Patty Ice and the head melting slow play issue

John Craven

Patrick Cantlay (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

John Craven

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Whenever I find myself having one of those awkward ‘what do you do?’ conversations, most people express genuine surprise when I reveal I’m a golf writer. 

In fairness, it does sound like a made up job. There was certainly no box for this one on the CAO form back in school. Sure, I studied journalism and played golf, but a golf writer? Those jobs didn’t exist. And if they did, they were tied up by crinkly quill wielding curmudgeons in tweed jackets and plaid caps.  

I’d tell people I was a golf writer and they’d say, ‘you can’t be, you’re too young’. And by the time I’d finally convince them, beyond asking have I ever interviewed Rory McIlroy, they’d invariably say the same thing – that writing to deadlines must be awfully stressful. 

I’d be lying if I said there was zero pressure around deadlines. It can be a race against the clock, and writer’s block is a real thing, but long before I picked up a keyboard in the name of golf journalism, I dealt with deadlines of a different kind. A pressure not even a heart surgeon could relate to. Where time truly was a matter of life and death.  

That’s right, I was the Course Ranger at Carton House. 

Tasked with getting men home to their wives in 4 hours 15 minutes, I never knew pressure like it. Just 18 years young, marriages depended on my ability to keep play moving. Like most clubs, slow play was a scourge and yet remarkably, there wasn’t one slow player. Or at least not one that would admit it, which is why I’ll compliment Patrick Cantlay for at least owning up to the fact he’s slower than a car without wheels. 

“I’m definitely slower than average, have been my whole career,” says the man known as Patty Ice, his glacial slow play more head melting than ever. 

Routinely taking more than the permitted 40 seconds per shot, Cantlay is playing with a target on his back. Fans line the ropes with stopwatches, heckling as they tick. Others create videos – Cantlay versus legendary horse Black Caviar in a race; the mare running 1000m quicker than Cantlay can hole a four foot putt.  

What started out as Brooks Koepka’s “brutal” assessment of Cantlay’s group at the Masters has become an all-out movement – ironic given it’s Cantlay’s inability to move that’s the sticking point. If you watch closely, rumour has it you can see a snail trail glistening in his wake; Cantlay’s own version of shot tracer technology tracking his every cumbersome step. 

Remarkably, since being identified as “deliberate”, if anything, Cantlay has deliberately slowed down. Perhaps to prove a point that even when taking nearly three minutes to pitch out from the trees at Hilton Head, and a further five minutes to play from the sleepers, his lethargy is above the law. 

“My group hasn’t been warned at all,” Cantlay says, claiming he’s regularly in position. It’s an indictment of the tour that there’s credence to his claims.  

Far from the only sloth in the village, Cantlay is one of several painstakingly slow players. With 156 guys teeing off in three balls and two tee starts each week, the PGA Tour has a real problem, and one Cantlay won’t help cure without forceful encouragement. 

Cantlay’s response to this traffic has been to dawdle at the wheel, much to the ire of playing partners Hovland at the Masters, and Fitzpatrick and Spieth at Hilton Head. Whatever about being held up on the tee, Cantlay’s refusal to play ready golf out of courtesy to his group has exacerbated a plague on the game. 

Cantlay’s defence points to the importance of every shot on the PGA Tour. He needs the time to contemplate, deliberate, downright frustrate… but shouldn’t part of the deal with being a pro golfer involve thinking under pressure and making quick decisions? 

The answer to that lies with the rules officials who have so far only been brave enough to penalise a little-known 14-year old amateur at the Masters while the likes of Cantlay continue to make a mockery of the rules. 

And look, I’m no PGA Tour player. Hell, I’m no player at all but recently I played a game with a guy who believe it or not, plays too fast. You’d wonder if he wants to play at all he’s in such a hurry. No practice swings, no yardages, no honours on tees. Not even a handshake at the finish! 

As a fourball, we played through a group on the 5th tee and after showering post-round and having a coffee, I passed that same group as they were stepping onto the 16th tee. We played the Montgomerie Course in 3 hours 15 minutes – numbers I could only fantasise about as the frazzled course ranger.

What’s more, I’ve been trying to break 80 for a number of years and I shot 78. I’m convinced the only reason for it was that I didn’t have time to think. Maybe Cantlay would win a Major if he did the same? 

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