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Golf can no longer be slow on the uptake

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Iain Carter | 12:24 UK time, Monday, 21 May 2012

As Colin Montgomerie was supporting a radical idea to speed up slow play, Doug Brecht - an official who barely stirs the mercury in the thermometer of fame - was becoming golf's newest hero.

The LPGA rules man took a huge step in imposing a genuine penalty to punish the malaise that is the biggest blight on the game.

It came in Sunday's semi-final of the women's Sybase Matchplay Championship between American Morgan Pressel and eventual champion Azahara Munoz.

Brecht's intervention to award a hole to Munoz to punish her tardy opponent undoubtedly influenced the eventual outcome of the match, making it all the more significant.

His action will cheer an ever-growing list of top names calling for more draconian action to speed up play. In recent weeks Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods and now Montgomerie have called for scoring penalties to be imposed on golf's slow coaches.

Monty was giving the most outspoken criticism of the game's failure to deal with slow play on the same day Brecht made his move at the knockout tournament in Gladstone, New Jersey.

Spain's Azahara Munoz won the Sybase Matchplay Championship on Sunday. Photo: Getty

Pressel and Munoz had covered the front nine of their match at a typically pedestrian pace and were duly told they needed to speed up. Two holes later they were put on the clock.

Then Pressel won the 12th with a par to go three up. Brecht's stopwatch showed she had taken two minutes and nine seconds over the three strokes, which was 39 seconds too long.

Before they could tee off at the next he imposed the statutory penalty - loss of hole. There was no final warning and no fine, just a punishment that genuinely hurt.

Instead of being three holes ahead, the US player was only one up and her Spanish opponent was back in a match she went on to win.

Ironically Munoz had been playing the slower golf but Brecht should be congratulated and backed to the hilt for taking action that should serve as a precedent for the rest of the game.

"I would clamp down harder than we have been doing," Montgomerie told me. "There has got to be a deterrent. The only thing we can do is impose shot penalties. We have to stop talking about it and start to action the only proper deterrent.

"The game is getting slower every year. Five hours for a round is the norm and it is ridiculous. There is no excuse for a round of golf taking more than four hours as a three ball."

The 2010 Ryder Cup captain was speaking after being part of a relay team that set a new British record for completing the fastest 18 holes. The team of 10 players managed it in 10 minutes 53 seconds at the Golf Live event at the London Club in Kent.

It was an entertaining gimmick far removed from the competitive game, but there were enough quality shots to show what is possible when players are up against a stopwatch.

And this is relevant to the most revealing aspect of the Pressel controversy which came in Munoz's response. "She lost the hole because she was slow, I wasn't," said the Spanish Solheim Cup star. "I was slow before, but not when the clock was on."

This reveals the heart of the problem. Players have two paces of play, one that is snail-like and then a faster version for when they are being timed.

How about we just stick to the speedier mode?

For that to happen players have to be clocked from the start of their rounds, meaning referees would be required for every group. It would be a radical step but when it was put to Montgomerie he agreed that it needs to be taken.

"I would advocate that entirely. On the clock from the word go, so that we don't get to the stage where the last group is taking an hour longer than the first group," the veteran Scot said.

"Why wait until there is a problem and then put them on the clock?"

Whenever I have suggested such a move to Tour officials they have baulked at the cost of potentially employing more than 50 referees. This point was put to Montgomerie and he swiftly interrupted.

He added: "Can we afford to lose sponsors? Can we afford to lose television viewers? Can we afford to lose radio listeners? No we can't. A referee would be cheaper than losing a sponsor."

The eight-times Order of Merit winner even agreed that the extra officials should be funded effectively from a prize money levy by taking a slice off the winner's cheque to finance the scheme.

"Why not? It would encourage faster play. Any business, and this is a business, has to be proactive. If you are reactive you are too late," Montgomerie said.

This week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth is unique among full-field regular European Tour events because there is a one-tee start. All 156 competitors begin on the first hole which means those off last will be finishing at dusk. The same applies at the Open Championship.

Year on year those rounds seem to finish in darker conditions because they are taking longer and longer, damaging what should be fantastic spectacles.

Action needs to be taken. They daren't be as radical as Monty is suggesting, but at least Doug Brecht has had the courage to take a mighty step that, if supported by the game's bosses, will surely concentrate a few of the slower minds in the game.

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