As the old saying goes, you need a backbone, not a wishbone, and increasingly of late, the PGA Tour is showing very little of the former.
Faced with a slow play epidemic, the Tour’s chief rules official Slugger White defended their policy in an interview with Golf Digest last June. In the interview, White claimed that, despite hating slow play as much as the next man, he couldn’t agree with shot penalties being handed out because it could end up costing somebody $5,000 and that in turn could end up costing him his tour card, could stop his kids going to college, or even stop him putting a down payment on a house.
Now, looking past the unlikelihood of this hypothetical scenario actually playing out, under the current policy, players are allowed 40 seconds to hit a shot when it’s their turn, with one warning before a one stroke penalty is assessed. But the Tour’s failure to adequately penalise the guilty parties is of course penalising those who don’t break the rules. How about their kids and mortgages, Slugger?
Anyway, under increasing pressure from the watching public and from influential Tour stars like Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, the Tour has announced stricter policies to come into play the week after the Masters. Though similar to the old system, players now have 60 seconds to hit unless there is a valid reason for a longer delay. And of course, it will be up to Slugger’s crew to deem what is valid and what is not.
The kicker to this is that there will be an observation list of players who fail to comply and they will be closely watched on every shot in every tournament until they are off the list. Sounds great, right? Well, until we find out that not only will the list not be made public, but only the players on the list will be made aware.
The sceptical part of me (and I’ll admit, that’s a lot) wonders if this list is little more than a placebo to placate the public.
Both literally and figuratively, time will tell on the slow play issue, but it’s not the only example of the PGA Tour’s lack of spine.
By now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will be well aware of the Patrick Reed controversy at the Hero World Challenge last December. The vast majority of the golfing public believe that Reed cheated. The video speaks for itself but the Tour chose not to prosecute beyond a two-stroke penalty.
With the opportunity to make a major statement and take major steps to protecting the integrity of the game, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and his fellow committee decided to protect Reed instead.
Cameron Smith, the most outspoken critic of Reed’s behaviour among his fellow pros, has been issued a warning from a Tour official to refrain from similar comments or face fine or suspension. Smith’s comments may have echoed the sentiments of the wider public but become a problem in the wake of the effective “not guilty” verdict.
I suppose it’s easier to reprimand a young Aussie without an individual PGA Tour win (at that point) than a seven-time Tour winner with a green jacket.
But show proper backbone? Well, that’s just wishful thinking.