Golf

Right call is tough one for Pressel

WAIT. WHAT?
Morgan Pressel lost in the semifinals Sunday in the LPGA Sybase Match Play Championship.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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Morgan Pressel and I have much in common.

She’s blonde, petite and the youngest winner of a modern women's golf major. And I’m . . . well, other than all of that, neither of us are particularly good at taking our lumps.

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When I was given a ticket for talking on my cell phone while driving recently, I told the cop that I rarely ever do it and that it was my wife on the other line with a very important call, which was true.

And we were stopped at a red light, so it’s not like I was actually driving and talking.

And it’s not like anyone was going to get hurt because I was on the phone, so while I may have broken the letter of the California law, I certainly didn’t break its spirit.

He listened and nodded in acknowledgment . . . and continued writing the ticket.

It wasn’t really fair that I got that ticket, just as it wasn’t really fair that Pressel was assessed a slow-play penalty at the Sybase Match Play Championship over the weekend.

Pressel isn’t typically a slow player and, indeed, it was the snail-like pace of her opponent, Spain’s Azahara Munoz, that led to the two of them being put on the clock by officials in the semifinal match.

But when push came to shove, Pressel took her sweet time to play a shot into the 12th hole.

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Despite winning the hole to take what seemed like a comfortable 3-up lead in the semifinal, she was penalized for slow play, which in match play results in loss of hole.

The punishment didn’t seem to fit the crime. Three-up became 1-up.

Clearly flustered — later in the match she alleged Munoz illegally touched the line of her putt with her putter, trying to get her a penalty — Pressel went on to lose. The Spaniard eventually won the tournament.

It was a huge call by rules official Doug Brecht, and there’s little doubt it influenced the outcome of the match.

Brecht could have been like basketball referees down the stretch and swallowed his whistle or like a baseball umpire, giving a veteran a break (one he never would give a rookie). Instead, he just made the call that had to be made.

Not that Pressel, who was looking for her first win in four years, agrees, of course.

On Monday, she echoed her previous disapproval with how she had been treated, saying that she was “a little upset."

"And I think I have a right to be," she added.

She does have a right to be upset, just as I did when I got ticketed for talking on my phone while in a car. But the truth is, we both broke the law.

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People get away with it all the time, but that isn’t quite the point, is it?

And there’s something else about this story that gnaws at me.

Although there were extenuating circumstances — the wind was gusting, causing Pressel to change clubs on the 12th tee — the fact is that she knew she was being timed but didn’t seem to think anything would happen to her.

My hope is that Pressel’s loss becomes a watershed in golf, because slow play is — as Luke Donald said earlier in the year and anyone who's tried to play on a Saturday morning knows — killing the game.

Tiger Woods weighed in on Pressel’s predicament on Monday with some tough love of his own.

“It's unfortunate that it happened to her,” he said, “but that's, unfortunately, part of the game.

“I certainly think that we need to speed up play. We are the figureheads of our sport, and if we are taking, you know, 5 1/2-plus, sometimes close to six hours to play a three ball, that's not acceptable.”

Slow play was thrust onto golf’s front-burner at The Players Championship by the eccentricities of Kevin Na, whose constant balks and back-offs makes a round of golf with him not just exasperating, but interminably long.

Cracking down on slow play at the PGA Tour level would, I think, have a tremendous trickle-down effect on the sport.

Golfers need to know that a round can be played in less than four hours.

But the PGA Tour has little interest in such a crackdown.

The way the system stands, a player needs to be put on the clock, then get a bad time — resulting in a warning — then be put on the clock again and get another bad time before a one-stroke penalty can be assessed.

In other words, you would have to be totally clueless to ever get a slow play penalty on the PGA Tour, which hasn’t assessed one in 17 years.

And slow players know how to work the system.

Sure, their accumulation of bad times results in fines in the tens of thousands of dollars. But for golfers making millions a year, it’s just a cost of doing business.

Woods says he’s hopeful that the system will change.

“It's going to have to go through the policy board,” he said, “So it's going to take time.

“Do I see that happening this year? Obviously, no. But you know, down the road, I certainly could see there could be some type of adaptation somewhere.

“There's got to be some type of change.”

Tagged: Kevin Na

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