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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Some Thoughts on the Shot Clock Masters

Everyone agrees that the game takes too long, but few agree on how to fix the problem. The ET took a shot this past weekend with the Shot Clock Masters. And by most measures, their idea was a rousing success.

The question is, will it catch on?

Mikko Korhonen with the Shot Clock Masters trophy

The concept itself was simple enough. The Rules of Golf already regulate how long players can take over a shot -- 50 seconds if you're first to play, 40 seconds for the other players, and there's a one-stroke penalty is you take too long. So why is there a problem?

Just one word: enforcement. How do you keep track of every player's time>

The ET's solution was to send a ref and a time clock out with each group. Sounds simple enough until you do the logistics. Assuming there are 150 players in the field -- that's a few too many, but it's close enough for this discussion -- and they all go out in threesomes, that means you need 50 refs with 50 shot clocks. Each shot clock requires (in the ET's version, anyway) a golf cart, a large timer display visible to each player that shows the player's name and their countdown, plus some sort of tablet for the ref to monitor his (or her) threesome.That's a fairly elaborate setup to maintain -- certainly not overly complicated, but it definitely involves more equipment than a current threesome does.

And then there's the manpower requirement. I think it was underestimated by most viewers. Bear in mind that the tours rarely have that many refs at an event; some of the time savings came from having a ref on the scene for rapid rulings -- most events eat up a lot of time getting a limited number of refs around the course to make rulings. Given the complexity of the Rules of Golf, fielding that many qualified refs for each event might be a problem, at least for a while. That's another problem to be dealt with.

Although the data gathered from last week's event indicates that playing "ready golf" actually results in lower scores, data isn't necessarily going to convince players that playing more quickly is worth the initial discomfort. Overcoming personal inertia is a very real impediment to timely play, and we're fooling ourselves if we think everyone is simply going to say, "Yeah, this is great! Let's all speed up our play!" Long-held beliefs die hard, even in the face of evidence that those beliefs are incorrect.

And while I don't know how to quantify it, that resistance will almost certainly manifest itself in ways that create new tensions among players... which means it would eventually affect the event as a whole in unexpected ways. We all hope changes would happen smoothly, but it would be unrealistic to believe everyone will just embrace faster play without any resistance.

Look, I don't intend this to be a pessimist's post. I think what we saw last week is a good first step toward creating some positive, permanent change in the speed of play at pro tournaments. But I agree with the GC analysts who suggested that the way to get the most good from this data is to start enforcing pace of play rules in the amateur ranks. Those players are still developing their playing habits, and are the best chance we have to permanently improve pace of play.

The big question, of course, is whether we'll see other pro events adopt the methodology of the Shot Clock Masters. That remains to be seen... but I suspect we'll see it more often on the ET or the LPGA before we see it on the PGA Tour. We already know that many of the top players resist the idea that they should play "before they're ready"... and there's just too much sponsor money involved to believe the PGA Tour will force them to change. After all, they haven't done it so far, have they?

With that said, I do believe the Shot Clock Masters was a great first step toward solving the problem of slow play. But I believe that, having been responsible for taking the first step, the ET will have to be the standard bearer going forward if this first step is to lead to any lasting change.

Whether they're ready to take on the challenge or not remains to be seen.

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