Saturday, September 04, 2010

The New Slow

Americans are generally slow players at the game of golf; better – more deliberate players being the culprits and Ladies unjustly receiving the blame. That isn’t far from the truth as virtually nothing is more intolerable than following four single digit players grinding out their match. Those Americans who have had been players for 20 years or more and especially those with at least 40 years experience with the game have seen pace of play in America deteriorate to a remarkable degree. Some comments on slower players in the 1990’s lay the blame on players from Japan. Rather deliberate in their ways respecting a ritual - perhaps cultural manner of playing. It is rather relaxing and somewhat ceremonial in nature and sometimes lead to slower rounds of golf that even the horribly slow Americans noticed. Japanese players in America have done a very good job of accommodating to American golf norms by assimilating their playing character at American Resorts to a much more representative average American style. I certainly respect that approach to the game wherein a nearly three hour nine holes is followed by lunch and then another ceremonial nine. Given how that evolved, I am fine with it as it is closer to religion than disease.
Professional golfers whether at stroke play or match play are maddening to watch I person and on the television isn’t much better with the emphasis on staying “in one’s self”. Club players with five or more years under their belts at their own home course taking five minutes to execute a putt that they’ve had dozens of times before is hard to fathom. Maybe I just read putts better than most or am motivated to get out of the players behind me’s way. Slow play abounds.
Recently in Scotland I noticed at a well-known but not Open Rota club a list of average playing times comparing those of members vs. outsiders. It showed nearly an hour’s difference of time playing this lovely course (3:35) comparing several month’s average time (vs. 4:25) of visitors. I am certain that Americans contribute their fair share and visitors are to be expected to get about slower. However, I learned firsthand at another Club of the new slow. It is the Swedes. They have taken the methodical, ritual pre-shot routine, stay in focus, execute only when you are ready process to previously incomprehensible levels. They must all be trying to shoot 54 it seems. Fortunately it was a lovely day, windy, but not a rainy one. Our two-ball thus became intimately acquainted with the four-ball in front of us as two successive three-balls from Sweden leading our groups executed (badly?) the Swedish routine to perfection. The shots were far from perfection. Tops, foozles, laterals were all in play and the record will reflect that over five hours were required for these groups to complete its round. Our time was in the 4:30 range including perhaps 1:30 of literally standing around, walking backwards, practicing chipping and putting as we literally had nothing else to do and we were the final morning group. A routine is one thing, gross inconsideration is another. Our two cadies and the three in our group ahead were livid and your not-so-even tempered reporter was on very good behavior. Apparently we have a new plague to try and stop as the caddies were all too familiar with the process already.

Deliberate needs to be reworked as golf enters more deeply into the 21st century. Routines can be pared, steps eliminated, confidence in perception can be found with less repetition. Wholesale repeats of the routine can be modified at the point of the grip, the alignment, the stance – somewhere.

Damn, I had really wanted to play golf in Sweden one of these days, I’ve found a couple of interesting courses …