Friday, February 22, 2008

Slow-Play Policy

The two-stroke penalty given to Angela Park at the SBS Open last weekend has provoked a bit of discussion on the web. The policy, the penalty itself, and the comments I’ve read since have given me cause to weigh in.

The primary question I’ve seen from most fans is “would this penalty have been given to one of the Tour’s big stars?” Angela Park WAS the 2007 Rookie of the Year and a Top 10 finisher on the money list, so she isn’t a nobody. But I understand the point. Would Creamer or Sorenstam or Ochoa have been penalized on hole #10 of the final round while in contention? I’d like to think the answer would be yes. Until the LPGA proves that they WON’T penalize Superstar X while she’s in contention, I see no impropriety with the Park decision. Frankly, I don’t remember seeing Creamer or Sorenstam take an inordinate amount of time with their pre-shot routine but I can’t say the same about Ochoa. Many times (especially in final rounds) I’ve seen Lorena’s turn come up and then she STARTS talking to her caddy and checking the wind and debating about club selection. We’ll see if she has any problems with being put on the clock when she begins her season next week. Of course Ochoa does have the advantage of knowing how much added emphasis the Tour has put this year on fighting slow play.

That last statement may seem confusing. The LPGA informs all the players of rule and policy changes prior to the season. Well, there’s a difference between getting a note in the mail and experiencing that policy in action up close. The LPGA announced a slow-play initiative for 2007, and it didn’t seem to make a damn bit of difference. It’s like those pesky speed limit signs you see everywhere – if the authorities start pulling people over, you’d be surprised how many can obey the law.

I’ve also read that Park was penalized to make sure Annika would win the tournament. I debated even acknowledging that notion in writing, but wanted to point out the absurdity. If that were the case at least a half-dozen other players would have needed penalties to knock them out too, not that Angela was completely out of contention afterwards anyway. Spare me the conspiracy theories…you’re starting to sound like NASCAR fans.

The official LPGA policy on slow play can be read here (at the bottom of the page). Note item C - A group that is out of position is subject to being timed without having been previously warned by an LPGA Official (italics mine). I have a problem with that statement but it’s probably there just to keep players from claiming that they weren’t aware they were being timed when they WERE told. It goes on to say that “Players contributing to further delay may be penalized” and item D describes the actions that will be penalized. Item G mentions the time par chart that early groups must keep to but does NOT mention that all groups must keep to the “time par”. I would like for the Tour to post the “on-the-clock” stats so the slowest players will get some notoriety. Nothing like a little shame plus the occasional billy club of a two-stroke penalty to urge compliance.

The one thing everybody seems to agree on – it’s about time a golf governing body did something drastic to speed up the time it takes to play 18 holes. Fines haven’t worked and threatening to take strokes hasn’t worked. I get the feeling this IS going to work, and I hope the policy is applied equally to all circumstances.

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