The stopwatch is finally coming to pro golf, after all these years of competitors requiring a summer vacation and nine bank holidays to take a stance and hit a shot into the bleachers behind the green. In brief, there are some new "pace-of-play" regulations going into effect immediately on the PGA tour, and they could result in fines and even suspensions for those golfers who take an eternity to go 18 holes and then come into the clubhouse without a doctor's excuse or mud on their pants.
Last week at La Costa, where Gary Player won the MONY Tournament of Champions by shooting another spectacular last round, a five-under-par 67, to wipe out Severiano Ballesteros' four-shot lead, PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman and some cohorts put the finishing touches on the new code. Beman said it was O.K. to go ahead and call it the Dirty Cuffs Rule because it actually doesn't have a name. Beman then pronounced his clockers and timers ready and announced that the meter was going to start running at this week's Houston Open.
From now on, every player in a PGA co-sponsored event is going to be timed on certain holes during each of his four tournament rounds. These spot checks will then be weighed against the amount of time it takes each of the twosomes or threesomes to complete a round. Studies have already been conducted to determine how long it should take to play 18 holes, under normal conditions and without bizarre interruptions, on all of the tournament courses in the U.S. The PGA tour knows, for example, that it takes longer to play Sawgrass, with its hurricanes and animal farms, than it does to play Phoenix Country Club, with its gimme par-4s and nacho concessions.
"Slow play is one of the worst things about golf," Beman says. "It doesn't breed new golfers for the public to watch when a lot of our guys out there on the course are taking forever to play a shot, a hole and a round. Slow play results mostly from bad habits. The slow player usually doesn't even know he's slow, because he's concentrating and competing. But he's doing a disservice to the sport, and he's affecting the scoring of those competitors paired with him and playing directly behind him."
Thus, Beman and the PGA Tournament Policy Board have instituted the Dirty Cuffs Rule, and Beman is correct in proudly announcing that this is the first time anybody has ever gotten serious about trying to do something to eliminate the problem, although slow play in golf is certainly as old as Tom Morris cleaning his pipe between whops with a rut iron.
Without soiled britches from having spent the afternoon wading through hazards (that's excusable, poor play being a whole different thing from slow play), the golfer who loiters too long on his shots and putts will now have to go quickly to his pocket. Not only that, but Beman will also have the offender's name posted in a public place because he thinks that may embarrass the golfer into speeding up.
"Naturally, we hope no one gets a fine or a suspension," Beman says. "We hope the threat itself will be enough to quicken the pace of play. Ideally, we would like to see all of our rounds speeded up by about 30 minutes. It would make the game more exciting and could even improve scoring."
For a first offense the slow player will be fined $200. For a second offense, another $200. Ah, but for the third offense in a 12-month span there will be a $1,000 fine and a three-week suspension.
The slow players know who they are now, even if they didn't have any suspicions before. All the pros have been timed on a trial basis, and the results have been mailed to every competitor. They were not clocked on tee shots because even the slowest of the pokes never takes very long to find his way between the markers and aim in the proper direction. The stopwatches were running during their second shots, from the instant the golfer took the club out of his bag until his follow-through untangled. The player was timed in the same way on his chip shots and bunker shots. On his first and second putts, the clocks started the split second it became his turn to play.
Beman has not made the timers' findings public, as he will the official clockings in the future, but Secret Agent Ducky Hook of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED got his hands on the document, and there are some fascinating games to be played with it.