Slow play in golf: What's next after Bryson DeChambeau controversy?
Last Updated: 13/08/19 6:37am
When the practice area at the PGA Tour's first Play-Off event began to resemble a school playground with headstrong boys squaring up to each other, we knew something had to give - and it did.
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The Tour has finally said it's going to do something about slow play and the players have followed suit, saying they'll sort it out behind closed doors rather than fighting on Twitter and arguing in front of fans.
What exactly will come from this highly entertaining yet ultimately ugly mess remains to be seen, but it's a start. However, it's shameful that something is happening only because of a sense of embarrassment rather than any duty of care to the game of golf.
The PGA Tour was mortified that, on the final day of the opening event in its FedExCup finale, all the headlines were about Bryson DeChambeau defending himself against attacks from other players about his slow play.
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A situation beyond its control is anathema to the PGA Tour, while the players seemed uncomfortable that an attack on slow play had become a character assassination of DeChambeau.
Self-awareness is not a strong suit of professional golfers, but some clearly felt they'd gone too far and needed to rein in the rhetoric and do something more constructive. Even the forthright and entertaining Eddie Pepperell has apologised for calling DeChambeau a "single minded twit".
Seems my comment regarding Bryson’s slow play has garnered plenty of attention and I just want to sincerely apologise to Bryson for being personal and referring to him as a ‘twit’. That was unnecessary and something I shouldn’t have said. 🙋🏼♂️— Eddie Pepperell (@PepperellEddie) August 12, 2019
So where do we go from here? Viewing it cynically, you could say the Tour and the players have jointly shut down the issue for the moment to protect the image of the remaining tournaments in their beloved and bountiful FedExCup.
Certainly, the Tour's statement about using ShotLink technology to educate and inform the players about pace of play is on the soft side. There's no mention of finding a better way to penalise slow players.
On the players' side, I'm more hopeful. I said six months ago after JB Holmes' snail's-pace win at the Genesis Open that it was the players themselves who had the real power to do something about slow play, if only they'd wake up to that fact.
Now, in the wake of the off-Broadway farce, it looks as though they're at least going to start talking about it among themselves.
On the face of it, that sounds positive. However, given the entrenched positions of the key players on both sides, it's a bit like our elected members in Westminster saying they'll sit down over a quiet cup of tea and finally sort out Brexit.
Honestly though, good luck to the players, if they can start the process that eventually solves the biggest problem in golf. What we see on the PGA Tour is a yardstick for the rest of golf and if they take an inch, the rest will take a mile.
At the Open Championship, the R&A seemed to have no answer to JB Holmes' slow-motion version of links golf. Equally, back-to-back women's majors suffered the same old problems with the usual suspects.
Happily, the European Tour seems to be making strides in tackling and improving pace of play, and yet strangely enough, its worst week on the clock was the Dubai Desert Classic where a certain Bryson DeChambeau won brilliantly but slowly.
And therein lies the problem for the PGA Tour because although they have countless slow players, the charismatic and successful DeChambeau will always be the lightning rod for criticism.
However, he will always be willing to defend his corner, no matter how damaging the evidence against him. He's likeable, popular, charming and infuriatingly sure of himself.
Listening to him at the weekend reminded me of something Graeme Souness told me about his great Liverpool teammate Kenny Dalglish: "I must have had a thousand arguments with Kenny and I never won any of them."
Well, I can say with some confidence that Kenny would be a pushover compared to Bryson because DeChambeau has the added component of science to supercharge his advocacy.
Consider his indignation at the PGA Tour for defining pace of play as "the time it takes to hit a shot". To most of us, it sounds a reasonable and logical definition. But no, says Bryson. The proper way to measure pace of play is to take into account his quick walking between shots, and time him from tee to tee.
Fair enough Bryson, but maybe an even simpler way would be to measure how far behind you get from the group in front. Or even simpler, just ask Justin Thomas who played with you in round two of the Northern Trust.
Addressing Dechambeau's point, he said: "The fact is, you walk fast to your ball but we're still a hole and a half behind. It's not working."
As I said earlier, good luck to Justin, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy in trying to convince Bryson that something in his world is not working. He's a very clever young man but, like his new best friend Phil Mickelson, he's not as clever as he thinks he is.
Where Phil's concerned, it's an innocent delusion that's framed his loveable eccentricity and maybe when Bryson has won five Majors, we'll cut him the same slack. For the moment though, the young pretender will have to find a way of compromising his science.
It won't be easy but it has to be done, because at a time when golf is trying to simplify its rules and become a faster, more attractive sport to young people, the last thing it needs is a stubborn genius who thinks he's above the game.