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Thursday, 1 February 2018

It Isn't All About You

Recently, at the Farmers Insurance Open, we were witness to JB Holmes taking over four minutes to play his second shot into the eighteenth green in the final round. He was standing in the fairway knowing full well that he needed a three to have a chance to win. After seeming to wait forever, evidently hoping the wind might ease up some, JB changed clubs and layed up into the rough.

While this was taking place, two other players in an even better position to win the tournament were forced to wait. Alex Noren ended up changing clubs and hitting his three wood over the green. It didn't cost him the tournament right then and there, but it sure as hell didn't help him.

And, despite the number of people criticizing JB for what they deemed to be a terrible display of  poor sportsmanship, Holmes still claims he wouldn't change a thing. He claims he was trying to win the tournament and had every right to take the time he did. That he ultimately layed up tends to belie his claim about trying to win. But he's got his story and he's apparently sticking to it.

Slow play is nothing new. There have always been golfers who seemed to take interminable amounts of time to play even the most rudimentary shots. But, if anything, the problem of slow play has become even worse.  I think, as is generally the case, that Bobby Jones had the right idea when he devoted an entire chapter of his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, to Slow Play. He wrote:

    "There can be no odium attached to slow play when the motives of grandstanding and of upsetting an opponent are eliminated--and these can be entirely eliminated from this discussion; but I regard it as a mistake, considering both the player's efficiency and the welfare of the game in general. Golf depends for its growth upon public interest, and competitions are designed to stimulate public interest. Nothing can be less entertaining to the spectator than a round of golf drawn out by minute examinations of every shot."

Looking back on that final round involving JB Holmes--and particularly his second shot on 18 during that six hour round--if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he was not grandstanding, or trying to upset his opponents--his slow play in general, and specifically his four minute delay in hitting that shot on 18, did very little to endear him to the fans or his opponents, or to "grow the game," which seems to be the desire of the PGA tour.

Bobby goes on to write:

    "After all, the deliberation necessary depends entirely upon the man who is playing the game; it is his business to play the shot, and he should never be required to play until he is ready. Some situations one finds on a golf course require some amount of study before the player can determine the best way to overcome the difficulty; but these are unusual. The vast majority of shots from the fairway are but repetitions of countless hundreds played before. At least, to one familiar with the course, as all tournament contestants are, the decision should be a matter of seconds."

Getting back to Holmes, he was not faced with a particularly unusual shot. Yes, it was an important shot; but it didn't require any special deliberation. He needed to make three. The wind was blowing. He therefore had to decide whether the best way to make three was to challenge the water and go for the green, or to lay up and try to hole a wedge shot. It wasn't a tough decision. But what he was really doing--something I believe he later admitted--was not deliberating; he was really just standing around hoping the wind would ease off. It didn't and he layed up.

So, unless players are now entitled to stand around hoping the wind will change, JB Holmes delayed the game. By doing so he upset the fans, surely upset his playing partners, and discredited himself. That he said he would do the same thing again, testifies to the fact that he doesn't "get it," as it relates to slow play. And it would seem to behoove the other players, the press, the tour, and the fans to help him see the light. 

Ultimately, JB, it isn't all about you. You owe it to your playing partners, the fans, and the tour, to get on with it. And the same applies to anyone else if they are prone to taking more time than necessary to play their shots. Golf is an individual game; but it isn't all about you.