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Cut to the dramatic scene at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, N.J., on Sunday. Azahara Munoz and Morgan Pressel were playing their semifinal in the Sybase Match Play Championship, with Pressel in control of the match on the back nine. The group had fallen behind the only other twosome on the course and were warned, then put on the clock before getting to the 12th hole. As Pressel, who was 2 up in the match and had the honors, approached her tee shot on the par 3, the wind picked up and she stepped back. Assessing the new wind conditions with her caddie, Pressel took a while to rethink her club selection. Her tee shot then missed the green left, leaving her with a tricky pitch shot up a steep embankment. As many professionals do when they're close to the green and need to get up and down, Pressel walked up to the green from her ball and back before taking her stance and executing her shot. Her opponent was also in trouble on the hole and salvaging par could mean going 3 up. Pressel's second shot left her with a par putt that was certainly no gimmie, so she took some time over that as well, but made it and saved par while Munoz bogeyed.
*A quick sidebar: I don't commend Pressel on her actions in the following hours (on the 15th green, she accused Munoz of touching the line of her putt in her pre-shot routine, which lead to nothing but more tears and time added to the match; and after the round, Pressel made it clear she thought Munoz had been playing slower than her). But that's irrelevant to this story.
I bet Morgan Pressel has some regrets today. Perhaps she she wishes she hadn't reexamined her club selection on the tee to accommodate the wind. Perhaps she regrets not running up and slapping at that putt without thinking, so that she would at least have gotten away with a two-putt halve and been assessed no time penalty.
Is that the way golf of this magnitude should be played? No. Would this ever happen on the PGA Tour? Don't choke on your Caesar salad while laughing at that one.
The PGA Tour allows 60 seconds per shot, and a player is not penalized until after the second offense. Once a player does incur a penalty, it's only one stroke, while the LPGA Tour assesses two strokes or loss of hole in match play. Not to mention that the PGA Tour hasn't actually given out any penalties since the '90s. The LPGA has delivered eight such penalties in the last two years, although it's safe to say the other seven weren't newsworthy situations (the tour doesn't give out names of players who have incurred penalties or fines). In Pressel's case, the ruling more or less determined the outcome of a semifinal in one of the biggest events in women's golf. The LPGA can't afford that kind of bad press, no matter how much the slow-play police is patting them on the back today. It's a tour that's fighting to stay alive and gain fans, and decisions such as this will only turn viewers off. The rules are there to be followed, for sure, but there's subjectivity involved here. And if you're going to lob a ruling this damaging in a situation as important as the Pressel-Munoz match, you'd better make darn sure you're doing it every week, at every tournament, the moment any player is a second over. I think we can all agree that's not happening.
Let me reiterate that slow play is a problem in golf, and it has been for a long time. As Adam Schupack points out in his column on NewYorkTimes.com, not much has changed on the recreational side of the game since Golf Digest ran a big feature called "Slow Play: Crisis in American Golf" in October of 1965. And it's not going to change until regular golfers start playing from the tees that suit them (i.e., drop the egos and move up a couple) and learn to let faster groups play through.
But let's get real: slow play is not a lethal epidemic on the professional tours. The pros still play in just over four hours, and their livelihoods are at stake with each shot. If that means they need to read a putt a little more closely, then so be it. And for those whose pace is painfully snail-like, common sense should be applied before penalties are assessed. To demote a player from 3-up to 1-up on the back nine in the semifinals of a tour's biggest match play event because she took 29 extra seconds to execute three shots on a windy day is just plain wrong. It shouldn't have happened.
(Follow Stina on Twitter @StinaSternberg)