J.B. Holmes: Poster boy for slow play

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Tiger Woods returned to play on the PGA Tour after a lengthy absence and multiple surgeries. How would you grade Tiger’s performance and do you think CBS and Golf Channel devoted the right amount of time to Tiger or did you want to see more (or less)?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Sigh… Tiger finished tied for 23rd.  But so did five other guys, two of whom go by “J.J.”  Why don’t we talk about that amazing coincidence?? Bully for Tiger, but frankly, in my opinion, he finished right about where we shouldn’t give a damn… he neither won, nor failed to miss the cut.  My colleagues here at the Table may have something far less cynical and far more intelligent to say, but once again I submit that “the world of golf” spends far too much time talking about Tiger.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Did I call it or did I call it last week? I said he’d be in the Top 25 and boom, T23, and he didn’t even play well, otherwise my other prediction: scaring the top 10 at some point would have also happened. Overall, I thought Tiger played well finishing at -3 for the conditions; pretty tough with that wind. Some world class players in that field and -10 got you into a playoff. As for TV coverage, as much as I love watching Tiger play golf, I thought the coverage on him was a bit much personally, but I understand it. He sells whether he’s winning or not.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: There is the PGA TOUR Show with Tiger and the PGA TOUR Show without Tiger. Coverage isn’t even close to being the same and neither is the audience. Of course the admirers clamber for a look, they climb trees and are more vocal. They do so because those ranks are filled with all kinds of fans from sophisticated, knowledgeable, appreciative to baboons who screech out idiotic, untimely yelps. Not only are the Nielson Ratings better, so are ticket sales. Love him or hate him, it is a different event when Tiger plays. His performance didn’t surprise me from a T23 perspective. What did surprise me was how aggressively he could swing. He put on a short-game clinic that was nothing short of spectacular. Another surprising element was how much tournament pressure made him revert to his ‘old’ swing. You would think with all of his experience he would be somewhat immune but he certainly didn’t swing here like he did in the Bahamas. He also still has his BS luck! On his 36th hole he drove the ball 75 yards right into the rough and trees where he made birdie to make the cut. Why didn’t his ball go behind a tree? There were plenty to choose from.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Tiger certainly had his troubles off the tee last week, hitting only 30% of the fairways in regulation at Torrey Pines. But aside from those woes, he played a lot better than I expected he would. He looked very sharp with his wedges and his putter, shot even or better in every round, and ground his way to a Top 25 finish in his first PGA Tour tournament back in 12 months. I also thought the coverage was quite good last week. The coverage in the first two days was focussed on Tiger and that was to be expected because he is legitimately the only reason why a majority of viewers tuned in to the tournament in the first place. As the weekend progressed, and Tiger fell further back out of contention, I thought that the broadcast did a commendable job of switching the focus towards the top of the leaderboard.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Well he certainly needs to learn how to keep that new driver on the golf course, but other than that, I think his performance was pretty darn good.  It was nice to see that his short game was solid, no more chipping yips!  If he figures out the driver, I think he’s close to contending.  As for his TV coverage, I’ll admit I was watching this weekend mostly to see him play.  So they couldn’t have showed him too much.  In fact, on Tuesday they were showing him warm up on the range and I found myself fixated on it, not necessarily to see his swing, but just the way he was interacting with the other players.  It’s great to have him back, let’s hope he can contend sooner than later!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: I couldn’t stand to watch any of the all-Eldrick-all-the-time coverage. But I did field calls from a lot of golf fans — and had two conversations with wives of golf fans — who complained that every time they turned to the event, there he was, you know, looking out at the ocean or lining up a putt, or walking to a tee. I’ve played the South Course, love watching the best play those holes and seeing the spectacular scenery in HD. Look forward to watching it again some January when he doesn’t show up.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I was amazed that Tiger could score so well after driving the ball so poorly. Actually it was beyond poor. Everything else looked to be spot on so if Tiger can figure out how to put his tee shot in the fairway (3-metal maybe?), he’s going to get himself into contention. The coverage of Tiger was about as expected for a big comeback like this, although sycophants Nantz, Faldo et al were even more obnoxious than usual. I hope for future events we’ve moved past the all-Tiger-all-the-time coverage and we only see him when he’s on the leaderboard but really, how likely is that?

