My golf column from the National Post last week:
Time has come to lose the ‘Ludes, dudes: Too many people playing golf at a tranquilized pace
Rory Sabbatini was right. Three weeks after it occurred,vthere’s still plenty of talk about Sabbatini’s supposed breach ofvetiquette at the Booz Allen Classic, where he was paired with Ben Crane.
Toward the end of the round at Congressional, the twosome had been warned about slow play. Now slow play is endemic on the PGA Tour, so to receive a warning, one has to play like a tortoise on Quaaludes — which is exactly how Crane, a standout on the Nationwide Tour, plays the game of golf. Imagine Sergio Garcia at his waggle peak, and then accentuate the problem, and you’ll get a pretty clear picture of Crane. His slow play, which even he acknowledges, drives his playing partners crazy.
According to the PGA Tour’s rules, a golfer is first warned for slow play. If it happens twice during the same round, the player receives a one-shot penalty and a US$5,000 fine. On the third offence, he receives a two-shot penalty and a US$10,000 fine; the fourth offense brings disqualification.
For a faster golfer, which is Sabbatini’s reputation, slow play can throw off his entire round, which appears to have been the case during his time with Crane.
With that in mind, Sabbatini decided to deal with the matter on his own. On the 17th hole, he hit his approach over the green. Instead of waiting for Crane for hit, the South African golfer went up to the green and chipped on. He then putted out and walked to the 18th hole, where he teed off. All of which happened while Crane, who was in the hunt to win the tournament, was still finishing the 17th hole.
The press and casual golfers have been all over Sabbatini since the incident. He’s been called an egomaniac, and criticized for breaking golf’s dearly held code of etiquette. The pundits say one is never supposed to play ahead of your partner regardless of how slow he is.
All of which is ridiculous. What Sabbatini really did was shine a light on a problem that is plaguing both professional and amateur golf: the slow round.
Even Crane realized he was the one to blame for the incident and said he is “working hard” to fix his slow play.
“Rory wanted to keep playing, and that’s fine,” Crane told reporters after the round. “I understand he’s frustrated, and I feel bad. I can’t change the situation, but I am the one who caused the problem.”
Amateur golfers want to emulate professionals, lining up putts from every angle and listening to Golf Digest instructors who insist they have a lengthy pre-shot routine. Then they see Crane, a successful PGA Tour pro, or Bernhard Langer — both of whom make time appear to stand still — and figure that if it works for the pros, it must work for the hacker teeing it up at his local muni on Sunday morning.
All of this leads to golf played at a pace that is glacial (the five-hour round or worse) and is the antithesis of the game’s origins in Scotland. Play some of Scotland’s local courses and you’ll regularly encounter signs on the first tee stating: “Golf is a game meant to be played in three and half hours.” On some British courses that pace would actually be considered slow.
In North America, golfers have become accustomed to five-hour rounds. When you add in travel and time to warm up, a simple round of golf can take all day. The result of this is that many people are simply looking to other activities.
Maybe things will change.
Last week, Vijay Singh, a man known for his directness, blasted Barclays Classic officials at Westchester Country Club for not doing anything about slow play.
“It’s slow. It’s always slow here,” Singh said after his opening round. It wasn’t clear whether he meant is was slow just at Westchester or on all of the PGA Tour.
“It’s ridiculous,” he continued. “I mean you play a round of golf in five hours and wait on every shot. It’s just like the officials are just blind. You don’t see one out there. It ruins the rhythm of the play.”
It isn’t just Singh’s game that’s being ruined — it is the golf experiences of the rest of us as well.
This is exactly why Rory Sabbatini shouldn’t be derided for playing ahead of Ben Crane, but applauded.