You might think that the 14-year-old Tianlang Guan, from China, would say there was voodoo or maybe black magic in the air Friday at Augusta National. Guan was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play on the 17th hole. Guan was playing with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero.
The group was warned 3 times about being out of position (not keeping up with the group in front of them) before Guan was assessed the penalty by John Paramor who normally works as a rules official on the European Tour.
There are two clear sides to this issue. The first is that a rule is a rule. If a group is warned about being out of position they are timed and two bad times results in a penalty, regardless of any other circumstance. And that is true to the letter of the law. No matter how you look at it, Guan was slow. His playing partners Manassero and Crenshaw agreed (we will address Crenshaw’s comments shortly).
However, this ruling seems to have been selectively enforced and more of a power-play against an inexperienced player.
First of all, Guan is 14. He was not alive the last time a PGA TOUR event had a slow play penalty (Glen Day at the ’95 Honda Classic) he was 5 when Steve Lowery incurred the same penalty at the PGA Championship in 2004. As Lee Westwood stated after his round, Guan (and every other Amateur player in the world) mimics the touring pros they watch in TV and in person. Slow play is an enormous problem on the PGA TOUR, mostly because penalties are simply not handed out.
Usually, when a group is notified that they are “on the clock” slow players go into a speedier routine to avoid recording a bad time. Once the group catches up and is back into position on the golf course, the slow players will go back into their slow routine, deliberately. Guan is simply inexperienced at working this system to avoid penalties.
Additionally, there were no other slow play penalties handed out in the second round, or first for that matter. This is despite it taking Tiger Woods, Luke Donald and Scott Piercy five hours and 45 minutes to complete their round. And they were not out of position from the group in front. It was reported that there was a backup at the 4th tee, apparently the Woods group waited about 30 minutes.
At any rate, if Guan was the only player to record a bad time, does that mean pace of play at Augusta National is 5:45? Likely that is not the case, so why were none of the other players penalized?
Play was slow today for a common reason, weather. It was rainy in the morning and windy all day. Wind can slow down a golf tournament like nothing else. It takes players longer to select a club because they are trying to decide how the wind will affect the ball. Augusta National is especially famous for swirling winds amid its towering pine trees. In the most prestigious golf tournament in the world, you can bet that players will take their time choosing a club in the wind.
Players on tour know 1) who the slow players are and 2) if they are guilty of this. However, the only fines levied by the tour are monetary, and are never disclosed. So there is no public shame from the Tour to initiate players playing faster. Additionally, in the often chummy relationship between golf announcers and players there is no identifying slow players on broadcasts. Often slow players are termed “deliberate” as if they are more thoughtful because they take their time in playing their shot.
Here now are the reactions of many regarding Guan’s penalty, starting with playing partner Ben Crenshaw: “This isn’t going to wind up pretty, I’m so sorry this happened. I’m sick over this. He’s 14 years old.”
1992 Masters champion Fred Couples weighed in as well: “They just don’t go around hanging 1-shot penalties here. Never heard of anyone who’s gotten one.”
Shane Lowry chimed in via Twitter:
Can’t believe that they gave out a penalty to Guan at the masters. The fact that he is looking at tour players playing every week like snails means that he plays the same way. This is a joke. Hope he makes the cut now.
The best reaction of the day came from former World Number One, David Duval, also via Twitter:
The only way to deal with slow play is simple. Give the rules officials the ability to time players without warning them. We all know who they slow players are. Maybe the commentators should be calling them slow instead of deliberate. Most slow players know how to beat the system. They fall behind get timed so they speed up. Back in position and they slow back down.
Then Duval began to name names…
[Ben] Crane, [Webb] Simpson, [Kevin] Na are pretty slow.
Remember Na stopping and starting during the 3rd round of The Players last year? BRUTAL! Duval continued:
Tiger isn’t the fastest. Nor is Furyk for the big names. Harrington is pretty bad.
WOW! Harrington and Furyk are no surprises, both are often seen backing off (especially Furyk with putts). But calling Tiger slow, is a biggie. For most of his career Tiger has played in the final group when the tournament was on the line. In that case, it doesn’t seem as necessary to penalize a player for slowing down because A) there is no one behind them and B) the tournament usually hangs in the balance, so a little extra time taken isn’t a huge deal.
Given the names mentioned by Duval, and the fact that Guan was penalized, were any of these other slowpokes? No. Is it because Guan is slower than all of them? Probably not. The most likely answer is inexperience. He simply doesn’t know (or didn’t know) how to manipulate the clock so that he can avoid a bad time but still play slow.
After the round Guan was a complete class act. He handled this ridiculous situation with dignity, and like a person two or three times his age. Guan said that he agreed with the penalty and accepted it.
Thankfully for all involved (especially Twitter, it might have broken had Guan missed the cut) he made it when Jason Day finished at 6-under. Guan is exactly 10 shots off the lead, making it on the number along with defending champion Bubba Watson.