Concerns over the pace of play abound at the Players Championship

The PGA Tour will face another cut at the Players Championship on Saturday.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Long before the horn sounded Friday afternoon, those on the ground knew what was to come.

Fans did laps around the Players Championship merch tent, choosing carefully to ensure they didn’t have to return later. The caddies sauntered up the fairways, pausing to study the tee in front of them and the one in front of them. The players seemed unimpressed. What you should do? On a slow golf course, any reaction other than divine patience is rewarded with punishment. On Friday they moved like this for a long time – they hurried and then waited. The PGA Tour headed for another Saturday cut.

The weather meant they didn’t stand a chance anyway. Thunderstorms swept through the Jacksonville area Friday afternoon, arriving just before dinner. They washed away any glimmer of hope that the game would be over by the time the sun went down. But any reasonable observer would tell you that this was never a reality in the first place. If the flash hadn’t interrupted the game, the darkness would have. The Players was destined for a Saturday cut – their fifth straight on the PGA Tour – long before the first drop of rain fell.

PGA Tour chief umpire Gary Young addressed pacing concerns after the game was called for the day. “There are so many situations that happen out there,” he told assembled reporters. “The pace of the game was exactly what we expected. It plays between four hours and 55 minutes for the first groups and if you look at yesterday’s results it went up to five and a half hours.”

The pace might be what the tour expected, but make no mistake, it’s not what it was designed to be. Postponing rounds from one day to the next causes logistical headaches for tournament organizers, missed viewing windows for tournament broadcasts, and most importantly, competitive disadvantages for those competing on the ropes. Anyone who is forced to return on Saturday morning will find a different course than on Friday evening. This week it’s an inevitable consequence of the weather. But this season it’s more than that.

When the issue was pressed, the Tour pointed to “time par” — a metric the PGA Tour uses to enforce the pace of play relative to historical tournament averages. This tournament has stayed within historical averages, Young said, even as things have slowed throughout the day.

“We’re keeping the leading groups on every nine for time par,” Young said. “We hope they play in time par or less. If we hold them to that standard, it’s up to everyone else behind them to stay in place with them. They lead the train all nine.”

But Zeitpar is not infallible, especially when the game is so far behind all over the pitch. When everyone moves slowly, Young argues, it’s difficult to enforce rules everyone move slowly. It is the mutually assured deceleration.

“They make the turn, and unfortunately because of the fact that we have the number of groups that we play, eventually they’re going to run to the back of the pack every nine,” Young said. “We warn them and we time them to keep the rack tight.”

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But those warnings, some of which have resulted in players being placed on the slow-play clock, haven’t resulted in faster game averages, and they haven’t brought the Tour any closer to achieving a traditional Friday night cutline. When the weather forced the game to be suspended around 4:30 p.m. on Friday, the last groups still had 11 (!) holes left.

The Tour understands how a day can impact on-track performance. Last year’s players were dominated by the first wave of the tournament, which gave a significant competitive edge over the second wave thanks to this week’s weather. Even with Friday’s delay, the tee sheet won’t quite compare as dramatically at this year’s tournament, but consider Jon Rahm, who ended the PGA Tour’s longest made-cut streak on Friday when he retired with a stomach problem. How could his decision have changed if he had known his group would only play 10 holes instead of the usual 18 on Friday?

All of this begs a simple but essential question: Who is the PGA Tour committed to: its players or its tournaments?

“We’re a membership organization,” Young said. “We try to maximize launches for our members. That’s always been a priority and we just understand that unfortunately sometimes we have to finish on Saturday morning. That’s the way it is. The numbers are the numbers. It’s a mathematical equation. You can find out.

There’s just, you know, sometimes there’s too many groups,” he continued. “We’re comfortable with that, and until that changes, we’ll keep going.”


James Colgan Editor

James Colgan is Associate Editor at GOLF and contributes articles to the website and magazine. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, leveraging his broadcast experience on the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 Syracuse University graduate, James – and apparently his golf game – is still thawing after four years in the snow. Before joining GOLF, James was a caddy fellow (and clever looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at Concerns over the pace of play abound at the Players Championship

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