Friday, May 31, 2013

Pace of Play - AGAIN


            When writing about the Rules, I’ve tried to maintain as unbiased an opinion as possible.  Naturally some topics strike a stronger chord than others.  Yesterday’s outrage over the pace of play penalty issued at the NCAA Championship, however, struck a note of hypocrisy that I cannot let pass without a word.  So here we go, into a discussion about pace of play – again.

            The more specific details I will have to solicit from the officials I know at a later time.  What is known, is that Dunlap and his fellow-competitors missed not just one checkpoint, but two checkpoints.  They missed the 18th and 9th hole checkpoints, the latter by six minutes.  The NCAA pace of play policy uses a four checkpoint system, where the first miss gives the entire group a warning and the second miss gives a group a one-stroke penalty that is subject to appeal at the end of the round.  The ½ deliberation that is being discussed in the media is not the Committee’s decision to apply the penalty, but rather that appeal process and all the information gathering that is required to make an informed decision.  You may see a non-event specific version of the NCAA checkpoint policy in my Pace of Play section of the blog.

            The NCAA Rules Committee has some of the best and brightest Rules Officials in the country, including several who also serve on USGA Championship Committees.  They know quite well, that while the circumstances surrounding the penalty could change the result of the championship, the application of the Rules has nothing to do with player or team standings in the competition.  The Committee took their time during the appeal and the fact that the penalty was issued means that given all the applicable data the penalty strokes given to Dunlap and Eason were warranted – even if it meant the Aggies had to go to a playoff to make it to match play (which they eventually lost).

            When doing Pace of Play appeals, only certain factors are considered.  The group missed their time by six minutes.  That seems like small fries to a casual observer, but that means the group was well out of position.  Look at it this way, if every group missed their times by six minutes, rounds would be in the realm of 7 hours long.  The fact that they received a warning at their ninth hole, means the Committee had plenty of time to observe and time players individually to determine if one or more of the players in the group were causing the problem.  Clearly, they determined that Rahm from Arizona State had been playing quickly and had been taking actions to try and help the group along.  Dunlap and Eason were not.

            But this article isn’t really about the penalty itself.  The Committee did right by the field (in particular Jonathan Garrick who received a penalty during the first round) by enforcing the stated policy regardless of what was on the line.  This article is about the hypocritical reactions across the globe to the timing and application of the penalty.

            We all know there is a pace of play problem, and nowhere is it worse than in men’s collegiate golf.  The player’s complained of the policy not being enforced all year long.  There are two reasons a player might say this: 1)The NCAA doesn’t run their tournaments year long.  Schools host the events and administer them on their own or with the assistance of regional golf associations or even solicited select officials.  I have run 3 collegiate events so far this year, and was only able to use the four checkpoint policy in one of them.  Which brings me to reason 2) Most collegiate events use a shotgun start format.  It is impossible to use the four checkpoint system with a shotgun start.  So it would be impossible for events throughout the year to use the same policy as the players see in their conference championships, regionals and then nationals.  Even worse, is that most shotgun starts operate without pace of play policies at all because it is difficult to enforce.

            The Pac-12 Conference picked up on one of the major issues which is field size.  Starting next season, fields in Pac-12 hosted events are limited to a field of 80 players.  Guess what?  When I have 80 players and a tee time start I can get them around rather quickly. During the 2011 Pac-10 Championships we had groups of 3 with a 4:40 pace of play and no groups finished over pace.  Granted, that's not exactly Speedy Gonzalez pace, but it's better than the 6 hour shotguns we see each year. 

            But I’m going to talk about one major issue for collegiate golf’s pace of play that is rarely mentioned out loud, except by EVERY Rules Official that has ever worked a collegiate event – Coaches.

            I’ll start by saying that I have the privilege of working with several coaches at their events throughout the year, none of whom do I think are a part of the issue.  At those events, however, are many, many coaches who preach about pace of play and then constantly cause more pace issues by their interaction and policies with their own players.  The USGA did a major disservice to collegiate golf when they permitted the GCAA/NCAA to allow two coaches to give advice as opposed to one.

So I now say this directly to coaches of America: Let your players play.  You recruited them because they knew how to handle the course on their own.  Train them during practice, but once they are on the course leave them alone.  Players do not need you to read their putts.  Players do not need to discuss yardages with you for three minutes on every shot.  Players do not need to mark 6 inch putts because they have to run laps if they miss short putts throughout the day.  Train them to shorten their routines, not lengthen them.  Train them in pace of play best practices, like playing ready golf, being ready to play by getting yardages while other players are hitting, going to the next tee when they are the first to finish a hole and so on. 

            The best thing for collegiate golf would be if coaches were no longer allowed to talk to players during the round except to say, “Speed up!”  Allow them to carry food, water, umbrellas and whatever else goes in those gym bags attached to every cart, but no advice.  Unfortunately, this will never happen, so I ask coaches for something that is plausible – let us do our jobs.

            Coaches love pace of play policies and love the idea of penalties being assessed, until it has to go against their own players.  Let us do our jobs as officials and apply the policies evenly.  The players at the NCAA’s were in "shock" because they’re used to shotgun starts where host coaches have basically stated that pace of play is not in effect.  The bottom line is that the NCAA checkpoint policy hasn’t changed for several years.  The players knew it.  The coaches knew it.  And yet everyone is all upset that it was actually enforced, and then wants to complain about the pace of play problem in college golf! 

Get over it.  Get over it now, because the argument is bad for the game and bad for the players.  A player who misses two checkpoints and receives a penalty shouldn’t feel jilted, he should know he screwed up and his coach should know he screwed up not getting his player to play faster.  Dunlap handled the penalty with class yesterday.  The coach and a fellow teammate did not, and Cameron Peck’s tweet was uncalled for and immature.  So now let’s move on and do what really is good for pace of play and continue to assess penalties when they are called for – in collegiate golf, in amateur golf, in junior golf and in professional golf.  Players will not start playing faster until penalties are enforced, so let’s not get upset every time a good Rules Official enforces the policy.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on, Ryan. I've been a keen observer of college golf for close to fifteen years. It wasn't this bad back then. But as juniors began getting more and more coaching, they started doing things like checking wind and distances over and over, and looking at putts from eight different angles. I had a brief discussion about 7-8 years ago with one prominent coach (I am on his school's golf committee) about it and he said slow play was at the top of the agenda. Obviously that has not sunk in all the way, but, again, if penalties don't get someone's attention, what will?

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