ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Pace of play – or the lack of it – was a hot topic of conversation earlier this season and apparently the PGA Tour has heard the backlash and made some subtle changes to the way players are penalized for taking too long.
On Tuesday, the Tour informed players of changes to Tour regulations that will go into effect for the 2024 season after being approved during the Tour’s Policy Board meeting a day earlier in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
For starters, the Tour is replacing its “Observation List,” which was instituted in 2021 with a primary focus on changing the individual habits of the slowest players.
“The Observation List has been very successful, and furthermore has been a tool which has allowed the Rules Committee to effectively work with individuals to improve their person pace habits,” the Tour reported to its players. “However, as we look to evolve the list and improve it, it has become apparent that there was an inequitable disparity in weekly field averages due to factors such as course difficulty and weather. Depending on the player’s chosen schedule, this had the potential to artificially skew their 10-tournament stroke average and therefore result in an unfair assessment.”
As a result, the PAC supported the concept of the Average Stroke Time Infraction in place of the Observation List as detailed below:
Average Stroke Time (AST) Infraction – At the conclusion of a tournament a player’s average stroke time is compared against the field average. For a given tournament, if a player has an average stroke time of 7.0 seconds or more above the field average, he has recorded an AST infraction. AST infractions are accumulated during the season before monetary fines are applied – $20,000 when you reach your 10th AST; $5,000 for each additional AST from 11-14th; and $10,000 for each infraction from 15 and over. Players accumulating less than 10 AST infractions but have a ratio of AST infractions/tournaments played of 50 percent or above, will be fined $2,000 per infraction at the end of the season (with a minimum of five tournaments played). AST infractions on the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour, and PGA Tour Champions will be counted together for the purposes of determining the cumulative number of AST infractions during a season. Fines will be pro-rated based on the number of occurrences on each respective tour.
According to the Tour’s update on changes to the rules and regulations, the PAC supported four other small adjustments to the policy to keep its operation “impactful but fair.”
Official warnings – the financial penalty associated with the accumulation of Official Warnings will be removed from the policy.
Excessive Shot Times – This policy will be amended to reduce the time permitted for players who are second or third to play from 120 seconds to 100 seconds. First to play will remain at 120 seconds. This reduction is equitable to the regular timing policy of 50 seconds to first to play and 40 seconds thereafter.
Number of timings – To reflect the change back to a calendar season the number of timings allowed before a financial penalty is applied will be reduced from 12 to 10. Note: this was a one-year change to reflect the increased number of events in 2022/23 super-season.
Timings Financial Exemption Threshold: In 2022, to recognize the variance in playing levels across the membership, an exemption from financial penalty was introduced based on a player’s 10-tournament stroke average. This was set at 5 seconds above Tour Average to be consistent with the warnings policy. Under the new policy, a player that accumulates 10 timings in a season will be subject to a financial penalty without exception.
“It’s always been the same,” veteran pro Davis Love III said of slow play issues on Tour. “They try really, really hard. One great old rules official in a board meeting said, ‘The best we’re going to do is speed up 15 minutes,’…but we have to keep up with the group so it’s fair for everybody.”
During his 22-year tenure as Tour commissioner, Tim Finchem seemingly was allergic to having the rules officials enforce the full extent of the pace-of-play rule and Jay Monahan has followed suit. John Catlin was the last player to be assessed a penalty for slow play during the first round of the 2021 PGA Championship, a tournament controlled by the PGA of America.
Slow-play critic Rory Sabbatini once told this reporter that “fines for slow play don’t play any part in affecting people speeding up. The fine for slow play isn’t going to concern anyone, given the money we’re playing for. Until they implement penalty strokes or disqualification, things won’t change.”