ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 24: Kevin Na walks up the ninth hole fairway during the second round of THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola at East Lake Golf Club on September 24 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
During an era when professional golf is looking to remain cutting-edge, youthful, and highly relevant with fans, some players' slow-play tendencies appear to be working against the grain.
Image is as important a factor for a sport as it is for that sport's athletes; the two go hand-in-hand. Major sport leagues like the National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball constantly struggle with maintaining a positive image in the minds of fans across the globe. Simply put, well-behaved players equate to a highly-marketable product between the lines.
But what happens when the image projected by the sport itself begins to fall by the wayside?
First things first: this is not a commentary aimed at comparing steroid use in the MLB or bounty programs in the NFL to anything related to the PGA Tour or professional golf. People's livelihoods are not being threatened in professional golf. With that being said, however, there seems to be some type of confusion as to how professional golfers on tour should behave, especially when it comes to pace of play.
Over the weekend at the 2012 Players Championship, an underlying story that peppered many media outlets and golf blogs alike was the commentary on Kevin Na's slow play. This week was not the first time that a PGA Tour player's snail-like pace during a round was discussed, and it likely won't be the last. Many of the "usual suspects" like Na and Ben Crane are well-aware of the negative stigma associated with their 6-hour rounds ... and they are truly sorry.
But how can fans really blame these players for taking a little extra time to pull the trigger? As Tiger Woods mentioned back in 2009, there is a ton at stake for a lot of guys on tour who are trying to simply make enough money to keep their tour card, let alone win a tournament. In some instances, the difference between shooting a 71 and a 72 could be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Quite frankly, I'm surprised more players aren't doubled over and retching on the course due to nerves and panic attacks.
Putting more players "on the clock" and possibly even penalizing slower groups for taking their time seems a bit extreme. Of course, so do rounds that take more than an average workday to play. An interesting quandary, to say the least.
Therein lies the contradiction, though; professional golf is in a constant struggle to remain relevant in major sport culture -- especially during a time when there is no single superstar to take the game into the next decade and beyond. The PGA Tour wants to remain cutting edge, youthful and relevant ... but let's face it: most fans don't want to watch a guy take half a day to finish his golf round. Heck, the MLB is even thinking of ways to speed up their baseball games because of fan complaints. Is nothing sacred?
This is all likely much ado about nothing, but of all the possible things that professional golf's athletes could be struggling with that would paint them in a negative light, slow play should not be one of them.
Step-off, PGA Tour, and let the players do their job.