Slow Play Dustup Holds Lessons For Us All

How To Set A Speedy Example On The Course

slow play jb holmes stan badz

Yeah, J.B. Holmes is brutally slow. I too watched him beard-stroke and plumb-bob his way to a win at Riviera, and sure, it was ugly at times, a slow play Super Bowl of sorts, especially after all the rain delays, advertising breaks and PGA Tour machinations to get the damn thing finished on Sunday.

But I can’t hold Holmes fully responsible for his action, or inaction.

He said it best: These guys are playing for more money than I’ll make in three lifetimes, both week to week and in terms of FedEx Cup points, which could lead to a cool $15 million. It’s what the guy does for a living, he hadn’t won in quite a while, and he may never have a shot a winning again. That’s golf. It’s a tough, grinding, mind-bending sport.

Yes, J.B. should work on getting the lead out. But slow play, of course, is nothing new.

Jack Nicklaus at his peak was the poster boy for slow play, with perhaps the most meticulous pre-shot routine in history.

And what about Jordan Spieth? He’s gotten a bit better, though we all remember his agonizing 20-minute ordeal after blowing a tee shot onto the driving range at the 2017 Open Championship a couple years ago — those countless hikes up the dune to survey his options, the R&A ruling, the final ball drop and subsequent recovery shot that led to arguably the greatest comeback in that storied event’s long history.

Remember Sergio’s waggle issues, or Kevin Na’s frustrating freeze-ups? Remember speed-player Rory Sabbatini leaving his glacial partner, Ben Crane, in the fairway, bolting to the green and putting out, back in 2005?

slow play spieth
Jordan Spieth has worked on his slow play reputation. Follow his lead.

Sabbatini took a beating in the media for his rudeness and later apologized, but admit it: We golfers who like to get on with it have all been there.

We’ve wanted to bolt, or beat our heads against the nearest bunker rake, while a s-l-o-w buddy — or, even more frustrating, a stranger with whom we’ve been paired to fill out a foursome — just plods along from shot to shot, most likely out of simple cluelessness, sometimes due to ineptitude, rarely out of spite. Whatever. It drives us crazy.

And we are right to feel that way, at our level of play — which is every level except the very top, where the J.B.s and Jordans of the world have worked hard to tread.

In other words, we’re not playing for our dinner, and we’ve got places to be, real jobs to do, meetings to make, families to go home to. So let’s pick up the pace, shall we?

The USGA, God bless their pointed heads, are trying to tweak the rules to help. Having the option to keep the pin in and backing off on stroke and distance penalties (yes!) are all well and good, but here’s the real problem: Far too many amateur players, from casual to three-times-a-week single digit studs, just don’t give a damn about anyone else, and they’ll take their sweet time, thank you very much.

OK, OK, they might have a (tenuous) point with that well-worn excuse of, “I’ve paid good money to play this course and I’m damn well gonna make the most of it.” At the expense of everyone else, apparently. We paid that same money, yet still manage to squeeze out maximum value in four and a half hours or less … or so we hope.

Still, the laggards don’t budge. Slow play is a big problem.

Not a lot we fleeter-of-foot players can do about it without risking lost friendships or, in the extreme, lost teeth and bloodied gloves.

But we can, perhaps through gritted teeth, do our part to seal the let’s-finish-before-doomsday deal — and maybe, just maybe, change some slothful hearts and minds along the way.

For example:

  • Take the “ready golf” ethic seriously. When you reach the ball, go ahead and start your pre-shot routine, take aim and fire away — assuming the slow group in front of you is out of range.
  • Actually HAVE a pre-shot routine from which you never waver, and keep it under, say, 15 seconds from line-up to follow-through. Count off in your head, if you need to. You’ll play better. Trust me.
  • Know your average distance for each club by heart, pull the club you feel most comfortable with FIRST, and stick with it.
  • On the green, mark the ball, line up your putt from ONE angle, most likely behind the ball (this ain’t the Masters) while somebody else is putting, and when it’s your turn, step up, take your stance and pull the trigger. Being tight on time on the greens eliminates extraneous thoughts and keeps tension at bay. You’ll make more of those 10-footers. Trust me.
  • Head to the next tee and at least be ready to hit while the dawdlers sweat over those three-footers. Better yet, go ahead and hit if the hole is clear. It might seem rude at first, but it ain’t illegal.
  • Leave water balls in the water, unless it’s somehow hittable. You’ll survive.
  • Keep an extra ball in your pocket. See above.
  • If you’re on your way to a monster number or out of the hole in match play, pick it up. If you keep a legit handicap, that’s what Equitable Stroke Control is for.
  • If you’re on your way to a monster number on EVERY HOLE but would like to play faster (as is your blessed nature), for God’s sake, find a good teaching pro (preferably one of our Top 25), and sign up for a series of lessons. This game is too precious to suck at forever.
  • Finally (and this is non-negotiable), take a few seconds to fix your ball mark on the green, and at least one other. It’s worth the time and those behind you will love you for it.

OK, I’ve (quickly) said my piece. As an old Irish caddie once said, “May the marshal stay off your back and the holes ahead be firm and fast — in the best way possible."

Vic Williams is editor of Golf Tips magazine. Reach him at [email protected] or @golftipsmag on Twitter

Photo of J.B. Holmes: Stan Badz, PGA Tour

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