LPGA staying with the times


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.

"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
1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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

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.