If you’ve played golf, you wouldn’t think a study is required to confirm that the faster the greens, the slower the play. But confirmation by data is never a bad thing, and so it’s helpful to note the results of a study that the USGA and the University of Minnesota conducted at the Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif.
Without getting into the weeds of the study, here’s one significant conclusion as reported in the analysis: An increase in speed of one foot can lead to an increase in the time spent on a round of 30 minutes. That’s substantial. Hey, we could be spending 30 minutes more a day checking Twitter, Facebook, e-mails etc., etc., if our time on the course decreased.
Now, I’m well aware of the notion that golf takes too long and that this is one important reason younger folks aren’t taking much to the game. Rounds do take too long most of the time, and not only for time-squeezed millennials. Everybody is time-squeezed, right? I heard the other day that people who like to listen to podcasts are running them at 1.5 or even two times normal speed because they don’t have the time to listen at the speed of human conversation. What?
I also won’t dwell on something that our great Canadian golfer and golf-philosopher George Knudson said. We were talking about slow play — yes, it’s always been a subject of much consternation. George said, quietly and firmly, as always, “Why all the concern about slow play? It just means you’re spending more time in a nice place.”
I like to cite George’s comment when I’m in a group stuck behind a foursome of mid-handicappers who can’t drive the ball 230 yards waiting in the fairway on a par-5 when they’re 290 yards from the green. They’re waiting for the green to clear. You never know. One of them might hit a rocket that catches a sprinkler head and shoots forward 90 yards and rolls up to a player on his haunches examining a three-footer for eagle.
But back to the study that increased green speeds increase time spent for a round. I think one way to soften the blow — that is, decrease the delays on a green — would be for golfers to focus more on speed than line. Nick Price used to keep a journal of his play during the year. He started his calendar with a reminder to himself that putting is 90 per cent speed.
Think about it. How often do you misread a 30-foot putt by eight feet? Rarely, I suspect. But how often on a very fast green do you knock a putt eight feet by the hole, or even that much short of the hole because you’re so consumed by the line. Maybe concentrating more on speed than on line would lead to faster play on the greens.
I am sure I bore my fellow players by informing them of Price’s dictum after watching them kneel, crouch and walk up and down the length of their putts while also checking the line from the sides, in front of the hole and behind it. I often wonder what they’re seeing. Then, more often than not, they come up well short or well past of the hole. Enough. Stop with attending so much to line. Settle on speed.
Along these, excuse me, lines, there’s a general view that Moe Norman would have made more putts had he studied them more. But Moe simply walked up to a putt and made his stroke. I played frequently with him and watched him in many tournaments. I’m convinced he made as many putts as he missed by his non-study method. He felt the putt and made his stroke. That was that. No fuss, no bother. I’d go so far to say he made more putts by his nonchalant approach than he missed.
But look. I know my view is passé. The study has shown that speed kills but I doubt that will lead to golfers considering this factor more or — be serious, I hear you saying — that golfers will abide slower greens. Never mind that five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has said that slower greens would test golfers more than greens as fast as linoleum. But who remembers linoleum? Who wants green speeds that don’t put one in mind of PGA Tour green speeds? We all want greens that approximate the speed of Augusta National. Don’t we? Isn’t that “proper” golf?
It isn’t. The greens at just about any great course one can think of weren’t designed for turbo speeds. They have too much contour for such speeds. Thankfully, the R&A doesn’t allow stupid speeds when the Open is held at the Old Course. The players would never finish if the greens stimped out at, oh, 13. Did Donald Ross mean for greens that fast at wonderful old Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., or Pinehurst No. 2? Royal Dornoch is my favourite links in the world. Rounds would take six hours if greens were cut to 12 or 13. The fascinating undulations on the greens aren’t built for such speed.
Now, I can’t see clubs or professional tournaments slowing down green speeds. We’re addicted to speed. Given this, the only way I can see our improving the time it takes to play courses with fast greens is to focus more on speed than line. Amateur golfers in general make their mistakes because their speed is often way off. Tour pros are obviously much better at coping with super-fast greens. That’s the norm for them.
Might I suggest then that we all think more about speed than line? Feel the speed. Quickly. See the line. Immediately. Trust your instincts. This approach could lead to faster rounds on ridiculously fast greens. Really. Truly.