R&A cracks down on slow play, Matsuyama receives penalty
By Stephanie Wei under British Open

Hideki placed T10 at the U.S. Open last month

Hideki Matsuyama became the second player this year to receive a one-shot penalty for slow play at a major. During the third round of the Open Championship, Matsuyama, who was paired with Johnson Wagner, was put on the clock on the 15th because they were 15 minutes over the scheduled time and out of position with the group ahead.

Matsuyama took one minute, 12 seconds on his first putt on the same hole and the twosome was still four minutes out of position. 

After an errant drive that left him in the fescue on no. 17, Matsuyama took two minutes, 12 seconds on his second shot, recording his second bad time. As a result, the penalty was applied to his score on the penultimate hole and instead of parring it, he made a bogey 6.

He signed for a one-over 72 and trails 54-hole leader Lee Westwood by six shots, instead of five, had it not been for the extra stroke.

As you may recall, 14-year-old teen phenom Guan Tianlang was penalized in the second round of the Masters for slow play.

According to Wagner, they kept up with the group in front of them for most of the day and the group behind them waited on the front nine only because they were backed up, as well. Wagner pleaded on behalf of Matsuyama for five minutes as “gentlemanly” as possible, but he was furious with officials that his fellow competitor was given a penalty, saying had it been the other way around, he would have “gone ballistic.”

Wagner, who is considered a rather fast player by Tour standards, admitted Hideki was a bit slower than him, but he felt given the circumstances and the difficult conditions at Muirfield, Matsuyama was unfairly penalized.

“Given his position in the tournament, and given the shot he faced on 17, laying it up out of the fescue over gorse and pot bunkers, I don’t think he took too long,” said Wagner. “I think he executed a really good shot and under the situation, I think it’s tragic, and I think The R&A should use better judgment in the penalizing of it.”

Meanwhile, according to Japanese reporters, Matsuyama took extra time because he had hit a spectator with his tee shot, so he was making sure the guy was OK and signing a glove for him.

David Rickman, R&A Director of Rules and Equipment Standards, said officials accounted for the situation.

“We gave Hideki Matsuyama time to, I believe, sort out the situation, having hit the ball into the crowd,” he said. He then walked up to look at the stroke that he had. He then came back, and in all of the circumstances the timing official gave him all of that time before he started timing. So all of that was done, but it still took two minutes 12 seconds from that point for the stroke to be played.”

Wagner was adamant it still wasn’t fair.

“His caddie had to pace all the way to the fairway, a hundred yards to get his carry number,” he said. “There’s no yardages from there. And he was playing a great round. I’m as against slow play as anybody, and I respect everything everybody is doing, but, man, the kid was playing great today.

“We played the Masters together last year and he’s a great kid, and I think it’s terrible that he got penalized. Hopefully he’ll go out tomorrow and rip it up and put himself this contention again, but I think it’s terrible.”

Wagner repeatedly emphasized that he’s a strong advocate of penalizing players for slow play, but didn’t think the right call was made in this particular situation, especially since the group behind wasn’t waiting on them.

The most important thing I’ve learned from this incident is that if I’m ever wronged, I want Johnson Wagner in my corner.

In related news, Graeme McDowell was also unhappy with the close scrutiny of officials regarding slow play and vented on the scrutiny that he and Gregory Bourdy endured early in their rounds. On the fourth tee, officials informed McDowell and Bourdy that they were two-and-a-half minutes behind schedule. Then, to their surprise, on the 5th tee, they were told they were four-and-a-half minutes out of position and being put on the clock.

“Surely we’re allowed to get off to a bad start,” said McDowell, who shot a two-over 75. “There’s a difference between slow play and bad play. So they put us on the clock for one hole, which Gregory bogeys. I managed to birdie it. And we got to the next tee and they said, oh, okay, you’re off the clock now.

“So it’s like make up your minds, guys.That’s not really slow play regulations. That’s just kind of being a little kind of — that’s too much. It’s too much, you know. Give us a chance. We’ll go out and shoot really fast. If you want us to run around, we’ll do it fast. But this is an extremely difficult golf course, with some tough pins, it was a tough start. And on the clock on the 5th hole is a bit out of order, really. Like I say, it’s not slow play, it’s just bad play.”

(AP Photo/Peter Morrison)