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Has Kevin Na finished his round yet?

One of the most miserably slow players in professional golf, the American was up to his usual glacial hijinks last night during the final round of the Genesis Open.

To compound matters, he was playing in the penultimate group ahead of the equally pedestrian Patrick Cantlay, all of which contributed towards a spectator experience up there with proof-reading the dictionary on the Thrill-O-Meter.

Now, dear reader, we could vent about the problem with the likes of Na and Cantlay, fume that they are killing golf as a spectator sport, rage that their unhurried, selfish approach to playing the game is infiltrating the grassroots scene – but what would be the point? Everybody knows all this by now.

And that’s part of the problem with the Slow Play Debate. The same broken record plays the same broken tune.

He’s really slow. Nobody wants to watch that. The trouble is, ordinary club golfers are copying them. Throw in much hand-wringing, ad nauseum.

Kevin Na

Let’s instead push the narrative on. Let’s focus less on the problems and more on the solutions.

Forget the over-wrought, over-thought theories that have been banded about. There’s one way and only one way to solve slow play in professional golf: hit offenders with shot penalties and, for repeat offenders, disqualifation.

Fines? Fines will achieve nothing. Absolutely hee-haw. What’s a couple of thousand pounds to guys who are playing in $7million events every week?

Shots, though. That’s different. Let’s see how fast Na & Co. move when it dawns on them that their pace could cost them a tournament or bigger pay day.

It needs to be an unapologetically uncompromising approach, too. No half-measures, no making examples of journeymen or 14-year-old amateurs in the name of tokenism. It’s got to be an all-for-one, one-for-all, coordinated attack.

To achieve that, two things have to happen: there need to be referees deployed to every group at every event and an amendment needs to be made to the Rules of Golf.

Referees with every group has, of course, been discussed before. For whatever reason, some people seem to be under the impression that it’s unworkable. God knows why.

Rules Of Golf

For one thing, it already happens at some events. Secondly, the PGA Tour is one of the wealthiest organisations in professional sport. Just a few years ago, it claimed to have revenues of around $2billion. It can well afford to employ more referees if required. 

The problem as it stands is, after much huffing, puffing and consultation, some groups are placed on the clock, upon which time the slow offenders pick up the pace… only to slow right back down when ‘The Clock’ is stood down.

As a result, any attempts to tackle slow play will inevitably prove to be meaningless without a significant change to the Rules of Golf.

Currently, slow play is moderated by Rule 6-7, which states: “The player must play without undue delay and in accordance with any pace of play guidelines that the Committee may establish. Between completion of a hole and playing from the next teeing ground, the player must not unduly delay play.”

The penalties for falling foul of this rule range from a one-shot penalty for a first offence (loss of hole in matchplay) to disqualification for repeat offences.

Cool. Just one problem – what the hell does “must not unduly delay play” mean?

For something as comprehensively written as the Rules of Golf, it is staggering that the rule governing one of the game’s most enduring and contentious problems is so vague. One person’s ‘undue delay’, after all, could well be another person’s appropriate speed. So who decides? More to the point, who has the guts to decide?

The Rules of Golf are supposed to be inflexible and not in way subjective. To that end, Rule 6-7 is not fit for purpose and needs to be rewritten. How can we expect players to keep pace if the rules themselves don’t?

To me, it’s simple: impose a maximum permissable amount of time to hit a shot, allowing for common sense variables (lost balls, comfort breaks etc) and have somebody out there to make sure it happens. In short, give referees a clear rule to impose and deploy them en masse to impose it.

It surely doesn’t need to be any harder than that. 

‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’ apparently. But is there a will to fix this particular problem? If there is, it’s time to prove it – and quickly.

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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