May
21
2012
Slow play controversy at Sybase turns into (continuous) melodrama
By Stephanie Wei under LPGA

Pressel pouting

I’ve watched the replay of Golf Channel’s tape-delayed coverage of the semifinals match between Morgan Pressel and Azahara Munoz, with a particular interest on the 12th hole, where Pressel went over the allotted time — she had 2:09 to play her three shots — by 39 seconds. I’ve also read just about every article of coverage by the scribes on-site.

Here’s the story from the AP:

It all reverted to the morning semifinal in which Munoz and Pressel were both slow, although Munoz was admittedly a little slower. They were warned about slow play after nine holes and put on the clock after No. 11.

The 12th hole changed everything. Pressel won it with a par to take seemingly a 3-up lead.

However, before she could tee off on No. 13, tour official Doug Brecht informed her that she was being penalized for slow play. She had taken 2:09 to play her three shots, 39 seconds over the 30-second limit per shot.

In match play, a time penalty is the loss of the previous hole, and that handed the admittedly slow-playing Munoz the hole. She was 1-down and back in the match.

“It was tough timing because it was a really big, I think, turning point in the match, going from 2-up to 3-up, and then all of a sudden back to 1-up,” said Pressel, who was on the verge of tears several times in a postmatch news conference after she beat Vicky Hurst 2 and 1 in the consolation match. “You know, it was — I mean, it was really unfortunate.”

The time penalty was the first for Pressel in seven years on the tour, and it left a very bad taste in her mouth, knowing Munoz was the slower player.

“I think that slow play is one of our biggest problems on tour,” Pressel said. “You know, I think that what bothers me the most is that we were given sufficient warning and she really didn’t do anything to speed up and then I was penalized for it.”

Munoz said she was apologetic, adding she was surprised Pressel was penalized.

“I know I was slow and I really apologized for that and I told her, but I do feel both of us were slow and she was the only one getting penalized, and that was not fair and I know that,” Munoz said. “I would never make her lose a hole.”

Tim Rosaforte spoke to Doug Brecht, the LPGA’s VP for rules and officials:

“I feel like we do give them a chance to work it out on their own,” said Brecht. “If they can’t do it, we step in and administer the policy we’re given.”

That reminded me of what PGA Tour player Brian Davis, who plays at a quick pace, told me after the final round of The Players. He said the players are supposed to police themselves, but obviously they can’t, so that means the officials need to step in and enforce the pace-of-play rule.

Without being there for the Pressel-Munoz incident, I felt I needed to hear from someone who had a front-row seat. So I called Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz, who was the play-by-play announcer during the controversial match.

In sum, Foltz said he had no problem with the ruling and the penalty slapped on Pressel. Both Pressel and Munoz are slow players, with Munoz admittedly being on super-sluggish side, but once they were put on the clock, Pressel didn’t appear to try and play within the allotted time. She walked fast in between shots, but she didn’t think she’d actually get stroked.

Meanwhile, Munoz, who is probably more familiar with the rule, made the concerted effort to speed up and didn’t record a bad time.

Foltzy penned a great piece on GolfChannel.com that explains what I just tried to convey:

Through two warnings and notification of being on the clock, Pressel did little to speed up. Having watched what happened from hole Nos. 8-12, and having listened to her interview with Val Skinner (which took place an hour and a half after the match concluded), I’m left to assume that Pressel never thought her pace of play was the problem and that she wouldn’t be penalized.

Slow players cheat the system, routinely, on every tour. They speed up when they’re placed on the clock, and once they’re back in position, they go back to their old ways. It’s as old as time. Therein lies the problem with any objective slow-play policy. However, Pressel’s perceived disregard for the system cost her greatly and might go down as the most expensive penalty in LPGA history.

I was standing next to LPGA official Doug Brecht, to the side of the 12th tee, when he informed me that this match was officially on the clock. I saw the exact moment when he started the timing of Pressel (who was first to play), and I can tell you first hand that he used great discretion as to when to start the clock. And even with that extra allowed time for things to settle down on the teeing ground, she still took 57 seconds to play the shot. Gusting wind, a change of clubs, and a lengthy discussion with her caddie all played a part, but she never appeared to be in a hurry.

