The big story from the 2012 Players Championship was Kevin Na’s endless struggle with his pre-shot routine. What I thought was fascinating was that the press was so empathetic and forgiving. Normally, the press would be very critical but this time it was the fans that were outwardly critical. The fans were respectful the first three rounds but by the 4th round, the fan frustration was evident with the haggling Na had to endure.
What led to this “gentler and kinder” press? The answer appears to be in the fact that he did not hide from their questions. Many reports stated Na “is refreshing” in his admission of his problem. He not only apologizes to his playing partner but opens up in his press conference explaining:
“I’m trying to get comfortable with my waggles. It’s usually a little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and boom, supposed to pull the triggers. But if it doesn’t work, I’ve got to go in pairs. So it’ll go four; and if it doesn’t work, it’ll go six; and after that, just — there’s a lot going on in my head. (Laughter). And it’s not — I’m not being nice to myself, trust me. I’m ripping myself.” See more of Kevin Na’s press conference at PGAtour.com
Now, I certainly have sympathy for any personal struggle but I must admit that more than once I was yelling at my TV — “just hit the ball.” Eventually, I turned away from golf (something I rarely do on a Sunday of a big tournament). I’m sure I am not the only fan that stopped watching. My reaction is something golf cannot afford. The goal of the golf industry is growth (both in the fan base and in recreational play) and risking that a percentage of the current fan base might “walk away” from a telecast is going in the wrong direction.
Even though the tournament officials put Kevin Na on the clock (which added to his stress); it did not appear (to me) to quicken the pace of play. Slow play is one of the biggest issues in golf today (both in professional and recreational golf). If the professional golfers are role models for “how to play” then they need to send the message that playing slow is not acceptable.
Many tour players have expressed their dislike for slow play but it helps the cause when big name players take a stand. Yesterday the biggest of big name players, Tiger Woods, stated his opinion on how to fix slow play on tour. Currently the fine for slow play is $5,000 up to $20,000 depending on the situation. Tiger Woods said that he believes a penalty stroke should be accessed for slow play. Woods explained:
“Strokes is money….what’s the difference between first and second [at the Players] right now?… $800,000…that’s one shot, and that’s the difference. That’s what people don’t realize, that one shot is so valuable out here.”
I completely agree with Woods, given the income of professional golfers a $5,000 fine is nothing but a stroke is significant. A stroke not only impacts the wallet for the professional; but it could impact where they place in the tournament which can also carry over to Fed-Ex points and world rankings. All of these combined make a stoke penalty a more meaningful deterrent.
Finally, I think the PGA could learn something from the LPGA. Both the PGA and LPGA do have stroke penalties in the rules for slow play. Both the PGA and LPGA give the slow player a warning before giving a violation. But the difference comes when the first violation is given to a player. The PGA only imposes a fine; not a stroke on the first violation. The LPGA imposes a fine and stroke on the first violation.
Final word — gentlemen it’s time to follow the ladies lead — give a stroke penalty for the first violation of slow play.