The final threesome at the Farmers Insurance Open took six hours to complete their round and several players were quite vocal about the slow play, including several who singled out JB Holmes. Whatever fines the Tour imposes don’t seem to be working as this has become a regular thing each week. Since the Tour is reluctant to assess penalty strokes, what other remedies does it have to speed up play?

Deeks: If they really want to do something about slow play, but not have to assess strokes that will affect a player’s standing in the tournament, how about penalizing them by not allowing them to play in their next scheduled tournament?  Watching J.B. Holmes stare at the 18th hole like a frozen deer, while two other guys were standing in the fairway, ready to play but slowly losing their momentum as their blood was surely boiling, was as annoying and frustrating as just about anything I’ve ever watched in golf.  Banning him from the next event would surely teach him a lesson.  (They should also ban Faldo and Nantz, for failing to call out Holmes for his completely selfish action, and the Tour for not calling him out right then and there.)

Loughry: Well, it wasn’t all JB’s fault, but he sure didn’t help matters by putting the spotlight on the time by taking over four minutes to decide to lay up (into the rough mind you). Crazy decision in the end, considering he needed eagle to tie. The PGA Tour needs to asses penalty strokes – two strokes for each infraction, and it should be on a per shot basis. In essence, a shot clock. These would be the equivalent of a fine or worse, loss of Fed-Ex points or maybe even a card. That is the ONLY way to get players to speed up IMO. Not all players are slow, so we can’t paint all Tour players the same. That’s why I think it should be on a per shot basis. And they (PGA Tour Officials) need to adhere to the policy, whatever is chosen. Use a stop watch or shot clock. It starts either when you get to your ball or when the group ahead clears your landing area or green, whichever event transpires last. A definite plug to Keith Pelley and the European Tour who seem to be taking the issue of pace seriously and trying to do something about it.

Schurman: This tournament was the most wasted opportunity of the year for the PGA TOUR! Millions of NFL viewers had stock piles of beer and burgers to consume with no other sports to watch on TV except the Farmer’s because of the ‘week off’ before the Super Bowl.  What an opportunity to promote the game, the USPGA members/ teachers and even the PGA Tour. Instead, they allowed people who play occasionally, might consider taking up the game or currently play to hear things like: 6 hours rounds and 4 minutes to hit a shot. These situations might exist but why show them and why publicize them? Go to a commercial if you have to. Nothing will change until there are shot clocks or stroke penalties.

Kaplan: Short of instituting a shot clock or handing down future tournament suspensions for slow play, I don’t know what the PGA Tour can possibly do. These guys make so much money that these small fines are not even an obstacle for them.  Maybe there needs to be a tour-wide meeting where players can vent to their colleagues about the issue of slow play on the circuit and how it is affecting them. But, I don’t foresee the PGA Tour coming up with any effective solutions.  I think this issue is here to stay.

Rule: Oh. My. God.  That was so painful to watch.  What the heck with JB doing on 18?  He made himself look ridiculous and opened himself up to criticism that was certainly warranted. The Tour really needs to do something now!  I know it’s tough to implement on the last group on the last hole, but some example has to be set in order to make these guys accountable.  Over 4 minutes to hit your shot?  Really??  There is no other remedy, hit them where it hurts, on the scoreboard, which ultimately affects their pocketbook!

Quinn: Apologies for being late to the Table. I was reading J.B. Holmes’ new “My 501 Pre-Shot Essentials.” Amazon said it would be here in two days, but it took forever. I especially liked the chapter; F@#k everyone, especially your playing partners, and play at your damn own pace. And,  How to decide to lay up in just under 5 minutes was good too. He doesn’t have an ego about it. In the Acknowledgements he thanks Jack for the inspiration and admitted he couldn’t do it without the PGA Tour’s policy of not giving a sh*t (his term) about the fans, the rest of the field, the integrity of the game, or even sportsmanship. Sorry, what was the question?

