Planet Golf — 21 May 2012 by Bob Sherwin
Too slow? LPGA unfairly penalizes Pressel

Morgan Pressel lost her first opportunity in five years to win a golf tournament Sunday, not necessarily because of a better opponent. She lost because of bad decision by LPGA officials that had nothing to do with ball striking.

Slow play costs Pressel a possible victory – or at least a shot at the finals – at the Sybase Match Play Championship at Hamilton Farms GC in Gladstone, N.J. She actually played better than Spain’s Azahara Munoz in her semifinals match but LPGA officials, acting much like over-officious football referees, inserted themselves into the action and came down heavily on Pressel for her slow play.

Pressel had been warned earlier in her match that she was on the clock. But remember, there are only two matches on the entire course, hers and the other semifinal match between Vicky Hurst and Candie Kung. Maybe the TV schedule is the concern. Maybe there were dinner reservations to be considered. But this is a big-time event. Leeway should be the highest consideration, especially since her slow play wasn’t piling up groups behind them.

When Pressel got to the 12th tee, already warned and on the clock, she made a change in her club selection because the wind kicked up. She shouldn’t be required to hit the wrong club amid changing weather conditions just because she has to hurry. The match was on the line. That club change delayed her to the point that after the hole – which she won to go 3-up – she was told she had violated LPGA rules and would be penalized.

Instead of commanding 3-up lead with six holes to go, she not only would not win the hole but Munoz would be award the win on the hole. She didn’t lose it because she butchered her wedge or  three-putted and or hit out of bounds. She lost because of slow play. Slow play.

Eventually, she would lose the match 2 & 1 to Munoz, who went on to beat Kung in the finals,  2 & 1, and win the championship. Munoz and Pressel are best friends and the two were shown afterward sharing a tearful embrace.

There is some irony to this debate, revealing itself on the 15th green. Pressel, lining up her putt, noticed that Munoz, about 15 feet in front of her, appeared to ground her club on Pressel’s line. On the surface, that’s a violation that would have given the hole to Pressel.

She reported what she saw to LPGA officials. They talked. They debated. They even went into the Golf Channel TV truck to view the video tape of the incident. Ultimately, they ruled that Munoz did not ground her club and no penalty was given.

However, how much time did that take? What’s the clock on LPGA officials? That may have taken longer for them to decide the outcome of a rules violation than it took for Pressel to legitimately  work her way tee-to-green on the 12th. What are we preserving here, fair play or fast play? Why is it OK for officials to debate an issue but not OK for a player to play deliberately on a hole in which conditions had changed rapidly?

Slow play, without a doubt, is irritating. It’s a growing menace in the game. Players need to know that it’s an issue and be given fair warnings. But is the time to do it in a semifinal match in which that are just four players on the course? Cut some slack here. If the :PGA doesn’t want slow play then don’t slow play down even further debating rules violations? What’s the point they are trying to make?

They penalized a player with a chance at victory for a marginal violation, nothing she did that improved her lie or provided an advantage. It’s a hard lesson learned for Morgan Pressel, a needless lesson.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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