Golf Monthly Editor's Letter September 2013 Issue

Editor’s Letter September 2013 Issue 

To me, this year’s Muirfield Open had it all.

Glorious weather; a superb links playing hard and fast; a Sunday leaderboard featuring the world’s elite; and, in Phil Mickelson, a winner of the highest calibre who carded the week’s equal best round to win, providing further proof that the East Lothian links identifies the best of the best.

Less happily, we also saw a penalty for slow play. The recipient was Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama who was docked a shot in the third round.

He could feel unlucky to be the only one as, having followed several groups around the glorious sun-baked links for four days, I found it hard to see why more slow-play penalties weren’t being issued.

Too many pros amble along, presumably trying to follow the mind coach’s advice of not getting ahead of themselves.

When they reach their ball there’s the consulting of the yardage book, the conferring with the caddie, the relentless practice swinging, and the twitching about that may or may not form part of their officially laborious pre-shot routines… before finally the shot itself!

If less than 97 per cent perfect the shot is often followed by a deep exhalation of breath, some sort of self-berating, possible reprimanding of the caddie and the studious analysis of some element of the swing path that wasn’t quite right.

Watching this process in the flesh was enough to make you want to head back to the Open Arms, grab a refreshing beverage and watch play on the big screens, where the TV producers are at least able to cut from shot to shot and spare viewers the full extent of faffing that goes on.

Back to Mr Matsuyama. His penalty was for a second bad time in his round. Things came to a head at the 17th when he took two minutes 12 seconds to play.

Yes, that’s right – two minutes, 12 seconds from the time it was his turn to play until he actually hit the ball.

Few fans will have had any sympathy, but playing partner Johnson Wagner did. So incensed was Wagner that he initially refused to sign Matsuyama’s card in protest.

“We were moving at a lovely pace for twosomes on a Saturday,” he said, as if to condone his partner’s actions in particular, and the slow play that blights tour golf in general.

The full irony of Wagner’s words was brought home next day when I was lucky enough to have an invite to play the links.

One of our group asked the caddies what their ‘best time’ round Muirfield was. “One hour 45,” came the reply.

“The members like to keep it moving.” We laughed heartily, for about as long as it took Matsuyama to play that shot!

Slow play is, of course, not limited to the elite game. At club level it’s bad and getting worse if recent letters from GM readers and chat on our online forum are anything to go by.

Always a hot topic, the increase in comments has been noticeable.

I’m sure the better weather we’re now enjoying is having an impact, as more and more golfers head to the course, but the underlying issues are the same whatever the weather.

If only it were simple to fix, but as our ‘GM asks’ feature (p68-69) says, there’s no easy cure because the problem has so many facets.

Everybody should be doing their bit though, at the very least being aware of their group’s pace relative to others.

I don’t believe anyone goes out intending to hold people up, but I do think many golfers are oblivious to what’s going on around them or don’t see themselves as slow.

If you do find yourself holding up the group behind, the basic rule should be to invite them through if the course ahead is relatively clear, then focus on keeping up with them rather than merely staying ahead of the group behind.

It won’t solve golf’s slow play problem, but it will make the game more enjoyable for all concerned.

Email: michael_harris@ipcmedia.com
Twitter: @MikeHarrisGolf