By hitting only three shots on the hole, and with the additional 10-second grace period, Pressel was in breach of the rule by 39 seconds – or more than 50 percent of the allotted time. In my view, that blatant of a violation should never receive a blind-eye on behalf of any official. To make matters worse, Munoz missed a short putt to tie the hole, and the loss-of-hole penalty effectively became a two-hole penalty. However, Pressel still teed off on the 13th hole with a 1-up lead.

Clutch putts by Munoz on 15, 16, and 17, combined with missed putts by Pressel on the same holes (and a three-putt on 17) gave Munoz the victory.

Kudos to Munoz for handling a difficult situation with grace and closing out for the win.

***

This is a bit of an aside, but the rules controversies didn’t end on No. 12.

On the 15th green Pressel accused Munoz of grounding her putter in front of her ball, which would have been a rules breach and a loss of hole for Munoz. Friend of WUP and Star-Ledger golf writer Brendan Prunty explained:

Once again, rules officials were called in to examine Pressel’s claim. After a brief review via the television feed away from the hole, Robinson made the determination that the club had not been grounded and no rule had been broken.

Munoz would go on to win the 15th, 16th and 17th holes, closing out the match and moving on to the afternoon.

“You know, I’m not going to say that I was disappointed that there was no penalty,” Pressel said after defeating Vicky Hurst 2&1 in the consolation match. “But, I mean, it is the Rules of Golf at that point. The same thing that I was penalized for three holes before. She — on I think it was the sixth hole — I kind of saw her (ground the club). She goes halfway to the hole and lines up her putt and she put her putter down.

“And I looked up at my caddie and I said, ‘I think she just put her putter on the ground, which you can’t do.’ You can’t touch the line of the putt no matter what you’re trying to do with it. And then I just happened to look up and saw her do it again on 15 and I mean, I guess if she doesn’t feel like she did it, then that’s the Rules of Golf at that point. The television wasn’t able to capture the footage.”

Now that’s just petty. I mean, really, Morgan? C’mon. Grow up.

Apparently the two hugged it out on the range before the afternoon matches. The behind-the-scenes stuff sounds like it was more intriguing than the actual golf! Also from Prunty’s article:

The 24-year old Spaniard sought Pressel out after the match to try and smooth things out before each played their afternoon round. At first they couldn’t connect, but on the practice range, the two buried the hatchet.

“I didn’t see her, so I sent her a text saying how I felt and what I thought and if we could talk after the round because I didn’t know if I was going to see her,” Munoz said. “She came to me on the range and just told me, ‘Just win it for me.’ So that meant a lot that she came to talk to me before my round. Obviously, having her on 17, it was really special.”

***

Another random morsel: Pressel’s fiancee, Andy Bush, is the tournament director of Sybase.

I’ve heard some arguments that the LPGA was trying to make a statement on the heels of the slow play problem that was spotlighted on the PGA Tour a week earlier — when all eyes were on Kevin Na and his antics at The Players. Maybe. But it’s not the first time the LPGA has doled out strokes for slow play this year. Officials have penalized players in two prior incidents this season and gave out five in 2011, which probably isn’t enough, but it’s a start.

Bottom line is I can’t stand on a soap box and complain about the PGA Tour not enforcing the slow-play rule and then condemn officials when they apply the penalty, which in match play is loss of hole. The only solution to conquering this epidemic is giving out strokes. Fines aren’t enough to strike fear in players to play faster. A shot penalty would definitely get the slow pokes moving.

I realize there were only four players on the course, but that’s not the point — there’s a rule that should be enforced consistently regardless of the circumstances. Pressel disregarded the allotted time, and thus, she paid the price. It’s also not fair to say the penalty decided the match. Pressel was assessed the loss of hole after the 12th hole, leaving her at 1-up instead of 3-up with six to play. She felt wronged and let it affect the outcome.

Sure, it doesn’t seem “fair,” but again, I recommend reading Foltzy’s first-hand account, you might walk away with a different perspective.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)