Thanks to two straight weekends with Patrick Cantlay in high-profile, high-leverage positions, the topic of slow play has never been hotter. And that’s saying something because it’s been a constant topic since…well, forever, but especially since the invention of Twitter.
I ventured onto that Twitter minefield on Friday, suggesting that, while Cantlay was brutally slow at the Masters, he was one of many and maybe taking too much of the heat for it from uninformed drive-bys looking for quick social media engagement. The responses to my suggestion were quite strong and vehement, but in two very different directions. Cantlay’s become a viral poster boy for a persistent problem. It doesn’t excuse his approach, which we saw up close again on Sunday at Harbour Town, where CBS gently suggested others in the group might be getting a little frustrated. There was also this video of Billy Foster looking less than enthused, though it’s still slightly open to interpretation. What is not open to interpretation is that the final threesome, with the speedy Fitz and moderate Spieth alongside Cantlay had definitely fallen behind the group in front of them. Different check-ins via the broadcast or the Tour’s own tracking had them at least a full par-5 (sometimes multiple holes) behind as they closed out the tournament.
It’s odd to find Cantlay’s pace so objectionable and also feel a bit of empathy at his being singled out by some clowns looking for their own engagement. But at No. 4 in the world, playing in these high-profile spots, maybe he’s the sacrificial lamb. It’s a pervasive problem that continues to trickle down though all levels of the game (we had kids AimPointing at the damn Drive, Chip, and Putt!). But we shouldn’t confuse pervasive with complicated, which is how the Tour tries to obfuscate the reply and punt it away for another day. The problem is actually quite obvious, the solutions very simple. This week (with my Cleveland Guardians in town and on my TV) was my first real sustained MLB watch in the pitch clock era. It was remarkable! Refreshing! The game felt reborn.
A similar solution is available to the PGA Tour. It’s not a small solution, and it would likely face staunch player opposition. But it’s not complicated. Perhaps that’s where the Cantlay sacrifice comes in, because the public outcries and slow play exposés are louder than ever. Brooks Koepka straight called it out last Sunday after the Masters. Other players are tweeting about it or sharing social media posts condemning it. Even PGA Tour rights partner CBS seemed to cheekily dance around on the subject on Sunday at Harbour Town. Frank Nobilo referred to the “clock ticking” on Cantlay’s time to make a move. Ian Baker-Finch said Cantlay is “never hurried, never rushed” as a compliment that came off quite backhanded, whether he intended it or not. Trevor Immelman talked about how slow things got around a two-hole stretch at 13 and 14 with the decision to hit off the wooden bulkheads and how it was impacting Cantlay’s playing partners. This is not some here today, gone tomorrow uproar about J.B. Holmes turtling around for a Sunday afternoon. It’s become harder and harder to ignore or sugarcoat. Cantlay is being raked over the coals. The Tour, even with its player-run organization hang-ups, has shown over the last year that they are open to making dramatic improvements to their product in response to external pressure. They can do so again here. This problem may not be as existential, but the fix is much easier. MLB has shown the way.