72 pickup

LITTLESTONE, England – Slow play can be eradicated. The 72 Club is living proof of that.

Golf administrators who somehow can’t get elite players to finish in under five hours should have been here at Littlestone. They would have seen that the three-hour round remains possible.

The 72 Club is unique. Every April, a bunch of us get together and play 72 holes on the same day. Everyone walks and carries their clubs. No caddies, no trolleys, no carts, no exceptions. Nor is it a Stableford, scramble or skins format. It’s strictly stroke play, everything holed out.

I had the pleasure of Simon White’s company for the four rounds. He was playing in his 19th 72 Club. I was competing in my fifth. We teed off at 7:05 a.m. and walked off the course at 7:35 p.m., and that included half an hour for lunch.

There were 24 of us, and everyone completed the day. We averaged three hours per round. Some of the earlier players were even faster.

Contrast this with the pace of play on the various tours around the world, and you’ll understand why there’s a certain pride on my part at proving golf can be played quickly.

Let’s take the Masters as an example. Hats off to Trevor Immelman. He deserved to win. I just wish he had been quicker about it.

Immelman and Brandt Snedeker teed off at 2:25 p.m. in the final round, and I clocked them completing the 18th hole at 7:26 p.m. Five hours for a round of golf? Are you kidding me?

I know conditions were tough at Augusta. I know both players were chasing their first major, but five hours for a two-ball is unacceptable. It’s so unacceptable that many people on my side of the pond didn’t see Immelman slip on the green jacket.

I conducted a quick straw poll of members of my club and found many of them turned off the television and went to bed. With the five-hour time difference, it meant staying up past midnight to watch the drama unfold.

There was a common refrain from everyone I spoke to: Play was too slow.

Yet neither Immelman nor Snedeker was penalized for slow play. That’s not surprising. It’s been 16 years since a player on the PGA Tour was handed a one-shot penalty for slow play. Dillard Pruitt holds that distinction. He’s now a PGA Tour rules official, with responsibility for making sure players get in a round in good time.

You couldn’t make that up, could you?

Play in the second round of this year’s Masters crept up to the 5 1/2-hour mark, and not one player in this year’s field was handed a one-shot penalty. But then the guys in charge of this year’s Masters gave the field largesse to crawl along the fairways.

“We have actually tightened up pace of play this year,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters competition committee. “Our target time is four hours and 45 minutes, a seven-minute reduction from last year.”

What hope is there when your target time is at least 45 minutes out of whack? Four hours should be the absolute maximum for elite players to complete a round of golf. I mean, it’s not as if they have to spend time searching for balls like you and I. They hit fewer shots than you and I, and they have someone to carry their bag.

I say that once these guys reach the four-hour mark, they should be asked to leave the golf course. I know that’s pretty draconian, but the rules are there to hammer these guys. It’s just the will that’s missing.

The LPGA at least has shown willingness to speed players up. At February’s SBS Open, it slapped a two-stroke penalty on Angela Park for impersonating a snail.

Well done to the LPGA for starting down a road few have dared to tread.

We need more penalty stroke applied. Not platitudes about doing something about the problem and then doing nothing.

Slow play is the game’s biggest cancer, one of the main turn-offs for new players. Elite players need to set the example for others to follow.

They need some 72 Club pace.

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