J.B. Holmes' one-stroke win at Riviera is overshadowed by the 5 1/2 hours it took to cap the comeback

February 17, 2019
PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 17: J.B. Holmes lines up a putt on the 18th hole green during the final round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club on February 17, 2019 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — On Sunday, J.B. Holmes erased a four-stroke deficit at the start of the final round of the Genesis Open to win by one over Justin Thomas.

Given the difficult conditions—a disjointed week that included playing multiple rounds in the same day because of inclement weather at the start of the tournament, plus chilly temperatures and wind gusts upwards of 30 m.p.h. on the final afternoon—it was an impressive performance, even if Holmes was aided by Thomas’ lousy putting and four-over 75 on Sunday.

Hey, someone had to claim the title, and Holmes did enough to be the one holding the trophy at the end when plenty of others didn’t. A win is a win.

“Always thought that would have been a better chance for me,” Holmes said of the nasty weather. “Usually when the conditions are crappy, I do better.”

It didn’t hurt, either, that he took his time in doing so.

The final threesome of Holmes, Thomas and Adam Scott played in 5 hours, 29 minutes. Most of the slow-rolling came at the hand of Holmes, long considered one of the biggest culprits in the game of playing at a glacial pace, as he plumb-bobbed and dawdled his way around Riviera.

Not that he seemed to mind.

“Well, you play in 25-mile-an-hour gusty winds and see how fast you play when you’re playing for the kind of money and the points and everything that we’re playing for,” Holmes replied when asked about the topic following the victory. “You can’t just get up there and whack it when it’s blowing that hard.”

On one hand, he had a point. The conditions were difficult, and Riviera is a difficult golf course.

On the other, Holmes’ group found itself a full hole behind the group in front of them for nearly the entire round. Still, they were never put on the clock, or so much as warned to pick up the pace.

“I’ll tell you my thing on slow play is it’s never going to change,” said Scott on Sunday night, reiterating a point he made earlier in the week in an interview with Golf Digest in which he admitted that he told the PGA Tour he’d be willing to intentionally take a penalty to make a point. “Until television and sponsors say ‘No more money,’ slow play ain’t going to change.”

He ain’t wrong.

That doesn’t mean it’s right, either.

Genesis Open - Final Round

Stan Badz

Pace of play has for decades been a topic of conversation, with many griping for the game to move faster. Yet in a recent anonymous player survey from Golf Magazine when players were asked if they played at an acceptable pace, laughably, 100 percent responded yes.

But when an average NFL game is just past 3 hours, an NBA game around 2½ hours, and a Major League Baseball game 3 hours, golf is asking a lot when it comes to taking 5½ hours to play, even when it is the final group.

It’s not always as simple as move faster. And it’s not always better when players do—Jordan Spieth’s 30-minute bogey on the 13th hole during the final round of the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, and Tiger Woods’ stalking of the 16th hole in the final round of the 2005 Masters before chipping in were great theater. But in most cases it is.

“It was slow,” Thomas admitted of Sunday’s final round of the Genesis, adding that wasn’t the reason he didn’t play well.

It also wasn’t a good look, for the tournament, or Holmes, especially if it causes people to tune out instead of tune in. Why else? Put it this way: Will you remember the final round of the Genesis Open more for Holmes’ or Thomas’ performances? Or for Holmes’ pace of play?

When slow play becomes the topic of conversation—on social media, on CBS’ telecast and among fans at Riviera—as much as or more than the guy who won (or lost) the tournament, that is a problem.

Which is just as unfortunate as the fact that slow play is something that doesn’t appear to be improving or going away anytime soon.