Georgia Golfers Adjust to the Game’s Changing Pace

Gabriela Coello approaches her ball, visualizing where she wants it to land. She has already measured her distance, checked her yardage book and selected her club while her opponent plays. She takes one or two practice swings, then hits her shot.

“It usually takes me 15 to 19 seconds to do all of that,” says Coello, a senior golfer at the University of Georgia.

That falls well within the encouraged 40 seconds between shots granted by the United States Golf Association, the governing body of golf. That encouragement is getting teeth: in 2019, USGA has introduced new rules to make golf quicker. The new guidelines specify a limit on the search time for lost balls, encourage playing out of turn if it will speed up the round, and allow golfers to leave the flagstick in while putting.

Along with the addition of pitch clocks in baseball and serve clocks in tennis, these new rules are a part of a trend towards speeding up slow sports. Some think golf on the collegiate level, though, might need to be sped up the most.

It is actually really slow. People always tell you that from junior golf,” says Coello, a self-described fast player. “Before school they were like big on pace of play, you would play in like three and a half hours, and you come to college and it’s like five-hour rounds.”

Most players and coaches consider a five-hour round in a college tournament beyond slow. Jeanne Sutherland, former vice president of the Women’s Golf Coaches Association and current head coach of SMU, expects faster.

“[Slow golf is] if the pace of a threesome doesn’t allow for a four-hour round,” says Sutherland. “That’s how we define it in practice.”

All these rules have been implemented in a year filled with controversy over public criticism of slow play by some of the PGA Tour’s biggest names, including number one-ranked Brooks Koepka. Some believe that what happens at the top level of golf trickles down to the levels below.

“Everybody follows the top,” says Georgia women’s golf coach Josh Brewer. “Once the PGA and LPGA will fine their players and give them penalties, I think we can truly worry about that on our end.”

This isn’t to say that the USGA has not enforced its rules system, but the frustration for many is consistency. With a lack of rules officials, many regular season matches are played without proper enforcement. 

It’s frustrating,” says Brewer. “It would be like changing the play clock in football to 10 seconds from 25 seconds in the playoffs because people think the game is too slow.”

“It’s kind of on different spectrums because postseason is very strict, especially at nationals, with pace of play,” says senior UGA men’s golfer Spencer Ralston. “It’s kind of a switch but most of us play enough events that we see that, so we’re used to it.”

Without the necessary personnel, consistent rules enforcement is unlikely. As to whether or not she thinks that will change in the future, Sutherland says, “No, I don’t really.” That lack of consistent officiating could be a factor in May of 2020 when the University of Georgia hosts a women’s NCAA Regional. It was a factor in 2019’s NCAA Men’s Championship, as a three-stroke penalty for South Carolina kept the Gamecocks out of the final round.

That doesn’t mean that golf’s pace problems will not be fixed. In line with the complaints of Koepka, the players find one of the easiest ways to speed up the game is to be ready.

“When your opponent or playing partner is hitting you should have your yardage and club ready, so right when he hits you should be stepping into your routine,” says junior golfer Davis Thompson. “I think a lot of guys just wait for the guys they’re playing with to hit then all of the sudden they’re looking through their yardage books or trying to figure out their yardage when you should already do that by the time that guy has hit. Little things like that just save a couple seconds, and by the end of the day you’ve saved probably 10 to 15 minutes.”

Even with this push for faster play, some just don’t see much change coming. Golf is a sport of small margins and precision, and forcing players to play faster might lead to worse results.

“You’re going to take time, you’re going to look at putts from different angles, wind is going to come up on an iron shot and stuff like that,” says UGA sophomore golfer Trent Phillips. “You’re not playing in a dome. You’re playing in nature. You can’t really do anything else with it in my opinion.”

More than anything, golf is a sport grounded in tradition, and change is hardly welcome. Whether the USGA rules or public shaming of slow players can change that remains to be seen.

That’s golf,” says Phillips. “You really can’t change golf that much.”

Christian Bell is junior majoring in marketing in the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia.

 

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  • golfcarts

    I really can’t change golf that much.

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