt out. Don’t mark it like you’re on the 17th at Pebble Beach. Just putt out.”
There was plenty more, all hilarious, and it got the attention of other commenters.
Said Perch: “It is so embarrassing to be told by the monitor or worse, the course pro, that you are playing too slow and still have your out-of-town buddies take three or five practice swings on every shot. Maddening.”
Said ChipShots, after expressing similar frustrations: “My group plays year round at the crack of dawn every Sunday and has for the past 15 years. At one time we were all able to walk the whole 18; now it’s walk the front, ride the back. Done in 3 1⁄2 hours max for a foursome and still able to get to my seat in church a few steps ahead of the choir.”
Said Rick H, on why he stopped playing as frequently as he once did: “Everybody thinks they are Bubba Woods on the course, and it started to drive me nuts.”
As we saw Sunday, even Bubba and the boys can move when motivated.
Perhaps the rest of the golf world, spurred by the USGA, will catch up.
It might even happen while we’re young.
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