Golf’s Pace of Play Issue: How a Shot Clock Would Speed the Game Up

Patrick Reed outlasted 120 of the best golfers on the PGA Tour this weekend to win the Northern Trust, the first event in the FedEx Cup playoffs. But despite how impressive his 16-under-par performance was, Reed’s victory isn’t going to stir up nearly as many headlines as the topic of slow play has over the last four days.

Slow play is one of the most controversial issues on the Tour, and some of the game’s top pros are starting to speak out more adamantly against it. Bryson DeChambeau, one of the golfers on the Tour guilty of slowing down the pace of play, has been adamant in his defense of himself and of taking the time to get the shot right. As much as DeChambeau wouldn’t like it, it’s about time that the PGA Tour seriously consider implementing a shot clock.

Rory McIlroy calls slow play “an epidemic” on the Tour

Rory McIlroy takes his shot... in a timely manner
Rory McIlroy takes his shot… in a timely manner | Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy, the top two players in the FedEx Cup standings coming into the playoffs, have both been vocal about their disdain for slow play.

“I think it’s just gotten out of hand,” Koepka recently said. “It seems now that there are so many sports psychologists and everybody telling everybody that they can’t hit it until they are ready; that you have to fully process everything. I mean, I take 15 seconds and go, and I’ve done all right.”

“I don’t think it’s fine to do nothing because it’s genuinely a problem in our game,” McIlroy said. “It starts at our level because people try to emulate us. I’ve heard stories of college events and how long they take. There’s no reason why it should take that long.” Last March, McIlroy was even more direct in his comments about slow play; “They don’t do anything about it. It’s become somewhat of an epidemic on Tour.”

Tiger Woods reiterated that these complaints are nothing new. “What about the guys behind them and the logjam that creates,” Woods said. “We’ve been fighting that for, God, ever since I grew up watching the game, guys were complaining about slow play. We can only go as fast as the group in front of us goes.”

How poker has implemented a shot clock on player decisions

In addition to his complaints, McIlroy offered a solution. “For me, I think the guys that are slow are the guys that get too many chances before they are penalized. So it should be a warning and then a shot,” McIlroy said. “It should be you’re put on the clock and that is your warning, and then if you get a bad time while on the clock, it’s a shot. That will stamp it out right away.”

A shot clock is 100% the way to go. In recent years, “tanking” (a term for taking a long time to think about a decision) has become a significant problem in poker tournaments. While there are sometimes tricky situations that require some extra time to think, usually a decision can be made in a reasonable amount of time, and any extra time taken on top of that is gratuitous.

Poker tournaments around the world have begun implementing a shot clock. At the beginning of a player’s turn, the dealer resets a 30-second timer that starts to tick down, and the player must act within those 30 seconds, or their hand will be ruled dead. As an exception, players are each given a set amount of time chips at the start of each tournament. These chips can be used to buy an extra 30 seconds if a player has a particularly difficult decision.

It would be great to see something exactly like this in golf. As a rule, you only have 35 (or 40) seconds to take your shot from when it is your turn to shoot. But perhaps on one occasion each day, you can double that time with a time chip; this would add an element of strategy to the game on when best to use your extra time to study a shot.

Golf needs to do something if it hopes to grow as a sport

The NBA has used a shot clock since 1954
The NBA has used a shot clock since 1954 | Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

As things currently stand, only the most die-hard golf fans can put up with it. There simply isn’t anything fun for a casual viewer in watching a player take over two minutes deciding how they want to shoot the ball.

Following the social media outcry around DeChambeau’s slow play, the PGA Tour has stated that it will review the pace of play policy. Hopefully, they review how much a shot clock has helped speed up the pace in basketball and poker and decide to follow suit in implementing one.