How to deal with sporting snails

How to deal with sporting snails

All this talk about Bryson DeChambeau on the PGA Tour and his painfully slow play raises a lot of questions for everyone watching.

From a fan’s perspective, it is perplexing as to why nothing is being done about it, but then again, it will likely come down to money. The television networks in the US have incredible power over the content they deliver.

They pay big money to win the tender process to show these events and the longer the play goes on, the more commercials they can show during the telecast, which has an obvious knock-on effect on their bottom line and their investment. Unlike broadcasters in this part of the world, who have more rigid schedules to abide by, the sports networks in America have no such constraints.

From the sport’s perspective, if there is no such thing as bad publicity, then the guardians of the game of golf must be over the moon with all the attention it is receiving across every media outlet.

This may have been the case 20 years ago, but sport is moving towards bitesize, single-serving portions of action to grab our attention quickly and often, before we decide to scroll onto the next shiny, noisy, catchy piece of action.

We see how cricket has enjoyed success by expanding the game beyond the marathon test match format. As has rugby with its Sevens programme, and even golf in recent years with its Super Sixes events. Make no mistake about it; many more sports are soon to follow. The swipe happy audience will demand it more and more as-time passes.

In fact, it is only a matter of time before soccer progresses away from its current 90-minute format across two 45-minute halves. Fans and media executives will demand more manageable bitesize installments. Once an agreement can be reached on the length of time of each quarter, the move will be swift in the end. Images from last weekend’s action from the new Premier League season of fans watching the game through their phones tell us all we need to know about the direction this is heading.

So when a golfer takes over three minutes to hit an approach from 70 yards and almost two and half minutes to take an eight-foot putt, people will vote with their thumbs to change the channel, or swipe to a different site.

But slow players is not a new challenge in sport. So, what are the lessons to be learned from those methodical performers from the past, and how their peers coped?

Back in the 1970s, darts player John Lowe often irked his peers for how he played. His opponents took umbrage with how slow and deliberate he was over every shot. Lowe was locked into what he was doing, and because it was different from others, it caused them to think more about him and not about their own game.

It is worth noting that he was just better than most anyway as he is recognised as the first guy to practice darts like a professional sport and less like a pub pastime. But either way, his slow play became an unnecessary distraction; that is until Eric Bristow came along and showed everyone how to handle it.

In the 1980s, another deliberate player was snooker’s Steve Davis. The man was known for his attention to detail, often times scoping out a shot from every conceivable angle, before redoing the whole process again. Such all-encompassing preparation may be commonplace nowadays, but back then, it was just not done to such an intensity, so often, frame after frame.

I recall one commentator counting the number of times he chalked his cue while deciding on the next shot. Twelve times.

It took the arrival of Stephen Hendry to show others that it was possible to play your best, and stay in the game, your own game, even if the other guy is painfully slow.

More recently, Rafael Nadal is someone who appears to operate on a timescale separate to others. He regularly goes over the 20-second time period allowed for the commencement of each point forcing his opponents to set, reset, and reset again on the opposite baseline as they wait for him to serve. It has been suggested that if he was a lesser player of the game, he’d be called for a court violation more often than he is, which is a rare enough occurrence as it is.

When asked about it at the beginning of their great rivalry, Roger Federer nonchalantly mentioned how he just makes sure he’s ready when Rafa is ready. Which may be a lesson for others to heed.

A more basic question might be why it matters at all how long someone takes and how does it bother opponents so much?

The simple answer is rhythm.

When we do anything, and especially sports, we tend to fall into a rhythm of movement and our body quickly begins to settle into this dance. Unbeknownst to us, we expect things to happen at a certain time because they normally do, so when they don’t, we get thrown off.

So at last week’s Northern Trust event, as part of the FedEx Cup playoffs, most players abide by the PGA Tour ruling that you have 40 seconds to play your shot from the time that you are next to play. This imperceptibly lulls players into a rhythm of play.

The expectation at each stage of a hole is almost preset, from tee shots, to approach shots, to putts on the green, our bodies are primed to move in-sync with the rhythm of the play.

So, when that beat gets interrupted, as is the case with a lost ball, we are able to rationalise this break in play because it is a part of the game. However, we appear to be less robust when the timings get thrown out of kilter too much or are interpreted as a distraction.

The footage of Tommy Fleetwood and especially Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau’s playing partners, suggest that they were somewhat perturbed by the delay in proceedings. However, a simple and effective way to inoculate you from such distraction is to always have something to do.

A watched kettle never boils.

Nothing fills dead time like a good distraction. All too often players fall into the trap of waiting. For example, the group in front have been delayed for some reason and a waiting player puts their ball on the tee and stands over the shot waiting and waiting.

An easy solution when such a delay is identified is to not even take the club out of the golf bag.

Leave the ball and tee in the pocket.

Start up a conversation with your playing partners.

Find a reason to take a toilet break.

Anything to overcome a suggestion that the rhythm of play has been distorted. This distortion takes attention away from the task at hand, which is to be ready to play when the time comes, just like Federer suggested.

Bryson DeChambeau is playing to his rhythm and until the rules officials enforce change, he will not change. So, in the meantime, his playing partners need to acquire the skills of filling time so that they can also play to their rhythm.

Their game on their terms.

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