Kevin Garside: Fisher's slow-play penalty should give dawdlers a hurry-up
It was a clear bad time. On the 14th green he took 55 seconds over his first putt
At last, a ruling to applaud. The European Tour referee, John Paramor, is the toast of golf for the slow-play penalty he handed down to Ross Fisher on Sunday. Fisher, not the worst offender, was suitably outraged at the one-stroke sanction that sucked the potency from his challenge in the last group of the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor. Tough.
The issue of slow play is the most toxic in golf. It drives players, administrators and galleries mad. After crawling around the Emirates Golf Club for his third round at the Dubai Desert Classic in February, Lee Westwood joked with an autograph hunter that amateur four-balls get around quicker than a professional two-ball.
"We are the ones who are supposed to know what we are doing," Westwood said. "It's a disgrace. But no one seems to be doing anything about it. It's destroying the game."
The reluctance of adjudicators to act in high-profile cases has been an issue. The last player to be penalised on the PGA Tour was Glen Day, docked a stroke after the third round of the Honda Classic in 1995. Yes, that's 1995. At the Masters last year, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, fairway sprinters both, exchanged knowing looks while the third member of the group, Jason (all) Day went through his pre-shot routines.
The rules do not specify a time-frame for playing a shot but refer to "undue delay". It is for committees to establish thresholds and referees to act boldly, as Paramor did on Sunday when he informed Fisher of his penalty, acquired at the 14th hole, on the 15th tee. Fisher was observed for a number of holes and first warned at the 11th, where he took 57 seconds to fire his second shot.
"It was a clear bad time," Paramor said. "On the 14th green he took 55 seconds over his first putt. I told him before he teed off at the 15th and I don't think he was particularly happy."
Maybe the penny is dropping. A fortnight ago the LPGA penalised America's Morgan Pressel with the loss of a hole in the semi-final of a match-play event against Azahara Munoz, for taking 29 seconds too long to complete the 12th.
It is incumbent on players to be ready to play, not to reach for the yardage book, to engage in debates with caddies over club selection or start pacing putts when it is their turn to hit.
Paramor's was a sanction imposed in the best interests of the game. Next time Fisher might see it that way. Here's hoping.
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