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Social media outrage may force the PGA Tour to address its slow play problem

Another viral video of Bryson DeChambeau’s interminable process illustrates how the social media voices of its audience, and more importantly, its players, will compel the PGA Tour to fix slow play.

Twitter mobs are bad but when they’re armed to fix golf’s slow play problem, they’re good. The problem will be fixed. It’s happening, whether it’s through an increase in penalties, real actual penalty strokes, or some sort of hard-and-fast shot clock or another hybrid subjective solution. It may not be next week or next year, but it’s inexorable. This will be addressed and changed.

It won’t be because the PGA Tour looked inward, saw it degrading their product, and felt compelled to act. No, the Tour and golf’s governing bodies abdicated their responsibility to monitor this problem a long time ago. Here’s PGA Tour rules chief Slugger White, in full, in a recent Golf Digest interview on the crime against humanity that is handing out a slow-play penalty.

I hate slow play as much as the next guy, but I can’t agree with the idea of hitting players with penalty strokes. Maybe it’s because I was a player once, but I envision these horrible trickle-down effects. Say there’s a player who barely squeezes into the top 125 of the final FedEx Cup points standings because he made a couple of thousand dollars more at a tournament than the player right behind him on the list. Imagine if he’d been hit with a one-stroke penalty at a key moment because he was two seconds over his time. Say the penalty cost him $5,000. Suddenly he’s so far down the FedEx Cup point list he doesn’t have a place to play the following year, which in turn might mean his kid can’t go to college, or he can’t put a down payment on that decent house. Or worse. Basically it means you’ve drastically affected the guy’s life with the click of a stopwatch. I’m all for looking at fine structures, maybe increasing them. But determining his fate with a stopwatch to me is a little harsh.

It won’t happen because the media partners put pressure on the Tour to fix it. No, beyond an exasperated sigh or gentle chiding over a plumb bob, they are there to present the product in as appealing a way as possible. I once overheard Lance Barrow, the legendary CBS producer for NFL and golf broadcasts, bellow out on the patio at Colonial “we’re not journalists, we’re partners!” in a discussion about the latest NFL hot topic. That’s their job and marching order and the media partners can effectively jump from hole to hole and shot to shot, avoiding some of the interminable pre-shot routines creating this pace of play problem.

The change is going to happen because social media has made this a problem impossible to ignore or bury. Whether it’s through the players, the members this Tour is accountable to, using their Twitter accounts to lambaste their peers, or some citizen journalist out there capturing low-fi video of an objectionable routine from outside the ropes at an event or during one of the moments the broadcast can’t avoid it, this problem has become impossible shrug off. Twitter has pushed this and it’s been rolling downhill for a few years, picking up asteroid-headed-for-Ponte-Vedra-Beach type speed this year. We’ve seen the outcries and illustrative examples from January through the summer, from California to Ireland and now in New York.

The videos and pictures and stopwatch times shared on Twitter all year have also given some of the best in the game the objective evidence to speak up even louder about their peers. Slow play moaning is not new, but the top of the world rankings lambasting it and calling for action with this frequency does feel like a more recent development. Edoardo Molinari felt emboldened to use social media to share the internal bad times list kept by the Euro Tour earlier this year. Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy went in on it again this week, with Koepka continuing his plea that slow play is “breaking a rule” as much as any other rule.

On Saturday morning, one of those lo-fi Twitter videos of the pre-shot routine of Bryson DeChambeau became the latest example of how the platform is intensifying the pressure to do something about this real problem. The video came from PGA Tour Live’s featured groups coverage, where the cameras are only focused on six or so players and it’s harder for the broadcast to jump around to avoid making these routines a conspicuous part of the coverage. The video is chugging towards 800k views in about four hours.

It came the morning after another Twitter video showed Bryson walking off another shot in a process that allegedly took more than three minutes.

In addition to the views, the reaction to the video has been swift and nearly unanimous. Justin Thomas, Bryson’s playing partner in the above video visibly incredulous at the process, came right out and tweeted that it was hard to not walk off alongside the use of a clock emoji. Eddie Pepperell, the outspoken Euro Tour player, called for penalties and not toothless fines while referring to Bryson as an “unaffected single minded twit.” Former world No. 1 Luke Donald was equally critical, while also pointing out that Bryson still missed the putt by a wide margin. Mark Calcavecchia tweeted that there needs to be an official trailing Bryson with a stopwatch giving him times. Paul Lawrie, another former major winner, added that he could not believe there were defenders of Bryson’s pace of play. Ian Poulter made a general reference to “players that continually disrespect their fellow pro’s and continue to break the rules without a conscience.” Roberto Castro, a Tour pro who also happens to have a Georgia Tech industrial engineering degree, was a bit more direct about the specific Bryson process.

This is just a sampling (that paragraph could have gone on a lot longer!) of the comments from players, who are more vocal about these kind of Twitter videos and timing reports than ever. As for the non-players on Twitter, well, Bryson sharing an unrelated highlight video from his account is currently being ratio’d into the core of the Earth.

The first leg of the Tour’s “ultimate prize,” the greatly hyped and celebrated FedExCup, is engulfed in shouting about the slow play issue. A video has gone viral at one of its most marketed and important events, typically cause for a victory lap. It’s just not the one of the pro signing an autograph for a kid or some dog frolicking in a nearby stream or the shot to win the tournament.

Even though Bryson has been unrepentant about his pace and process, often citing how he “walks fast” in between his pre-shot calculations, this is a pile-on that may not make you feel comfortable. He’s the current punching bag for something many pros do and a problem the Tour let fester. But in the absence of the PGA Tour handing out penalties, maybe shaming from other pros (see Koepka on JB Holmes at The Open) and their Twitter accounts continuing to shout about it are what’s required to provoke real action on an issue that’s impacting the product.

As Koepka has repeatedly said, this is rule-breaking and it’s not one that simply affects the slow-player himself, but one that has a significant impact on other players around him. Tiger said it again this week — the fast players start to play slower in a twisted and desperate plea to actually be put on the clock in the hopes of speeding up their slow-poke playing partner. Thanks to social media — the voices from both Tour pros and its audience — it’s becoming an issue that will have to be addressed, whether they want to or not.

UPDATE: In a relatively surprising move for the Tour, they immediately acknowledged the weekend uproar about these lo-fi videos, posted statements from a chief of operations, and tweeted that they were “exploring adjustments to our current pace-of-play policy.