Monday, April 23, 2018

Teen didn't deserve Masters slow play penalty


Just wondering, but what's the Chinese phrase for "highway robbery"?

And while we're at it, how do you translate "swindled" for the folks back home in Guangzhou?

Somehow, you get the feeling that an otherwise befuddled Tianlang Guan has figured out how to speak these and a great many other colorful phrases after Friday afternoon's raw deal of the day.

He was supposed to be the warm and fuzzy story of the afternoon, this ambitious 14-year-old kid who was holding his own against the Masters. Consider this: Guan can't play on his high school golf team because he isn't in high school yet. And yet he was three strokes over par for the tournament when they dropped the penalty flag on him.

Yep, one minute, the course was abuzz at how well Guan was playing at Augusta National, and the next, it seems, he was taking just too long to do so.

And so the Masters officials checked their stopwatch, and they harrumphed heavily, and they added a stroke to Guan's total.

Yeah, that'll teach him, all right.

Guan got lucky. In the end, he made the cut anyway, an impressive feat. The ruling just made him spend an afternoon with fate tying knots in his insides as he wondered. In the end, Guan was at 4-over 148 after his second-round 75, 10 strokes out of the lead, which gives him a lot more time. Two days' worth, in fact.

Before you begin to shake the rule book in defense of the slow play rule, know this: They almost never call slow play penalties in a PGA Tour event, and they had never called one at the Masters before.

Everyone grumbles about slow play, but by and large, officials stay out of the players' way. In fact, you have to go back to 1995 — before Guan was even born — when officials popped Glenn "All Day" Day at the Honda Classic. That was the last regular tour event when a slow play penalty was called. (One was called in the 2010 PGA Championship.)

So why break out the timer on Guan as he was finishing the 17th hole, one hole from finishing? Why bust a 14-year-old amateur on a course where everyone seemed to be taking their time in the windy conditions? It seems … arbitrary.

"The way I understand it, he was warned after he walked off the 16th," said playing partner Ben Crenshaw. "And he had obviously the most diabolical putt you could face, and he made a brilliant two-putt. I'm going to say this: Anybody would take time in order to get up and hit that putt.

"This isn't going to end up pretty, I don't think. I'm sick. I'm sick for him. He's 14 years old. When you get the wind blowing out there, believe me, you're going to change your mind. I'm so sorry this happened."

On the other hand, the conditions were just right for it to happen. After all, old Captain Stopwatch, John Paramor, was in charge of the timepiece.

There are two things to know about slow play penalties. One, they are almost never called. Two, when they are, it's largely because of Paramor.

Back in 2009, at the Bridgestone Invitational, Paramor warned Padraig Harrington. Harrington promptly sped up his play into a triple bogey, and his head-to-head with Tiger Woods turned into a runaway win for Woods. Woods himself ripped Paramor over that one.

Then there was the 1983 Italian Open. In that one, Seve Ballesteros was called for slow play … by Paramor. Ballesteros refused to accept the penalty, and he was disqualified.

In last year's Wales Open, Ross Fisher was given a one-shot penalty … by Paramor.

Look, no one is saying Guan didn't take his time. He did. He is 14 years old, in a foreign country, on a magical course, competing with the world's best, on a windy day, in the biggest event of his life. He could have been more decisive. But again, you could have busted a third of the field for slow play.

"I respect their decision," Guan said, although frankly, he still looked a little shell-shocked two hours later. "I don't think I'm too bad. It's just the wind. I still have to change clubs if the wind changes."

Consider the 16th. Playing partner Matteo Manassero hit his drive into the water. So Guan changed clubs then got ready to hit again. And he was over the 40-second time limit, which was important if Guan had been running a fastbreak. Nevertheless, he drew a warning. On the next hole, officials showed him the stopwatch and informed him he was playing on borrowed time.

For Guan, it was a bad way to end a charming story. Guan is 14, Nickelodeon age, and already it is a wonder the way he carries himself. Already Guan has talked about winning the Masters someday and the Grand Slam. He carved out a practice round with Crenshaw, and he met with Jack Nicklaus, a clear path to soak up all the golf he could. And his mother made him snacks. How cute is that?

On the course, Guan had so much poise, so much presence. He beat Larry Mize and Mike Weir and Tom Watson and Craig Stadler and Crenshaw.

In the end, however, he could not beat Paramor and his stopwatch. Pity.

Today, at least, he tries again. Perhaps he can be quick about it.

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