June 25, 2024
How Dustin Johnson's speedy approach could help golf's pace of play

How Dustin Johnson’s speedy approach could help golf’s pace of play

That simplicity may come in Johnson’s fast approach, something the 36-year-old identified as both a positive and a negative in his coming-of-age season a decade ago.

“I was always a fast player […] there’s only two things that can happen, you hit a good shot or a bad shot, so why waste time doing it?” Johnson said at the 2010 Tour Championship, the year he twice squandered final-round leads at majors.

Tiger Woods helps Masters' champion Johnson with his Green Jacket.

Whatever he’s taken on board in the 10 years since, it’s worked. He’s gone home with two majors, had more weeks at world No.1 (111) than anyone other than Tiger Woods (683), Greg Norman (331) and McIlroy (106) and won PGA Tour events every season for his first 13 years. Regarding that last achievement, only Jack Nicklaus (17) and Woods (14) have done better.

His success has given the relatively softly-spoken Johnson a platform, with the South Carolinian saying in 2017 he thought an introduction of shot clocks on the PGA Tour would be a good idea.

“That would be quite fun, actually. I’d have plenty of time but there’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t. They would be getting a penalty on every hole.”

In 2018, the European Tour introduced the innovative Shot Clock Masters in Austria — where players had between 40 and 50 seconds to hit their shots — and experimentation with GolfSixes for another more dynamic format has since followed.

However, such measures have hardly halted the slow play scourge.

Ashley Chesters his second shot on the eight hole during day four of the 2018 Shot Clock Masters.

Rare penalties

In the 1950s, Augusta National co-founder and chairman Clifford Roberts demanded two-ball groups complete a round in three hours — final round included.

Yet despite some rounds approaching six hours at the world-famous course, to date the only slow play penalty at the Masters came in 2013, when 14-year-old Chinese debutant Tianlang Guan had to add a shot to his total late in his second round.

Tianlang Guan walks up the 18th fairway during the second round of the Masters. Guan was given a one-shot penalty following his second shot on the 17th hole for exceeding the when he again exceeded the 40 second time limit.

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour went from 1995-2017 without handing out a slow play penalty — having come into effect in 1994.

At September’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Czech player Klara Spilkova was docked two shots, costing her a place in the third round. In 2019, there were a number of fines and a further two-stroke penalty on the LPGA Tour and in 2018, six fines were handed out plus four two-stroke penalties, in contrast to 34 fines in 2016.

“It’s hard to play fast, I feel like, out here just because of all the slopes on the greens and the winds and if you’re just a little bit off, you’re going to leave yourself in tough spots,” two-time major champion Anna Nordqvist said at Aronimink after the Spilkova incident.

“I think you’re kind of in your bubble out there and you just try to speed up as much as you can, but it’s hard to do it because you tend to be pretty far away from the hole.”

Fellow double major winner Stacy Lewis spoke more critically — and praised the European Tour’s more “aggressive” policy — after winning the Ladies Scottish Open in August, her final round taking five hours and 16 minutes.

“It shouldn’t take that long to play. I knew it was going to, that’s the sad part. I do think an effort needs to be made across the board to play faster, because obviously I wasn’t watching it on TV, but I’m sure it couldn’t have been fun to watch on TV.

“I’ve been an advocate for changing our pace of play, getting people to play faster for a long time, and we’re still going the other way unfortunately.”

Stacy Lewis hits her first shot on the third hole during the second round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Overthinking it

Professionals will argue they are doing their job, like a builder is contracted to construct a house and wouldn’t want to rush their work.

Arguably the longer you take, the worse you play. Not always, but it has precedent on golf’s biggest stage.

Take Australian Norman’s 1996 Masters capitulation. Playing exquisite golf to establish a six-shot, 54-hole lead with a sharp and precise pre-shot routine, he fell away badly under pressure from Nick Faldo to lose by five shots.

“His routine is so different,” said Faldo’s coach David Leadbetter. “He’s standing over the ball an incredible amount of time. I’d say he’s spending six, seven seconds longer per shot, fidgeting, moving around in ways I’ve never seen him do.”

Faldo added: “Normally with Greg it’s shuffle, shuffle, then grip, grip and bang! He doesn’t have any hitch.”

Faldo (left) with playing partner Greg Norman tee off on the first hole during third round of play in the Masters.

Brooks Koepka, the in-form men’s player in majors of the last few years, takes very little time over the ball while DeChambeau, criticized before for his deliberate approach, says his pre-shot routine has sped up.

After the US Open winner was lambasted for taking nearly 150 seconds to hit an eight-foot putt in August 2019, at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January, he voiced views similar to those of Nordqvist but also spoke in favor of quicker rounds.

“Look, I don’t want to be out there for six hours, nor does anybody, right. And there’s numerous times out there, more than not, I’m waiting — our group is waiting for people to go, and so I certainly don’t want to be waiting on players. It’s going to hurt my momentum. Every time it happens, I feel like I get cold.”

Willett runs between shots during a round of speed golf.

Speed golf

For some golfers however, it’s about playing 18 holes in more like 30 minutes.

Running or jogging is nothing new for golfers off the course. But on it is a whole different game.

What’s needed: a few clubs (a maximum of seven are permitted), a lightweight bag, running shoes, yellow balls (for added visibility) and your running game. Oh, and don’t forget a head lamp, as you’ll more than likely find yourself at the course at the crack of dawn or when the sun is going down.

PGA professional Luke Willett told CNN that when he was doing some preparation for a sub-30 minute round at the 3,705-yard, par-58 Sunningdale Heath Golf Club outside London, the professional at the club told him twice European Tour winner Robert Rock had shot five-over in fine tuning for tournament play.

A few weeks later, the in-form Rock posted his best finish on tour for seven years with third at the Scottish Open.

Willett meanwhile, on a late October morning, scorched around the course in 26 minutes, carding a score of eight-over (66). Two days earlier, he posted a 68 in a similar time.

Willett (right) along with his two pacers/time keepers.

And just a week earlier, the 36-year-old flew around the Springs Golf Club in Oxfordshire — from tees specially set up to ensure the course played 6,000 yards — in 37 minutes, needing 83 shots (11-over).

“It was a blur, a rollercoaster and a thrill for sure. Running around a golf course makes you feel great and we all need those good vibes right now,” dad of three Willett, who thrives on the “adventure” speed golf brings, said.

Richmond Park Golf Course coach Chris Benians, who played a number of European Tour events between 1998-2003 including a 14th-place finish at the 1999 Ivory Coast Open on the Challenge Tour — won by Ian Poulter — told CNN it was the “reactive” element to speed golf he found the most beneficial.

“Every tournament golfer knows we overthink. I was a really good chipper and I chip in more as a speed golfer than I ever did as a tournament golfer. I see it and do it.”

Former fastest hole world record holder Steve Jeffs, whose 1 minute 50.6 second effort in 2017 on a 500-yard hole was topped by Belgian Thomas Detry in June 2019 with a time of 1:29:62, told CNN that speed golf’s “inclusivity” was also positive.

“If I talk to regular golfers they think I’m mad and everybody else who plays speed golf is mad. It’s the polar opposite of what golf normally is,” said Jeffs, who has renewed confidence he can become a consistent, low handicap player.

“It’s incredible what it does for your game.”