Will USGA lay down the law at U.S. Open?
The issue of slow play regained prominence again with the horrific pace during the conclusion of the Farmers Insurance Open on Jan. 28. And it promises to be a subject of conversation again this week at Pebble Beach, where rounds push six hours thanks to the pro-am format.
Although there were some extenuating circumstances that Monday at Torrey Pines, and although pace of play is always going to be a challenge when amateurs fill out a foursome in a professional tournament, that doesn't make it any less exasperating.
That is why it was good to hear Glen Nager, the United States Golf Association president, say his organization is prepared to do something about the slow play problem that plagues the game.
"Slow play is incompatible with our modern society in which our personal time for recreation has become increasingly compressed," Nager said in his address at the USGA's annual meeting Saturday. "Slow play drains enjoyment from the game -- and discourages participation. Pace of play is an issue that demands our complete attention."
No doubt. How the USGA goes about this will be interesting to follow because Nager gave few specifics, pointing out that coming up with the best way to proceed will take some time.
He mentioned several factors the organization will study, including course design and management as well as player management and education. Certainly there is a lot that goes into slow play and all of its issues.
But if Nager really wants to get started on this initiative, he can direct the USGA to be strict about slow play this summer when the U.S. Open heads to Merion.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, too, recently acknowledged that slow play is on his radar, and the best thing he can do is ask his field staff to vigorously enforce slow play with stroke penalties rather than fines.
At Torrey Pines, Tiger Woods played in the last threesome, and it took more than four hours to play 11 holes. Part of the problem had to do with the group in front, which got a hole behind because of various issues -- although it was never put on the clock. Also, with 87 players crammed onto both nines all starting at the same time, there were bound to be issues.
But pro golf, in general, is too slow. The USGA should consider making Brandt Snedeker its fast-play spokesman. He won the FedEx Cup last year and doesn't seem bothered in the least by playing quickly. When it's Snedeker's turn, he is ready. And then he fires. He offers up a great example.
There are too few like him, and the slowpokes know what they can get away with. Even faster players, knowing they have no place to go, slow down. Although television viewers might not notice as much because the networks can bounce around between players or show shots on tape, the on-course spectator is left with a terrible experience, sometimes left to watch nothing but players standing around.
And because the average guy often emulates the pros, this trickles down to all levels of golf.
As Nager said, lack of time has contributed to many not playing golf. If I could influence a golf course operator, I'd change the name to Fast Play Golf Club and offer a food/beverage discount to anyone who completes a round in four hours. Peer pressure would be a big factor in getting a round completed on time. Rangers would have power to make groups hold back so as not to stop the speedy ones from completing their round on time.
Although some might be turned away by that approach, others would embrace it. A place known for getting you around in a reasonable time would become popular for just that reason. And then perhaps the idea would spread.
"The cry that pace of play has become one of the most significant threats to the game's health has become only louder over the last year," Nager said.
A great help could come from on top. The USGA governs the game here in the U.S., and what kind of message would it send to have the best players in the world under slow-play scrutiny? A warning followed by a 2-stroke penalty would be a mighty deterrent at the U.S. Open. Same for PGA Tour events.
At recreational levels, golfers need to get away from the idea of always posting an 18-hole score, as Nager noted.
"We must also recognize that, regardless of pace of play, many golfers simply do not have the time to play 18 holes," he said. "So we must also work to promote the nine-hole round as a complete and enjoyable golf experience. A nine-hole round is fully compatible with having fun and with both the rules of golf and the USGA Handicap System. Helping golf facilities better understand the benefits of offering a nine-hole option to their customers can help fill the considerable inventory of open tee times at many of our nation's courses."
It all sounds good. Now is the time for some action, as well.
The all-time victory list
Phil Mickelson's win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was the 41st of his PGA Tour career and again offers some perspective on how impressive he has been -- and how difficult it is to reach such a level. He's ninth all time, with the only active player ahead of him Tiger Woods at 75. Mickelson now trails Walter Hagen by just four wins.
