The pace of play in professional golf continues to be a problem and it really reared its ugly head at the recent U.S. Women's Open. The average round on the opening day took close to 5 hours. By the third round, things had speeded up to 4 hours and 50 minutes.
Sophie Gustafson plowed through an opening round that lasted more than six hours and she managed to shoot a 5-over-par 77. Gustafson bounced back in the second round with a 72 to make the cut, but in the third round she shot a 12-over 84 to drop into last place.
Since there were only 65 golfers left in the field, Gustafson found a way to avoid the slow play in the final round. She was sent off first at 6:40 a.m. as a single and finished 18 holes in 3 hours and 6 minutes. Not only did the speedy play help her shoot a 1-under-par 71, but she also finished five holes in front of the twosome behind her.
A similar thing happened in 1988 at the men's U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. And it demonstrated how the pace of play was just as large a problem 24 years ago as it is today.
After the second round, the field was cut to an odd number and the last player was Lee Trevino. So that meant he played the third round alone and ended up shooting an even-par 71 in 3 hours and 3 minutes. And along for the ride was David Eger, a pro from Florida who joined him as a marker, who keeps a single player from playing too fast.
''I played my pace,'' Trevino told me when I caught up with him in the locker room after the speedy round. ''I wasn't trying to set a record. I wasn't trying to prove anything. I let David Eger chip every ball, putt every ball, putt out every ball, even though he was the marker (who usually picks up when he reaches the green). I let him play just like he was in the golf tournament. I never hurried to the next tee. I took my time and we played in three hours.''
He added, ''I could have played faster if I wanted to. I've got Herman (his 300-pound caddy) on my bag; how the hell am I going to play faster!''
Like this year's U.S. Women's Open, that 1988 U.S. Open also featured a difficult course layout and extreme heat. However, Trevino didn't think those factors led to the slow play.
''It's slow every week,'' he said. ''They're not going to speed up unless they start putting some pops on them. When you start putting two (stroke penalties) on people, that may run into a $50,000 or $60,000 fine.''
Morgan Pressel of the LPGA Tour knows about that. During the Sybase Match Play Championship in May, she was assessed a loss-of-hole-penalty for slow play on the 13th tee during the semifinals. Pressel had gone 3 up against Azahara Munoz, but then was only 1 up and eventually lost 2 and 1.
Jack Nicklaus knew about being ''popped'' in 1962 when PGA commissioner Joe Black penalized him two strokes for slow play at the Portland Open.
That's why at the 1988 U.S. Open Trevino said, ''If Joe Black was here, they'd be playing in two hours and fifty minutes. Joe Black was the one who used to give Nicklaus two shots every round and Nicklaus would win the tournament anyway. Black didn't ask any questions. He said, 'You're out of position boys, you got two. Just put it right on your card when you're finished.'''
But Black was the exception and in 1988 as now, the main ''penalty'' that slow players receive is a warning.
''I don't know what's going to happen with the people playing slow,'' Trevino said. ''I'm very surprised that the USGA has not penalized someone this week because it took too long to play. They said they warned some people. That's like a highway patrolman catching you doing 90 in a 65. Does he warn you? He's going to write you up.''
He added, ''I never understood this warning thing. I don't know what it means. They're warning you on what? And how many warnings do you get? And what do you get when you get it?''
Trevino didn't think the future, which is now, looked bright.
''It's not going to get any better,'' he said. ''It's going to get slower and slower and slower. I personally think they're going to have to go back to the two-stroke penalty and no warning. If they don't, they're going to start playing in six hours.''
And playing six-hour rounds is what they did at the recent U.S. Women's Open.
Trevino pinpointed the main reason for slow play.
''People have to realize when they play this game of golf, they've got to be ready,'' he said. ''They're never ready.''
And that's what NBC-TV commentator Dottie Pepper was saying at this year's U.S. Women's Open.
"The players just need to be ready to play," she said. "You see it over and over again: the players aren't organized, they're waiting until it's their turn to play as opposed to getting the pre-shot stuff done. Get the yardage figured out, where the wind is, figure out your shot, hit it when it's your turn."
She added, "The officials need to stand on the initial groups much more than they have in the past. There's a time card that needs to be adhered to as closely as possible; it's out there for a reason."
But slow play was nothing new for the U.S. Women's Open. In 1991, Lori Garbacz was so upset with the snail's pace in the opening round that on the 14th hole she called Domino's Pizza and ordered a pepperoni and mushroom pizza to be delivered to the 17th tee.
The pizza probably arrived at the 17th tee before Garbacz.
Today they could just open up a sit-down pizza restaurant there.