Slow play in golf is caused by the quest for information. On the pro tours, everyone is so good that the main differentiator, between winners and also-rans, is the difference in the accessing and exploitation of information. If a pro knows which way(s) a putt rolls and breaks, that is a huge advantage – for example, when a fellow-competitor putts first on essentially the same line, the 2nd-to-putt is probably going to make the putt, because these people are that good. If you see Tiger walk away from his approach shot 2, 3, 4 times or more, it is probably because he is uncertain about the wind direction or speed or about his distance to a particular landing-spot on the green. The big guys take forever because they know nearly everyone else in the field can hit the same shot, so their only edge might be a better input of information.
If baseball ever started enforcing the speed-up rules for pitchers and batters, maybe the PGA might do something. Meanwhile, if you thought the anchored putter rule caused a lot of golf pros to lose their cool, wait ‘til you see how they react once the Tour starts actually handing out penalties for slow play. If I were a Tour pro, here’s what I would say about enhanced emphasis upon slow play:
1) Before we jump into speed-golf, let’s let our caddies use the electronic yardage-calculating devices that the amateurs use. We all find out our exact yardage anyway – at worst, we bring the entire course to a halt while we have our caddie literally WALK off the yardage when all else fails. It’s not like there is any unfair advantage when someone knows the distances – eventually, we all get them anyway. It’s as though golf were trying to remind us of how things were when golfers [pre-Nicklaus] were able to play all their shots based upon educated guesses as to yardage. In the age of GPS range-finders, this is just stupid and wastes huge amounts of time.
2) While we are at it, how about electronic devices to read the line of the putt? Not as revolutionary as it sounds – the pros all play with diagrams that show almost the exact topography of every green, so “reading” is no longer what it used to be. Either ban the diagrams or let us use the lasers, but let’s eliminate the unfair advantage you get when, by accident, someone else in your group can give you a ‘read’ by having a longer putt on essentially the same line.
3) Likewise with wind – let’s have and use devices that read the speed and direction of the wind automatically and quickly before every shot.
In other words, let’s stop pretending we are still playing the Old Course with Harry Vardon or Young Tom Morris. Today we are playing a game where information is everything, and guys will spend tons of time trying to accumulate more information than the other guy. Let’s get with the 21st century, let Callaway and Garmin and Apple and the others respond to the changes by inventing and marketing all-in-one devices that give you an instant read on yardage, wind, topography, maybe even atmospheric conditions and distance above- or below-sea level and elevation-changes from tee to green, get all this junk out of the way, and then let the guys play modern golf. If it still takes you longer than Aaron Baddeley or Brandt Snedeker to get off the shot, you DESERVE to be penalized if you already have all the necessary information at hand. Let’s see if we can’t eliminate 80% of Keegan Bradley’s pre-shot routine.
And while we are at it, let’s impose a permanent ban on caddies standing behind the player and confirming that the player’s alignment is correct – THAT is a bit of an old school bias that this writer will never relinquish; a caddie-confirmed setup is a far more-serious form of cheating than an anchored putter.