PGA Tour announces new pace-of-play policy with increased penalties, secret ‘observation list’

Ryan YoungYahoo Sports

The PGA Tour is ready to combat slow play each week, and is implementing a secret “observation list” to do so.

The Tour announced its new pace-of-play policy on Tuesday, which includes a new fine structure, the observation list and increased penalties for “excessive shot times.”

“What gets people, what gnaws at them, are these individual habits that people have,” PGA Tour chief of operations Tyler Dennis said, via the Tour. “It’s seen as bad etiquette. It’s seen as a distraction, and we’re targeting those individual moments to help their fellow competitors and assist our media partners with presentation.

“We want to keep the focus where it should be: On world-class shot making.”

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The PGA Tour’s policy board reportedly approved the modifications to the policy in November. The new regulations will go into effect in April for the start of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina. 

Slow play has been an increasing issue on Tour in recent years, and was brought to the surface late last season when Bryson DeChambeau — one of the slower golfers on Tour — drew immense backlash from his fellow pros at The Northern Trust. Several  videos of him taking more than two minutes to pace out and read shots in the second round of that FedExCup Playoffs event went viral, causing many to slam him on social media. He later apologized for his slow play, and also claimed he has “data” to show he isn’t the slowest player on Tour.

Under the current system, players are allowed 40 seconds to hit a shot, starting when it’s their turn to play “without interference or distraction.” After one warning, players are assessed one penalty stroke for each following violation. If a player receives a violation, the entire playing group is then placed “on the clock” and monitored closely by a rules official. 

Starting at the RBC Heritage in April, the PGA Tour will start monitoring the slowest players in the field individually in an effort to speed up play. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)
Starting at the RBC Heritage in April, the PGA Tour will start monitoring the slowest players in the field individually in an effort to speed up play. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

The secret observation list, increased fines

The new system is similar to the old, in that players will first receive a warning before receiving a 1-stroke penalty, however, players will have 60 seconds to hit a shot. Should they fail to do so in that time twice, they will land on the observation list.

Each player’s ShotLink data will also be reviewed over a 10-tournament rolling period, per the report, to determine the slowest players in the field for the observation list. Those on the list will then be timed specifically on each shot, even if his playing group is in position with the rest of the field.

Fines for slow play have been increased too. Should a player receive two bad times in a tournament, not just a single round, they will be hit with a one-stroke penalty. According to the Tour, fines for a second bad time in a season and for 10 cumulative timings in a season will be raised to $50,000. 

“We felt we needed to ratchet up the deterrence,” Dennis said, via the Tour. “We’ve significantly upped the ante on stroke penalties. Currently it’s by the round, now it’s going to be over the entire tournament. It’s more likely that a player could find themselves in this situation.”

The list will not be made public. The Korn Ferry Tour will adopt the policy at some point this season, too, however that date has not yet been determined.

The number of players who will land on the list, Dennis said, will be “relatively small.” 

“We talked long and hard about the observation list,” Dennis said, via ESPN. “It’s going to be kept confidential. We will notify each player each week who is on it and make sure they understand what it means to be on it. Our goal with this is to really educate the players.

“In a perfect world, nobody would be on the observation list. We’re going to put a lot of energy into this and really try and work with everyone.”

While it hasn’t been implemented yet, players seem to be in favor of the move. 

“I love it,” said 12-time Tour winner Zach Johnson, who is on the Player Advisory Council, via the Tour. “We’re proactive. That’s the first thing. To be perfectly honest with you, the policy that’s in place has not changed and it will not change, but there is kind of like a tangent arm to that that’s going to help facilitate and I think try to make the game a little bit quicker.”

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