Nelly Korda won her fifth consecutive tournament and second major overall this past Sunday. It was a brilliant display of golf that reinforced Korda’s position as the best women’s golfer in the world. 

Also, the round took more than six hours. 

Discussing Sunday’s glacial pace, Nelly Korda told No Laying Up: “Honestly, I despise slow play. It drives me up a freaking wall. I just can’t stand it…But I kind of knew it was going to be a slow day, so I tried to not get ready for my tee shots or my approach shots or my putting until it was my time to go. So I made sure I was taking my time as well. Because if you’re ready then you’re (going to end up) overthinking it.”

In an alternate world, the best player in women’s golf admitting that she purposefully plays slowly would be received as a damning indictment of a system that incentivizes these kinds of actions. In the current world of professional golf, however, this is just another example of product complacency golf fans have been forced to accept. Most people in power within the golf world seem to treat slow play as a feature of the product, not a bug. 

To be fair, pace of play is a challenging issue. Enforcing a shot clock reasonably and consistently is a non-trivial proposition. Should players only ever have a strict 40 seconds to hit a golf shot? Can a player step off a shot if a huge gust of wind blows up? At which precise moment do you start and stop the timer? These are legitimate considerations when designing a solution. Inaction, though, is not a viable solution. Inaction leads to dreadfully slow, disengaging rounds of golf in which players disadvantage themselves by playing more quickly. It isn’t conspiratorial to suggest that players are slowing their process to gain an advantage. They’re publicizing it. 

Following his win at the Open Championship last summer, Brian Harman talked about slow play on the Pardon My Take podcast. He said that when he first arrived on the PGA Tour he was one of the fastest players, which meant he “found himself twiddling his thumbs all day.” He recalled a conversation he had with Lucas Glover, a player known for his quick play. Glover had told Harman that if he could go back and redo his career, he’d play at a much slower pace. Harman goes on to explain that since that conversation, he has made a conscious effort to play slower, and he attributes some of his success to slowing down his process.

Brooks Koepka opined similarly on slow play in a 2020 interview with GQ. Koepka said he’ll “just go sit in the bathroom for a minute. I don’t have to go to the bathroom.” He does it simply to maintain his sanity. 

In other sports, when athletes become incentivized to do things that threaten the competitive integrity or entertainment value of the product, leagues act. Starting last season, for example, Major League Baseball introduced a pitch clock to speed up games. From both a ratings and attendance perspective, early returns have been positive

As another timely example, throughout much of the current NBA season, players were rewarded for foul-baiting. Offensive players would initiate physical contact with the defender and then flail their bodies, putting pressure on the referees to call a foul. Often, referees relented and rewarded the foulbaiters. Naturally, rewarding the behavior only encouraged offensive players to hunt fouls more. This trend had been building for years but hit a tipping point this season, as defenders learned that minimal contact would likely incur a foul and therefore started defending less physically. That led to an explosion in offense and a degraded on-court product. So the NBA took action. Since the All-Star Break in February, referees have been committed to holding their whistles when a player hunts fouls. A problem arose, and action followed. 

That’s a pattern professional golf rarely follows. Problems arise, but instead of earnest attempts at solutions, leaders within the sport talk down to fans about why the problems are either unsolvable or not even problems to begin with. Stop complaining and just enjoy the golf, you ungrateful fans! 

Unfortunately, complaints about the entertainment product don’t always take the shape of social media comments or podcast segments that are easy to dismiss from executive boardrooms. Sometimes, the protest is much subtler and potentially more powerful: people change the channel. They unsubscribe. Are PGA Tour ratings down because the final round of the LPGA Tour’s Chevron Championship took six hours? No, that’s quite a leap. But with few exceptions, professional golf’s overall complacency and apathy towards meaningfully improving the entertainment product is an obstacle to retaining and growing its audience.

In a world with decreasing attention spans and increasing libraries of high-quality, on-demand content, professional golf should be doing everything in its power to modernize in order to capture the attention of the enthusiastic golf fan. Watching Nelly Korda assert dominance over the strongest field in women’s golf should be an engaging, exciting experience. Perhaps that experience would be better if it didn’t take six hours.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.