Colin Montgomerie believes he has the remedy for those skull-imploding, six-hour rounds that have become staples in professional golf: put players on the clock as soon as they start their rounds.
"There are 52 referees out there at major championships and they should all...be able to put them on the clock on the first tee to ensure they all get around in time," the 31-time European Tour winner told the Independent ahead of this week’s Senior Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. "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."
Slow play, which Monty termed the "biggest bugbear" in golf, has dogged the game since the Scots, Chinese, or Dutch (take your pick) first tried to knock a small ball into a hole in the ground with a stick. The USGA’s "While We’re Young" pace-of-play campaign debuted just in time to become a laughingstock since it immediately preceded last month’s Kevin Na Invitational -- er, the U.S. Open -- at Merion, where tight fairways, bikini-waxed greens, and punishing rough slowed play to a crawl.
What with the weather & pace of play should the tag line for the #usopen be "While it's the weekend!"— Paul Staley (@whywegolf) June 14, 2013
Staley was hardly the only boo-bird who mocked the initiative the USGA kicked off with much fanfare. He and scores of others tweeted similar catcalls as the final group of Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, and Billy Horschel turtled its way to a nearly three-hour front nine on Saturday’s so-called "moving day" at such a bedeviling Merion Golf Club that former Masters winner Zach Johnson blasted the USGA for "manipulating" its Open tracks.
The issue arose again at last week’s British Open, where teenager Hideki Matsuyama incurred a one-shot penalty for slow play in the third round after officials warned him a second time. While 14-year-old phenom Guan Tianling received a similar punishment in the second round of the Masters, the last plodder to lose a shot for slow play in a regular tour event was the immortal Glen Day in 1995.
No A-list professional golfer has ever been on the receiving end of such penalties, though several, including Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood in the third round at Muirfield, were put on the clock.
Which brings us back to Montgomerie’s idea, which will never make it out of the suggestion box. As it stands now on the PGA Tour, officials pull out the stopwatch on a player who’s out of position, issue another warning, and then assess a penalty.
Montgomerie would start the clock running from the outset and make an example of a high-profile player.
"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," said Monty, the speed demon. "Then it would really resonate throughout the rest of the field. If only one of them was finally found out because they are still taking too long."
No round of golf should take more than four hours "on any course," added Montgomerie, who raised a good point by noting that by the time course cops put players on the clock, it’s too late.
"If the first two groups take five or more hours to go round then the day is gone, you can't make it up," he said. "But if that first group takes four hours and five minutes then you have a chance."
Montgomerie will draw defending champion Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara, who won the British Open at Royal Birkdale in 1998, for the first two rounds of this week's senior tourney.