Are elite golfers increasingly playing slower?
Since 2006, the United States Golf Association has employed a checkpoint pace-of-play system for each of its 10 amateur championships and the results aren't especially encouraging.
At the U.S. Amateur last week, 21 penalty strokes were assessed for slow play in the first round of medal play, three more on Tuesday. The 24 penalty strokes represent a record and were 18 more than were assessed the year before.
"There are four checkpoints for an 18-hole round," Genger A. Fahleson, director of rules education for the USGA, wrote in an email. "It is the responsibility of the players to complete the checkpoint holes at or under an expected time (sometimes called 'time par'); or with 14 minutes of the group ahead."
A group that misses one checkpoint is issued a warning. The number of warnings at the 2010 Amateur weren't available yet, but based on the number of penalty strokes assessed it seems likely that they will have extended a trend. In 2007, there were 30 group warnings. In 2008, there were 47. In 2009 there were 58.
In 2009, there were 255 group warnings for all 10 amateur championships, 87 more than the year before. The Junior Amateur jumped from 21 to 43 group warnings. In seven of 10 championships, the number increased from 2008 to 2009.
Slow play is a scourge. Geoff Shackelford has a column in Golf World this week addressing slow play on the PGA Tour and what isn't being done about it (the tour tracks players' pace of play via ShotLink) and suggesting what could be done about it.
The USGA, to its credit, has been doing something, though the players collectively don't seem to be picking up the pace. Indeed, they seem to be dawdling more than ever.
-- John Strege