LPGA staying with the times

Originally Published: June 9, 2004
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

Imagine the outrage if Annika Sorenstam and Grace Park are battling on the back nine Sunday at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, as they did a year ago, when suddenly, one of them is hit with a two-stroke penalty ... for slow play.

It is unlikely to happen, but it could. And just the thought that a crippling penalty might be applied for undue dawdling should be enough to keep the players moving.

Good for the LPGA.

The tour recently took the bold step of imposing a toughened slow-place policy which results in a two-stroke penalty if players don't hit shots in an average of 30 seconds. No other golf tour is anywhere near as strict.

Where they're playing

This week:
Buick Classic
Harrison, N.Y.
Westchester Country Club, West
(6,751 yards, par 71)
$5.25 million (Winner: $945,000)
Thursday: 4-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Friday: 4-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Saturday: 3-6 p.m. ET (ABC)
Sunday: 3-6:30 p.m. ET (ABC) Defending champ:
Jonathan Kaye

This week:
LPGA Championship
Wilmington, Del.
DuPont Country Club
(6,408 yards, par 71)
$1.6 million (Winner: $240,000)
Thursday: 4-6 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 3:30-6 p.m. ET (CBS)
Sunday: 3:30-6 p.m. ET (CBS) Defending champ:
Annika Sorenstam

This week:
Bayer Advantage Pro-Am
Parkville, Mo.
National Golf Club of Kansas City (6,875 yards, par 72)
$1.65 million (Winner: $247,500)
Friday: 6-8:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Jay Sigel

This week:
Diageo Championship at Gleneagles
Gleneagles, Scotland
Gleneagles Hotel, PGA Centenary Course (7,060 yards, par 72).
$2.59 million (Winner: $430,900)
Thur.: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Fri.: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sat.: 9 a.m.-noon ET (TGC)
Sun.: 9 a.m.-noon ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Soren Kjeldsen

This week:
LaSalle Bank Open
Glenview, Ill.
The Glen Club
$650,000 (Winner: $117,000)
Thur.: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Fri.: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sat.: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sun.: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Andre Stolz

"We are making it clear we are serious about enforcing the rules,'' said Barb Trammell, the LPGA's vice president for tournament operations.

The new policy went into effect last month, Trammell said, and already, the tour has seen the time for an average round decrease nearly 20 minutes.

At the recent Sybase Classic, three of the top-13 finishers in the tournament were hit with two-stroke penalties, including Stacy Prammanasudh, who had a 2 changed to a 4 at the par-3 16th hole because she exceeded the time limit. That meant a drop from a tie for fourth to a tie for fifth.

"We were behind, so we knew we were probably being timed,'' said Prammanasudh, who made $46,550 but would have earned an additional $11,262 if she were not penalized. "I don't know how I went over. I've never been considered a slow player ever in my life.''

You can bet in the future she will make sure she picks up the pace. And that is the point. Golfers everywhere have fallen into the bad habit of over-analyzing their shots. For pros, their living is at stake, but the masses watch them and pick up those bad habits. Hence, the five-hour round at golf courses across the country.

On the PGA Tour, the problem of slow play at times is maddening. Sure, the greens are fast, the conditions difficult. Nobody expects a player to hit a shot without thinking about it. But just a few simple steps -- such as being ready to hit when it is your turn -- does wonders to make the process go smoother.

But for those who are slow on the PGA Tour, there is virtually no reason to pick up the pace. The tour has a non-effective slow-play policy that starts with warnings and fines before a player is hit with penalty strokes.

But PGA Tour players know that, in effect, they have a warning system in place. That means they can get away with poking their way around the golf course.

Even the fines don't do much good. Only when their standing in a tournament is at stake do they truly take notice.

After all, money lost on the official list can be the difference between qualifying for a major event or staying home.

Five Things To Watch

The Buick Classic in Westchster, N.Y., has attracted an excellent field, with nine of the top 10 players on this year's PGA Tour money list entered. The only player missing is Tiger Woods.

Ernie Els, coming off a victory at the Memorial, is playing his fifth straight tournament, including two in Europe. He'll make it six in a row at next week's U.S. Open.

