I have been watching the professional game into the millennium and one of its biggest curses is slow play. People say the root cause is the much bigger prize money but I think it is just an excuse for professionals to slip into a bad habit which in fact adds strokes to their games.
We professionals are to blame for the fact that amateurs are now taking ten times as long over their shots as they need to. We started it, and now everyone else thinks it is the right thing to do.
Often if I arrived late on one of the practice days for a tournament, there would be several other pros milling about and we might decide to go out for an evening round. Many times I have done this with pros who have a really bad repution for slow play, but you would never think it to look at them.
They would be striding down the fairway and chatting as we have our round. They would walk up to their ball, pull out the right club without hesitation, look at the hole once or twice on address and bang it right by the stick. There would be none of this crouching down all over the place on the greens; they would have a quick glance at the line and hole most of the putts.
“God I hope I play like this tomorrow,” they would say as they came in with a 66. It would break my heart to see them the next day, taking such pains over each shot and coming in with a 76.
When I was a kid the pros never used to waste much time getting round the course. Marvellous putters like Alf Padgham and Dick Burton used to walk on the green, look once at the line from behind the ball and walk straight up to it.
At address all they would do is put the putter down in front of the ball, look at the hole, put the putter down behind the ball, look at the hole a second time and then give it a firm, confident hit which was a picture to watch.
When I won the Open I putted like a magician. I knew my line as soon as I walked on the green and I never took more than 20 seconds over a putt.
Your first judgement when you bend down to look at a putt is the one you should go by. If you go to the other side of the hole, all you will see is a different line and doubts begin to creep in. You will never give the ball a firm, confident hit whan you are in two minds like this.
George Duncan the quickest player
The pros today should have seen George Duncan in action round the course. It would shake them rigid. He was the quickest player the world has ever seen.
On the fairway he never even addressed it. He did all his summing up and got a club out as he came towards his ball. Then he just walked up to it and started his backswing.
A slow player can dictate the pace of a whole tournament. Theoretically he can get two strokes added to his score if the match gets more than two holes behind the match in front, but the same penalty has to be applied to his playing partner or partners so is rarely applied.