OK, up front I have to say that I completely botched the Accenture Match Play Championship with my Charl Schwartzel pick. Hey, did you have Russell Henley defeating Schwartzel in the first round? Didn't think so.
This blog is primarily about numbers--my attempt to look at the numbers we call statistics and derive some sense from those numbers to help the reader understand how Davey Divot won the last tournament. And I will get back on that track shortly.
Today, however I must go in a different direction and talk about some other numbers that also affect the game. And those numbers have to do with how long some players take to actually hit a shot. And so, I did a little non-scientific experiment of my own on Sunday during the semifinals of the Match Play event. More on that later.
I bring this up in the blog today because I read article after article about how to "grow the game." And while there are many issues affecting the growth of the game--cost of equipment, cost of membership and the anchoring debate to name just a few--the number one reason I hear from people who don't play the game is this: "It takes too long to play a round of golf."
So, it's a time issue. And I couldn't agree more.
We've all been there at one time or another. We donate our hundred dollars to play in a local charity scramble and five and a half hours later we promise ourselves that will be the last time we ever play in that event. Better to just give the hundred dollars and avoid the aggravation of such slow play. Or, maybe even worse, we play with a friend who is north of a 20-handicap and he treats every shot like he's in contention on Sunday at the Masters. Note: for a great piece on the slow play problem, I encourage readers to go read Ron Sirak's piece at Golf Digest.
So, it was with these thoughts in mind as I watched the Matt Kuchar v. Jason Day match on Sunday morning that I decided on a little experiment. Nothing fancy. Just the stopwatch function on my smartphone, a pencil and a notepad.
As I am watching this two-man match (I didn't focus on the Hunter Mahan v. Ian Poulter match), I would watch Kuchar take his shot. And then wait....and wait...and wait for Day to hit his shot. I now understand why his nickname is "All Day." His pre-shot routine is every bit as painful for me to watch as Keegan's "Bradley Shuffle."
I started timing Day---I put him on my clock. To be fair, I would only record the amount of time he took to hit his shot if the television cameras stayed on that match. If, for example, Kuchar hit an approach shot and his ball came to rest and then the cameras cut to the Mahan/Poulter match, I did not time how long it took Day to hit his shot. Obviously, some of the shots we were seeing were on tape.
Stephen Dunn/ Getty Images
Where I did time Day was in a situation where Kuchar would hit, we would see his ball come to rest and then the camera would come back to Day. Jason might have been discussing the shot with his caddie, maybe checking the wind or reviewing the yardage. These are all things he should have done BEFORE Kuchar hit his shot!!!
And so, what I observed was this: Day finally settles on what club to hit and goes into his pre-shot routine where he stands behind the ball, closes his eyes and counts to.....whatever he counts to and, after what seems like a day (pun intended) decides it's time to hit the ball.
Well, let's look at some numbers I wrote down. The elapsed time is from the moment Kuchar's ball came to rest until Day went into his backswing for his shot.
Day from fairway after Kuchar shot: 1 minute 5 seconds.
Day tee shot after Kuchar shot: 49 seconds.
Day from fairway after Kuchar shot: 54 seconds.
Day tee shot after Kuchar shot: 1 minute 13 seconds.
Day from fairway after Kuchar shot: 1 minute 29 seconds.
I couldn't take it anymore. I found myself growing angrier by the minute when I was supposed to be enjoying some Sunday morning golf . I shut off my stopwatch, put down my pencil and tried visualizing myself relaxing. That only took twenty seconds!!!
I did time Kuchar on a few shots, but he normally was hitting his ball within thirty seconds of Day's ball coming to rest. And, I must clarify, that I did not time anything while the players were alternating shots on the putting green.
But I did think about this long after the golf ended for the day. And here is my solution to the problem of slow play on the pro tour.
Put every player on the clock for every shot.
Make it a statistical category; call it "Time between Shots."
Here is how it works: place an official in each group who is responsible for walking ahead of the group and watching every shot come to rest. When the ball comes to rest, the official waves a flag to signal back to another official who is with the players. That second official then informs the next player to hit that he has (30 seconds?) to play his shot. If the player exceeds the time limit, he is assessed a one-stroke penalty. If it is match play, the first penalty on the hole is a stroke, the second penalty on the hole is loss of hole.
Then, after each round, the amount of time a player took between shots is divided by the number of shots he took to arrive at his "Time between Shots" average. This number is also posted along with the rest of the statistics the PGA TOUR keeps.
Let's look at this another way: Suppose the Kuchar/Day match had gone all 18 holes (thank you Matt for finishing it off 4 and 3), and suppose Day managed to par the remaining three holes (an additional eleven strokes). He would have carded a 79 on the day if we give him a bogey at the tenth hole which he had conceded. Now, obviously Day would not be hitting second on every shot--so let's cut his stroke total in half and say he was hitting second on just forty of his shots. At his pace of play, Day would be taking about forty minutes of viewing time (and likely more than that) as we wait for him to hit the ball!
Now, I understand the arguments from the other side. The weather was lousy, it was very windy, the player's hands were cold. I get it. But that still doesn't explain why Day takes more than a minute to hit some of his shots.
A professional, especially one who has played the same course for three consecutive days, should have enough information from his yardage books, his caddie and his own memory bank to decide on a club, visualize and execute his shot within thirty seconds of a preceding shot.
And the PGA TOUR needs to implement and enforce a policy that penalizes slow play or else risk losing more fans who can't take "all day" to watch.