From golf instruction that will help you play the game better to all sorts of equipment that can help you lower your scores, our new ESPN GolfCenter page brings it all together.
Check out ESPN GolfCenter
Most of that list is composed of players who competed in an era with far less depth than today, hence their ability to win more. Take out Woods and Mickelson, and the player among the top nine who last added to his victory total was Nicklaus -- 27 years ago. Palmer (1973) and Casper (1975) were the only ones to post their last win in the 1970s.
After Mickelson, the list of active players and their victory totals looks like this: Vijay Singh (34), Davis Love III (20), Ernie Els (19), Jim Furyk (16), David Duval (13), David Toms (13), Justin Leonard (12), Steve Stricker (12) and Stuart Appleby (9). All of those players after Mickelson are in their 40s, with Singh about to turn 50.
So who will ever challenge Mickelson's total, let alone Woods'?
For now, the idea of anyone getting that many wins appears remote. Zach Johnson (aside from Woods) is the youngest player on the list with the most victories, at nine. K.J. Choi, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott have eight, and Dustin Johnson has seven.
Perhaps the best hope is Rory McIlroy, who turns 24 later this year and has six PGA Tour victories. Still, to get to 40 wins, McIlroy will need to average 2 victories a year through his 40th birthday.
v class="mod-inline headshot floatright">
3. Karrie Webb. It's hard to believe, but the Aussie has been in the Hall of Fame for nearly 10 years. And she just won the Aussie Masters for the eighth time.
v class="mod-inline headshot floatright">
2. Kyle Stanley. The defense of his Phoenix title ended in 74th place after two missed cuts in the previous two tournaments. Since winning at Phoenix a year ago, Stanley has not finished in the top 15.
3. Sergio Garcia. If you didn't see his tantrum in a Dubai bunker last week, try finding it to check out petulance at its best -- or worst.
Open Championship watch
If the calendar is turning to February, it must mean that Open Championship qualifying is under way? Yep, last week was the first of five International Final Qualifying events. Three spots were available for this summer's Open in a qualifier played at Kingston Heath in Melbourne, Australia.
New Zealand's Mark Brown and Australians Steve Jeffress and Stephen Dartnall qualified for the Open Championship at Muirfield. Brown shot 62 over the final 18 holes of the 36-hole qualifier. It will be his second start in the Open, and Jeffress and Dartnall will be headed to their first major championship.
The timing might seem odd, but the R&A went to this system several years ago, reducing the number of places it offers at Final Local Qualifying and staging qualifiers around the world to better accommodate top players.
An Asian qualifier will be played at the end of this month, followed by one in South Africa in March. A U.S. qualifier will be held May 20, which is the Monday between the Byron Nelson Championship and the Colonial. And a U.K. qualifier will take place at Sunningdale in England on June 24.
Phil Mickelson's total of 256 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was 2 strokes off the PGA Tour record of 254 set by Tommy Armour III at the 2003 Valero Texas Open. Mickelson's victory was the first wire-to-wire win on the PGA Tour since Rory McIlroy captured the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional. Mickelson joined Zach Johnson as the only players to twice shoot 60 in PGA Tour events. Mickelson now has a victory in each of the past 10 seasons, the longest such streak on the PGA Tour. Mickelson also has won in 20 different seasons, topped only by Sam Snead (24) and Jack Nicklaus (21). Brandt Snedeker has three top-3 finishes in four starts this year and leads the FedEx Cup standings. Jason Dufner missed the cut in Phoenix, ending his tour-leading streak of 22. Ian Poulter now has the longest active streak at 16. Mickelson defends his title this week at Pebble Beach, where he has won four times. Mickelson has 13 career victories in California. Jim Furyk makes his season debut and is beginning his 20th season on the PGA Tour. Lee Westwood also makes his first PGA Tour start of the year, traveling from Dubai, where he made his first start of 2013 last week.
"I was nervous heading into the last round. I hadn't won in a while." -- Mickelson after his victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, his first win since the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.