Not only is slow play annoying, it also makes you worse

Food for thought in RSM Player Performance Study report based on evidence from survey

Patrick Reed took far too long deciding how to play shots at World Tour Championship. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Patrick Reed took far too long deciding how to play shots at World Tour Championship. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images

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The elephant in the room continues to be slow play, whether for those playing or watching. Even on television. The number of times Patrick Reed backed off, changed clubs and simply took far too long in deciding how to play shots during the recent DP World Tour Championship would have you squirming in your seat in frustration, almost as if it were a carefully choreographed example of how not to play speedily.

Anyway, the issue of slow play is one that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, although the newly published RSM Player Performance Study report - a two-year survey which collected data on 47 players on the PGA European Tour over five tournaments (including the DDF Irish Open) taking in 304 rounds of golf and 22,579 shots - would provide food for thought.

Indeed, it would seem, on the evidence of the survey which was conducted by the University of Birmingham, that it actually pays to be faster rather than spending too much time over the ball or in deciding how to play a shot. In a world where money is the barometer, it found that spending less time over the ball could earn a player on the European Tour an extra €189,000 in earnings a season.

Other findings included a conclusion that quicker shots improve performance, with a shorter time over the ball across all putts resulting in a 90 percent increase in the likelihood of strokes gained; while it was also found that a consistency of time spent over the ball led to a greater chance of making the cut.

So, it would seem, having a routine is very important . . . but routines don’t have to be slow, either. It’s about consistency.

As the report suggested; “to further understand the effect of time spent over the ball at address on putts and tee shots, the study investigated what would happen to a player’s score if shots, where a player spent one second or more longer than average at address, were adjusted.

“Using the data . . . it was found that should these shots all be set to the outcome of an average putt or shot for that distance to the hole, they would finish the tournament, on average, 1.2 shots lower. Each player’s 2017 tournament finishes were then adjusted based on the number of strokes lower their score would be at the end of a tournament. This resulted in an average increase in winnings of €189,000 for these twenty players.”

One of the players involved in the study was Andy Sullivan, who includes RSM among his corporate sponsors. A look at Sully’s on-course routines and delivery is informative, in that it highlighted inconsistency from tournament to tournament in the four identified: the BMW PGA, the DDF Irish Open, the Scottish Open and the British Masters.

For the BMW in Wentworth, Sullivan was informed his “consistency in time over the ball for approach shots was less than normal”, something which also applied to his putting pre-shot routine. In the Irish Open, his timings “over the ball in this tournament were less consistent than for other tournaments”; in the Scottish Open, he was informed there was “a higher than normal variation in approach shot routine . . . time over the ball was consistent for all shot types”; and, in the British Masters, it found he had “high variability in time over the ball approach shots . . . and also in the number of practice swings used for putting.”

Such studies are aimed at elite players, and Sullivan - with food for thought on his own feedback - observed of the results: “Could findings like these be a potential game-changer? Absolutely. As players in a complex game with so many variables, it’s crucial that we look at the data and how even tiny changes can help improve our performance.

“Personally, for my game, the findings have given me a lot to think about, but I think they’ll also be of interest to the amateurs that are looking for ways to get their handicaps down.”

Food for thought for us all.

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