Stephen Ames enters the Buick Classic having finished seventh or better in six of his last seven PGA Tour events and was tied for 13th in the other. He is 58 under par during that stretch and has risen to 11th on the money list.

Annika Sorenstam defends her title at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, the second major of the year. She won last year's tournament in a sudden-death playoff over Grace Park, who won this year's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

The Champions Tour is in Kansas City for the Bayer Advantage Celebrity Pro-Am.

Westchester Country Club in Harrison, N.Y., would typically considered a good tune-up for the U.S. Open. But that's not necessarily the case this time. The tree-lined, old-style course with narrow fairways and difficult rough reminds many of U.S. Open venues, but not this year. Shinnecock Hills, next week's U.S. Open venue on Long Island, is a links-type course near the ocean with a dearth of trees. At least it is nearby.

Nonetheless, Westchester has always been a favorite among players. Last year, it was played the week after the U.S. Open and won by Jonathan Kaye. This year, Kaye is back and is joined by many stars of the game, including Masters champion Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. Els and Singh, along with Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros, are the only multiple winners of the tournament.

The course is just 6,783 yards and plays to par 71. And the tournament has been played at Westchester every year since its inception in 1967 when Nicklaus won the inaugural event.
Is Ernie Els too nice for his own good? Now ranked second in the world, the Big Easy has a reputation for aiming to please. How else do you explain his current schedule, which sees him in the midst of playing six straight tournaments across seven different time zones.

Els started the stretch following a three-week break at home in London. He came back to the United States for one tournament, the Byron Nelson Classic. Els wanted to play because of Nelson and because he had won the tournament in the past. Then it was back to Europe for the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open (SAP is his major sponsor) and the Volvo PGA (one of the European tour's biggest tournaments and also where Els has a home.)

Then it was back to the U.S., where Els won the Memorial on Sunday. This would have been an easy week to take off, but Els is playing the Buick Classic at Westchester because he likes the course and has won the tournament twice. Next week is the U.S. Open.

You have to love Els' loyalty. But you have to wonder if it will eventually catch up with him.
Bob HarigGot a question about the PGA Tour? Ask ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig, who will answer a few of your inquiries in each installment of This Week in Golf.
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Your comment:

Q. I don't think we are giving enough credit to K.J. Choi. Of the 13 tournaments that he played, he has 5 top-10s, including a very solid performance in the Masters. Also, I think he is the best Asian player on the tour right now. (Also) consider the fact that he didn't start playing golf until he was 17 years old, and before that he was a weight lifter. This is just amazing.
Phil Lee
Sunnyvale, Calif.

A. There is no doubt that South Korea's K.J. Choi is a good story. He is the best Asian player on the tour, and the fact that he grew up on an island off South Korea, Wando, that had no golf courses, makes his success on the PGA Tour all the more amazing. Choi has two PGA Tour victories and finished third at this year's Masters. He is the 18th-ranked player in the world.

Q. Do you honestly think that Tiger has a chance to win at Shinnecock? He is yanking 4 irons 50 yards left and his swing is more and more resembling the out and around move that (Hank) Haney teaches. Do you think he will ever be able to recapture the form that he once had? If you look at past history, great players either lose it off of the tee or on the greens ... Duval, Baker-Finch, Beck among others, started spraying it all over. Do you think Woods' struggles resemble these symptoms?
Ty Weber
Lafayette, La.

A. It is a long stretch to equate Woods with Ian Baker-Finch or David Duval. Despite his supposed swing troubles, Woods has finished tied for third, tied for fourth and third in his past three events. Twice he missed a playoff by a stroke. In 10 tournaments this year, he has seven top-10s and a scoring average of 69.67. He won the Match Play Championship. Can he contend at Shinnecock? Of course. But there is no doubt Woods is not the lock he used to be. His driving accuracy and greens in regulation stats are way down from previous seasons, and it has led to some struggles. It is a tribute to his other skills that Woods still contends. He'll need to get his driving straightened out at Shinnecock to be in contention, but who would really be surprised to see him there at the end?

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

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Golf Writer, ESPN.com