Saturday, January 20, 2018
Golf

With speed a concern, top golfers don't yield

LOS ANGELES — Nobody can accuse Jordan Spieth or Jason Day of dawdling on their ascents to golf's mountaintop. Spieth was 22 when he first reached the No. 1 ranking, and Day was 27. For long stretches last season, Day and Spieth took turns in the top two spots.

But suddenly, it seemed everyone wanted to clock their progress around the course, where their deliberate routines rendered them lightning rods in a sport struggling to combat slow play.

The criticism of Day's pace of play bothered him enough that he mentioned it during one of his telephone conversations with Tiger Woods, who has become a mentor. Day said he told Woods, a 14-time major winner and former No. 1, that he was doing his best to speed up, "but every time I try to do it, I feel like gathering information and hitting the shot combine into one, and there are too many things flying around and I can't concentrate."

As Day recalled, Woods responded: "Why would you speed up? You've got to be deliberate. You've got to hit the correct shot."

Day's conversation with Woods provided the subtext for subsequent comments at last month's Tournament of Champions, where Day raised eyebrows by saying he was not interested in speeding up his game.

"I've got to get back to what makes me good," he said. "If that means I have to back off five times, I'm going to back off five times before I have to actually hit the shot."

Bubba Watson, one of the faster players on the PGA Tour and a good friend of Day's, said he jokingly told Day, "I don't know how you can go back to your slow ways when you never sped up."

John Wooden, who coached the UCLA men's basketball team to 10 NCAA titles in 12 years beginning in the early 1960s, popularized the mantra, "Be quick but don't hurry." Day said he understood what Wooden meant and took exception to those who equate being deliberate with being slow.

A thesaurus may list the two words as synonyms, but Day does not consider them interchangeable.

"Deliberate is not slow," Day said. "Being deliberate is being 100 percent in my process of actually hitting the shot. Being slow is getting out of position, and I understand that. If you're out of position, quicken up. Being deliberate is making sure I don't miss information that I need to hit the right shot."

As one of the longer hitters, Day often cannot walk up to his ball and collect all the information he needs to hit the right shot until after the players behind him have hit.

"It's going to appear that we take maybe a fraction longer," said Day's caddie and coach, Colin Swatton.

The rules allow 40 seconds to hit, with an extra 10 seconds given to the player in a group who is the first to hit an approach or a putt, or a tee shot on a par-3 hole.

Last season, when Day won three times and posted top-10 finishes in three of the four majors, he was put on the clock twice but never penalized. At his news conference before this week's Genesis Open, he said: "I would like to think that everyone in this room would take just a little bit longer if they had a million dollars on their mind. You just can't get out there and just hit it just because that's what everyone thinks."

Day added, "Last year, I felt that I had a lot more peer pressure, and I'm like, 'I've got to speed up play,' but why would I need to do that when I played such great golf?"

The criticism of Spieth's pace bothered him enough that he consciously tried to speed up during the second half of last season, occasionally hitting before he felt comfortable over the ball. He was struggling with his swing, which exacerbated the situation.

"I've tried to anticipate when I'm hitting this year a bit more, and therefore, just be ready," Spieth said. "Even if I spend the same amount of time over the ball, I'm at least ahead of the time getting the numbers and getting that kind of, that time, out of the way."

Jay Monahan, who succeeded Tim Finchem as the PGA Tour's commissioner Jan. 1, was one of three amateurs grouped with Spieth in the Wednesday Genesis Open pro-am. Their group played Riviera Country Club's front nine in a little more than two hours.

The movement to speed up the game is driven by the fear that it will not appeal to today's youths with their increasingly short attention spans or older golfers with limited free time for recreational pursuits. "Is there a way to take 25 minutes off the average round, and is that necessarily going to make for a better product or presentation?" Monahan said. "It's not apparent."

He noted that events not affected by weather delays or extra holes were being completed within the TV telecast window, which, like airline flight schedules, is padded to allow for lag time.

"So much of the beauty of what you see week in and week out is what a player faces and how they deal with that," Monahan said. "Do they change their mannerisms? Do they change their preshot routine? How are they handling that situation?"

Spieth said he was making an effort to become a quicker player. He said he had been put on the clock only once this season, and that was after he lingered at the par-3 16th hole at the Phoenix Open to hand out hats and balls to the crowd gathered there.

"I felt it was better for me to become a quicker player and a more reaction player as long as I put the work in on my swing to be comfortable enough, and that's kind of where we've been this year," Spieth said. "I feel like I've played quicker, and I've felt like I've been in a better rhythm."

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