Should Jordan Spieth have been penalised for slow play at The Open?


Jordan Spieth went into this year’s Open Championship with history in his sights. Having won the Masters and U.S. Open, a victory at St Andrews would have put him three-quarters of the way to a historic single-year Grand Slam. It wasn’t to be, after a bogey on the Road Hole and a disappointing par on the last left Spieth one shot out of the playoff, but should he have been a further shot back?

That was the question raised in Scotland this week at the ‘Time for Golf’ conference hosted by the R&A. The purpose of the conference was to examine and address the issue of slow play – both at the professional and amateur level – with R&A representatives, rules officials, Tour players and other big names in golf present. 

Spieth and Garcia put on the clock

European Tour referee Kevin Feeney insisted that the Tour is doing more than most people think when it comes to tackling slow play. Feeney revealed that he put Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia on the clock during the final round at St Andrews. 

“I watched the game myself and Sergio had clearly made the effort to speed up, but Jordan had not,” says Feeney.

“After we put him on the clock, Jordan went birdie-birdie-birdie, and actually came to myself and (R&A rules director) David Rickman later to thank us for giving him the kick up the backside he needed.”

Feeney explained that Spieth’s lack of pace was probably the result of his use of a ‘Green Book’, which features an incredibly detailed computer-generated map of each green. 

24 penalties in 15 years

“We’re continually asked why we don’t penalise players shots and we actually have, 24 times in the last 15 years,” says Feeney. 

It worries us that Feeney seems to be offering that number as proof that penalties are being dished out. 25 penalties in 15 years is not many. The penalties are meant to act as a deterrent, but with so few being adminstered, it’s unlikely that players are quaking in their FootJoys. 

That’s fine

Players being fined is far more common, with 51 such instances this year alone. Players are fined £2,000 for their first offence, with that number doubling for each further instance. 

For players taking home tens or hundreds of thousands, a (very) occasional £2,000 fine is unlikely to cost them much sleep. 

“I played with one guy in the States who carries his cheque book with him and just pays the fines on the spot,” says Stephen Gallacher, widely regarded as one of the quickest players on Tour. “He’s paying $60,000 to $80,000 a year in fines, but he doesn’t care because the total prizefund every week is $6 million.”

Gallacher says he has been forced to develop a different pre-shot routine to use when paired with particularly slow players. 

“The perception is that we’re not doing enough, and people don’t understand what we do, but if we aren’t getting the message out, that’s our own fault, “ adds Feeney.

Do you think the R&A are doing enough to punish slow players?

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