Mumford: JB Holmes ought to be suspended as he not only delayed play for an inordinately long time, he also acted in an unsportsmanlike manner to fellow competitors Alex Noren and Ryan Palmer. Plus he proved to be as dumb as a post. He needed eagle to tie and elected to lay up! Unfortunately, stupidity isn’t a hanging offense. The only answer is to institute shot clocks  and rigidly enforce them for every player at all times – even on the back nine on Sunday or in a playoff. A couple of assessed penalty strokes that change the outcome of a championship will send a huge loud message to the rest and speed up play.

Outside of the majors, what’s your favourite PGA Tour event to watch?

Deeks: For me, it would be The Players Championship.  In my mind, it’s a more prestigious tournament than the fourth major, the PGA Championship, and it’s played on a course that I’ve played a few times, so I can relate to the shots they face.  The final four holes at TPC Sawgrass provide as much nerve-wracking drama as any finishing holes anywhere.  A “worthy” champion usually wins, and by the end of your career, if you haven’t won The Players, then I think that’s a significant gap in your record.  And occasionally, a complete non-entity like Craig Perks pulls it off, reminding us all that golf is like a box of choclits.

Loughry: Well, definitely the Canadian Open. I have too many good memories from it as a kid (met Davis Love and Fred Couples during a practice round) or caddying in it, or just watching some exciting finishes. Aside from that homer pick, it used to be Pebble Beach until it took a turn from having only celebs in it to corporate CEO’s and bigwigs. Now I just watch it to see Pebble Beach. But the one that I really appreciate is this week, The Phoenix Open (Waste Management). They have done a SUPERIOR JOB turning this event to a fun one and one to watch. The 16th hole is a gong-show, but it’s their show, they own it and every golfer and Tour fan knows about it. They draw more people to the event in one day than most Tour events do in a week! Plus, the tournament seems to produce good Champions and exciting finishes. Can’t wait to hear the cheers, jeers and beers from the 16th this year!

Schurman: My favourite tournament other than the majors is The Players. It’s the strongest field on a fairly good course. It also comes at a time in the year when we may or may not be playing so I don’t mind watching it live.

Kaplan: The WGC-Match Play is definitely my favourite non-major tournament. I like filling out the bracket every year and watching players with disparate skill sets duking it out mano e mano. It’s also a nice change up from the dull monotony of stroke play every week on the PGA Tour.

Rule: The first three majors are by far my favourite tourneys, especially the Masters and Open Championship, with the US Open a distant 3rd.  Beyond those three, it’s tough to choose one that I get most excited about.  There is a certain interest in the Canadian Open since it’s our national championship, but definitely doesn’t have the field necessary to get my juices flowing and to ensure I tune into CBS on the weekend.  I normally get excited about courses and fields more than the event itself.  If Tiger is playing, I’m more interested, and if the course is great, or one that I’ve played, I’m more interested.  So I will watch the Genesis Open because I like Riviera. To be honest, I like watching the Irish and Scottish Opens on the Euro Tour because they are generally on courses I have played and I love watching the pros tackle links golf!  The Irish Open is at Ballyliffin this year, which is a great links course, hopefully everyone will be watching, it’s a great part of Ireland that can use some TV exposure!

Quinn: I always enjoy The Players’ Championship (it can’t be called The Players as that makes no sense) because it has the best field of the season and plays out on a Dye layout designed for drama. I could watch those guys hit their seconds into 16 all day. It rarely fails to deliver a thrilling finish and a deserving champion.

Mumford: I love match play so the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup always get top billing for me. The WGC Match Play Championship at Austin Country Club is good too but that wacky three round format at the start is contrary to the spirit of real match play. Real drama is when the winner moves on and the loser goes home. But at least it beats another 72-hole stroke play event.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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