Describing his younger self as one of the original tortoises on the PGA Tour, Jack Nicklaus took time out from a USGA ceremony on Wednesday honoring his first major title, the 1962 U.S. Open, to chide golf’s governing body for making it too easy for players to clog up the fairways.
"Today, I would assume at the Open, you have a two-shot penalty [for slow play]?" Nicklaus asked USGA executive director Mike Davis.
When Davis replied that punishment started with a one-shot penalty, Nicklaus, who said later in his career that he and his peers often played the British Open in under three hours, took him to task.
"Everything else is two shots in golf, why one shot?" demanded the legend, who recalled paying a two-stroke price for crawling around the 1962 Portland Open, and another one in Houston a couple of years later. He even remembered "the USGA gestapo" following golfers around with a watch during the Open at The Olympic Club in 1966.
"They had one [rules official] with every group," Nicklaus said. "They go, ‘You took 33 and a half seconds to play that shot. You need to move faster.’ It was a little ridiculous."
While noting that a two-shot sanction was "a bad deal" that could destroy a player’s chances of winning, Nicklaus nevertheless was aghast that it had been years since a player had received any type of on-course discipline for slow play.
"It's been 14 years since they penalized somebody a stroke. We haven't had any players in 14 years? Come on, give me a break," said Nicklaus, who might be even more frustrated to learn that it had been 17 years since the tour added a stroke to a player’s scorecard for loitering, according to the Associated Press. "If you're going to do it, you've got to do it. And if you're going to increase [pace of] play, then you have to figure out how to do it. ... Whatever you do, do it. And do something that's going to actually be significant that actually benefits the game."
Nicklaus reiterated a point he has made before about professional golfers not being the real culprits when it comes to ponderous, five-hour rounds.
"The problem with slow play is that all of the kids try to copy the pros," Nicklaus said. "And all the kids grow up playing slow. And that's the problem."