Harrington: "Professional golf is a terrible role model for pace of play and terrible for the etiquette of the game"

Harrington: "Professional golf is a terrible role model for pace of play and terrible for the etiquette of the game"
Pádraig Harrington. Picture: Getty Images

Pádraig Harrington. Picture: Getty Images

Pádraig Harrington gave a 38 minute press conference ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and it was ironic that more than 25 percent of it was taken up talking about slow play.

Coinciding with the  R&A’s launched of its pace of play worldwide guide on Tuesday, the two time Open champion was asked what he thought and confessed that professional golf was the worst offender for not only promoting bad habits but also for the creation of super-long courses that take too long to play.

"Professional golf is a terrible role model for pace of play, a terrible role model for the etiquette of the game and as the USGA and R&A are much bigger bodies than professional golf — much, much, bigger— it's much more important for them to take a lead role in this.
“What you see on TV, is not really a true reflection of pace of play. Jordan Spieth at the Masters, would have come in for a bit of stick. But a lot of times what was happening there, the producer is sitting there in the office, he's thinking: I would like to show Jordan Spieth eating a bar walking down the fairway. I'd like to show him as his caddie is getting his yardage, and as his caddie is getting his yardage, Jordan is swinging the golf club, getting loose and all that.
"So they showed Jordan for a minute before he hit his shot, whereas the next pro, who is not as big a star, they only cut to him just literally as he's going to swing. The other pro could have taken the same amount of camera swings but he just wasn't on camera all the time. I think it can be harsh on a player like that in that situation.
"What you don't see on camera is the work the players do behind the scenes to get in place, how quickly they move from A to B, how quick they play on top of the next person. Literally most pros would hit a golf ball, as the golf ball is landing, most pros would be trying to hit their next tee if they are second in play. They will literally be trying to hit that golf ball as quick as that ball has landed in front of them.
"We play a completely different game. Our golf courses are far too long for amateurs to walk. Ultimately we are walking back, even now, you go play St. Andrews, you're walking back 100 yards to a lot of tee bo es in St. Andrews, whereas that golf course was originally designed, you literally tee off the back of the green and off you went.”

While Harrington believes that courses should have tees next to greens, he admitted it wasn’t an option due to health and safety concerns.

In short, he blamed professional golf for teaching millions worldwide a host of bad habits and bad etiquette and confessed that he’ll often play no more than 12 holes away from an event because it simply takes too long if he wants to chat to his pals before and after their game. 

"If you want to get around the golf course in three hours, you have to have a set of quick tees. There should be a tee box more or less at the back — at least in a straight line from the next green to the previous green so you don't ever walk backwards. That's how original golf was played. These tee boxes back, all it’s doing is slowing down golf courses.”

As for bad pro golf habits shown on TV, he listed them off:

"On TV, you see a pro walk up 35, 40 yards from a chip shot but that could be the difference in making the putt or the difference in winning or losing. For the amateur, he’s got a handicap. It would drive you up the wall if you saw your amateur playing partner walking 40, 50 yards up to a green to have a look at his shot.
"I know with my own kids, when I go out playing golf with them, one practise swing is all they are allowed to have when it's their turn to play. They can have as many as they like when they are off doing other things, but one practise swing, at most, and then hit it. That's just the nature of the game. They have a handicap to allow for that.”

He didn’t mention Aimpoint Express but he did pick up a host of examples of bad etiquette.

"There's plenty of things, as I said, I even see in my own game. I was brought up, never walk ahead of the person, never walk ahead of the first ball to play. Now, all pros will walk up to their golf ball even if they are 30, 40 yards ahead of their partners. 
"Never leave the green before your playing partner finishes out. All pros will leave the green, literally be standing, at best, 10, 15 yards away from the green, and often times will be standing on the next tee box when their playing partner is finishing out. 
"That's horrible etiquette but that's what pros have to do to get around and move around the golf course.
"There's lots of little things like that you'll see with the pros that is -- that you wouldn't want to see it creeping into the amateur game. So it is right that the R&A has taken the lead on this. But it will always be difficult because the professional bodies, even though they are so small, take such an amount of the limelight when it comes to golf in the world.
"But they really don't represent -- like the R&A represents, I'm not sure of the figures, but I'm sure they are ten times the size, or a colossal amount bigger than the professional bodies -- or the amateur bodies to be taking the lead in this because it would be no fun if I was an amateur golfer going.
"Personally, I only play 12 holes when I go and play. 18 holes is just too long in the day. I'd rather spend the hour beforehand with my playing partners having breakfast and the hour afterwards having my lunch. I wouldn't want to be -- 18 holes is a little too much time and a little too long out on the golf course.
"I would be a big fan -- I know the R&A are looking at nine holes for a handicap and nine holes for pace of play. But for me, 12 holes usually suffices. A practise round on a Tuesday, I would never do 18 holes. It’s just too much time on the golf course.”

Harrington still has a reputation as a slow player —who can forget Retief Goosen calling him out in 2002 only for Harrington to hit back saying, “that’s a bit like the kettle calling the pot black. Goosen’s no boy-racer himself.”

Now he says he’s one of the quickest.

"The number of times I have been on the clock in the last number of years on both tours, probably in three years, I might be once on each tour, maybe two, maybe three in three years. 
"So I would say it would be hard to find somebody who has been on the clock  I can't say for sure but it's a fair bet nobody has been on the clock less than me.  I do a lot of work between my shots to make sure of that.  I’m very aware of what I’m doing on the golf course."

Shane Lowry, once a very fast player, revealed that he’d had an email from the PGA Tour this week remaining he’d been on the clock five times so far this year because of his partners.

His solution? Shot penalties rather than fines.

"I don't think that's a reflection of me. I think it's a reflection of the players I was playing with. Yeah, it took us nearly six hours to play our round on Saturday last week, and then it took us four hours to play on Sunday. So there's nearly two hours of difference. It feels like you're running around when you're in a two-ball.
"But yeah, the pace of play of golf is always too slow. I'm actually a slower player now than when I come out on Tour, but I've had to tone it back myself because when you play too quick, when you get on the clock, then you end up playing quicker and it ends up hurting you.
"I think if you look at the slow players are good at playing quickly when they are on the clock, and then going back to what they do normally when the referee goes away. I mean, I think they only thing they can start doing is penalising shots. Players don’t care about fines.”

Amateur bodies are encouraging teaching pros to show their players faster routines but Harrington knows that’s a double-edged sword.

“It’s not about taking less time over your shots.  Somebody like Christian Cévaër had a bad reputation for pace of play, and he sped up everything he did in his routine and then played very badly; where he would have been better off taking stuff out of his routine, or else speeding up everything else and then slowing down for his actual routine.
"Some people are information gatherers and you can't speed that up.  Other people are more instinctive and quicker.  You just have to work within the parameters as a pro, be very aware what's happening, know when it's your turn to play.  If you're the shortest drive, you should be the first guy to the ball.  It could be as simple as walking quicker between shots, if you’re first to play.”