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Slowpokes beware, pro golf tour wants competitors to keep up with rest of field

Since wristwatches are hardly standard golfing attire, it was natural to wonder why Bernhard Langer was wearing one during the Masters tournament last weekend. Did he have to feed a parking meter outside the clubhouse or catch a plane back to Anhausen, West Germany?

No. The real reason, he explained later, was to keep track of his playing pace. Last month, at the Tournament Players Championship in Florida, he had been fined $500 for being too slow.

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Even Jack Nicklaus, an admittedly deliberate golfer himself, said on the Masters telecast that Langer needed to speed up if he intended to play much golf in the United States.

At the professional level, there are three compelling reasons for combatting slow play: They are (1) to avoid waits that may disrupt golfers ready to hit; (2) to set a good example for the golfing masses; and (3) to conclude tournaments within a general time frame for the sake of television.

The PGA Tour had the latter point driven home two years ago, when a lethargic threesome trudged to the finish of the nationally televised Kemper Open 45 minutes behind the previous group.

This outrage spurred the men's tour to draft a new code of punishment for slow play. If pace-of-play guidelines are not met, a competitor will be warned, then fined. ``You almost have to work at it to get fined, though,'' says Dave Lancer, a tour media official.

Groups (twosomes or threesomes) are expected to play a hole in roughly 14 minutes. If an appreciable gap opens up on the course, a tournament official is dispatched to tell the deliquent party that its members will be timed.

No player should exceed 45 seconds in taking a shot once it's his turn to do so. This is a rather lenient time allotment given the results of some extensive research from the late 1970s, which indicated that tour players averaged 27 seconds for second shots; 30 seconds for chip and bunker shots; 38 seconds for first putts; and 14 seconds for second putts.

Some players, including several of the tour's big names, like to play at a good clip. Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, and Lanny Wadkins are guys known for stepping right up to the ball and hitting away. Nicklaus, on the other hand, is more methodical.

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If the tour has any chronic dawdlers, though, they've basically gone unpenalized. ``No one has been fined repeatedly,'' says Lancer, who adds, ``I'd be surprised if there have been more than a half a dozen penalties this year.''

Among the general golfing public, concerns about slow play have dropped off noticeably in recent years. During the mid 1960s, Golf Digest said slow play had reached crisis proportions. Efforts at educating golfers to the problem, however, have paid off. The use of course rangers, whose presense inspires people to move along, has also helped.

Sandy Eriksson of the National Golf Foundation says that an 18-hole round should take no longer than 41/2 hours, and considerably less under ideal conditions. ``There's a comfortable zone where people can play and not feel they're running around the course,'' she says.

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