In an era when fans and TV networks are honing in on fast and action-packed sports like football and basketball, golf is having some trouble with the pace of its game.
This year the problem has been exacerbated by a pair of rare but costly slow-play penalties in two of the major tournaments. First, at the Masters in April, promising 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was assessed a one-shot slow play penalty in the second round that nearly cost him the weekend at Augusta.
Then, during last week's British Open, Hideki Matsuyama was slapped with a much more consequential slow-play punishment. The one-stroke penalty that Matsuyama picked up on Saturday ended up setting him back about $143,000 in winnings.
In the wake of Matsuyama's penalty, a Hall of Famer has proposed a novel idea that, if adopted, would accelerate the pace of the sport and help golfers avoid these costly punishments.
Speaking to reporters on the eve of the Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale, Colin Montgomerie said golf organizations should consider adding a shot clock to tournaments as a means of speeding up the game.
“There are 52 referees out there at major championships and they should all have a clock to be able to put them on the clock on the first tee to ensure they all get around in time," Montgomerie said. "It has been mentioned about a shot clock, and that is interesting. There should be an allotted time to play the game, like chess, where you have a certain time to play. If the first two groups take five or more hours to go round then the day is gone, you can’t make it up.”
Montgomerie's idea is certainly thought-provoking and would likely pick up the pace of rounds. But there are several issues at play. First, would a shot clock penalize players who are already performing poorly? As all golfers know, the game goes quicker when you shoot a lower score.
Would the shot clock adjust depending on the difficulty of the shot? What happens when there is a ruling?
Interesting problems, all. But unfortunately for shot clock proponents, the issue might not be seriously debated until a high profile player picks up a slow-play penalty.
"What I would love to see, as a fast player knowing it would never happen to me, would be for one of the top players to have that shot penalty," Montgomerie said. "Then it would really resonate throughout the rest of the field."