Slow play has become a habit, a bad habit if everyone who condemns it is to be believed and like all bad habits it’s a persistent little bugger, insidious and hard to get rid off, worming its way into our lives until we feel we can’t live without it. It’s seeped into golf over the years and nowadays a 4-hour round is generally regarded as positively speedy. There are exceptions but they tend to be last bastions. What happened to those carefree days – within living memory of some of us who still play – of skipping round in three hours or less? Of playing three rounds in a day?
Someone said to me recently that the introduction of trolleys was the start of the slippery slope – no, that would be too fast, the slope must be sticky, gooey, glue-like, like wading through molasses – and I pooh-poohed that notion. But there might be something in it. The other week I played with someone who carried and I envied him his shortcuts as I manoeuvred my trolley around greens and other obstacles. So, perhaps we should be blaming Henry Longhurst’s mate Lord Brabazon of Tara, who, I believe, was the first man to use a trolley in this part of the world. Mind you, I don’t think the Brab, by all accounts a force of nature if ever there was one, ever hung about, ever.
So, perhaps slow play is just an attitude of mind and we amateurs have been affected by the actions of others, the professionals who have nothing else to do but play 18 holes and, whatever their protestations, don’t care how long it takes. Long gone are the days when pros played 36 holes and still had time to get home and give a few lessons before dark. These days, after endless hours honing their skills on the practice ground, players tend to forget that Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect (Bob Rotella) and expect perfection.
They’ve taken to playing golf by numbers, joining the dots, forgetting that golf is, in fact, a moving game, that you can make decisions on the move, as you approach the ball, assessing, calculating, factoring in the breeze, whatever, so you’re nearly ready to hit your shot when you reach the ball. Sadly, the modern way is to start all the calculations when you reach the ball, bringing out the charts, or the measuring gizmos, consulting the caddies, or the stars and eventually, when all the post-discussion, pre-shot routines have been exhausted, hitting the damned ball. Or not, depending on your level of expertise.The European Tour, bless them, are trying all sorts of things to make golf more interesting and appealing to a younger audience with a notoriously short attention span. This week they’ve morphed the Austrian Open into the Shot Clock Masters and, lo, with the prospect of an immediate penalty of one shot for exceeding the designated time, everyone speeded up. Even notorious mañana merchants like Miguel Angel Jimenez, who likes to open a nice bottle of Rioja before assessing his options, adjusted with alacrity and no apparent dip in performance. He had a 67, five under par, one shot behind the leader Oscar Lengden of Sweden and breezed round the Diamond Country Club course in under four hours.
Jimenez, who won the Regions Tradition, one of the senior majors, in Alabama last month, said, “It’s been very interesting. It’s very important that you’re ready to play, if not it will catch you. That’s the good thing, you are not wasting any time…..It would be nice to have some more time to talk a few words to your caddie but it’s nice, it’s definitely a positive experience.”
Peter Hanson, another Ryder Cupper, who also had a 67, was waxing delighted: “It’s so nice to play out here. The golf course is amazing and this format really brings it back to old golf, the way it was when I came out on tour 20 years ago. We used to have a bit more of this pace. Everyone was ready to play. You don’t have to watch the clock, you just have to be ready to play when it’s your turn. You can’t walk around a putt on the green four times and look in two different books. You just have to be ready to play and just play golf.”
Every player was on the clock for every shot on every hole – there was a referee with the appropriate technology with every group – and the fastest round of the day was 3 hours 53 minutes compared with the 2018 season average (for a three ball over 18 holes) of 4 hours 48 minutes……..What was that about habits? The average for the first round was 4 hours 13 minutes and no one was penalised for a bad time. Wonder how long they’ll all take next week…….
I’m running out of words – even this blog has its limits – but there are three important photos this week.
First, there’s the Moss clan at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, where Michael, recently retired from keeping things in some sort of order at Portstewart GC, received a gong from Prince Charles.
Next up is part of the photo montage that was the centrepiece of the order of service at the funeral of Angela Davies, wife of Bob (or John, depending on how you knew him). For years, every November, Angela, Bob, Dai and I used to drive over to Brancaster together for the annual Pat Ward-Thomas Trophy. Angela was not a golfer but married to a man who followed the careers of Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam from their junior days in Shropshire to major triumphs in Augusta, she absorbed it all. She was a pillar of the local operatic society in Shrewsbury as a performer, choreographer and secretary. She was a formidable organiser but her real forte was people and we’ll all miss her.
Last but never least, there’s wee Mum, who would have been – well, I won’t say, because she hated people knowing her age; we only found out when she had to apply for a passport and it fell into the wrong hands! Happy birthday to everybody else who was born on the 8th of June.