Fast golfers forced to slow it down to keep up
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — Five tournaments into his rookie season, Brian Harman realized his game wasn't suited for the PGA Tour.
He played too fast.
At a time when tournament golf is getting unwanted attention for taking too long, Harman is among several young players setting a good pace, not to mention a good example. But after more than a month of standing around, he needed help. So he called Lucas Glover, a mentor with a quick trigger.
"I talked to him about playing slower," Harman said. "I said, 'Look, man, it's driving me nuts out here.' "
Glover gave him a few tips from his own experience. Be the last player to leave the tee box. Walk slower to the ball. Get water when you're not thirsty. Use the bathroom even if you don't have to go. Take a little more time studying the yardage book.
A week later, Glover was driving from Sea Island to south Florida for the Seminole Pro-Member when he asked his girlfriend to check the scores from the second round of the Honda Classic. She mentioned that some guy named Brian Harman had shot 61.
"The kid listens well," Glover said.
Harman is not alone, which is encouraging. The shame of it is that you never hear of slow guys who are consciously trying to pick up the pace. It's always the other way around.
Dustin Johnson is another player who pulls the club, sees the shot and hits the shot. He was the second to tee off on the par-5 12th hole at Doral a few years ago. It took him 14 seconds to take the driver from the bag, place the ball on the tee, find his target, take a practice swing and step over the ball. Four seconds later, the ball was airborne.
Johnson might have been fast to a fault. Think back to the second hole at Pebble Beach in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open. Before Johnny Miller could complete a sentence, Johnson took three chips — one from the left side — on his way to a triple bogey that cost him his three-shot lead. Then, he quickly pulled driver and hit into the bushes for a lost ball and double bogey, and his Open was over.
That wasn't what led to the change, though. Just like Harman — and Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker and others — Johnson figured if no one else was going to speed up, it would only help him slow down. That or lose a piece of his sanity.
"Guys out here play really slow, and they're not going to speed up," Johnson said. "I can be miserable, play fast all day and wait, or I can slow down a bit, which can't hurt."
Johnson is still quick, and much quicker than most. He takes a little more time when he gets to the ball, waits a few seconds to pull the club from the bag. And he's taking more time on the green, looking at putts from multiple sides of the hole.
But that's what golf has come to in this generation. Instead of the faster players bringing everyone else up to speed, they have to downshift.
"It can be painful if you play quick," Fowler said. "You're going to be spending a lot of time standing there. It almost starts hurting your legs and feet when you're just standing there. I learned quickly that you have to be patient."
Criticizing slow play is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. For all the anecdotal evidence, the fix is not as simple as it might seem. When greens are firm and fast, there are going to be more putts that run 4 feet by the hole. Those aren't considered tap-ins. Rules officials have lobbied for years to reduce the size of the fields because too many players can turn a golf course into the 405 in Los Angeles during rush hour, which is just about any hour.
Meantime, players have a choice — stand around or slow down.
McIlroy gave golf a jolt of energy with his exciting game, and adding to his appeal was how quickly he went about his business. He can be an inspiration to young golfers not only with the way he plays and his good manners, but his pace. Now, however, even Boy Wonder has joined the ranks of fast players who have learned to slow down.
He traces that to the final round of the 2011 Masters, although he places the blame on his epic meltdown to his swing and his putting, not how long he had to wait. McIlroy was in the last group with Angel Cabrera, as fast as any golfer on the planet. Ahead of them were K.J. Choi and Charl Schwartzel, with Jason Day in the next group.
"I played with Cabrera, who's really quick," McIlroy said. "After that, I realized I'm just going to slow it down a little bit, and it's helped. I hate slow play. I don't want to get frustrated by me playing quick and having to wait all the time. I just sort of try to take my time a little more."
Brandt Snedeker says he has slowed down, which is hard to believe. Snedeker walks fast and talks fast, and even his practice strokes on the putting green are done in rapid-fire succession. He learned that from his father, Larry, who instilled in his sons at a young age not to make anyone behind them wait. That's the only way Snedeker knows.
But even he concedes to marching to a slightly slower beat.
"Otherwise, I'd end up waiting all day," Snedeker said. "We're conditioned to slow play. Unfortunately, it's become that way. I wish we could play every round under four hours. But you've got to get used to that."
That's what Pat Perez has done. He doesn't slow down. He doesn't like the pace of play. He has just learned to accept it.
Perez was paired with one of the more notorious snails in the final group one year when someone asked him if the pace would hurt his chances. Perez has never blamed his failures on anyone but himself, and he wasn't about to start.
"I wait on every single shot, every single day on the PGA Tour," he said. "I've gotten really used to doing that."