In My Opinion

Sorensen: Could Guan's penalty help curb slow play?

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comApril 12, 2013 

MASTERS0413_10

Tianlang Guan lines up a putt on the second green at Augusta National Golf Club during second round action of the Masters on Friday, April 12, 2013.

JEFF SINER — jsiner@charlotteobserver.com Buy Photo

— You’re at the end of a long line in the coffee shop, ice cream shop or fast-food restaurant. By the time you get to the front you know what you want to drink or eat and have had time to do your taxes.

The 14-year-old in front of you, however, can’t decide. He stands at the counter and contemplates – latte or cappuccino, chocolate or vanilla, burger or chicken sandwich. The wait is excruciating for everybody but him.

On Friday that 14-year-old is Tianlang Guan. Guan, the youngest competitor in Masters history, takes more time to choose a club than some high school girls take to choose a prom dress.

Masters’ officials warn Guan about slow play. On No. 17, stopwatch in hand, they assess a one-stroke penalty. The penalty pushes Guan’s score from 74 to 75 and his two-round total from 147 to 148.

He makes the cut by one stroke. Had he failed to, the Masters still would have made the right call.

Slow play is pervasive on the PGA Tour. Some golfers turn every round, hole, drive, chip and putt into gridlock. New bestseller: 101 things to do while waiting for the ball to be addressed.

Does the NFL suspend delay of game penalties because the quarterback is uncertain about the play sent in? Does the NBA allow centers to deliberate until they’re ready to shoot a free throw they probably won’t make?

The biggest upset in Augusta: In a quick-twitch world in which most 14-year-olds move their thumbs at speeds their parents can’t comprehend it is the kid who reacts too slowly.

Because of a tricky wind Augusta National Golf Club plays long Friday. But it doesn’t play as long as Guan takes to confer with his caddy, choose a club and address a ball.

I promise I’m not some crabby old guy. I have never yelled at a kid to get off my lawn. I have two sons and neither they nor their friends nor anybody I know would describe me as a disciplinarian.

But after winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship Guan left the kids’ table to compete with the adults. What option was there other than to assess an adult-like penalty?

Allowing the threesome behind him – Bernhard Langer, Lucas Glover and Henrik Stenson – to play through was not possible.

“The soft-coated answer is I feel bad,” veteran Fred Couples says about Guan. “But I also feel like they just don’t go around handing out one-shot penalties here.”

Guan played with Ben Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero.

“He was timed and he was off time so he was slow, yeah,” Manassero says.

Manassero says Guan asked his caddy questions to which he already knew the answer.

“There’s no question he played slowly at times,” Crenshaw says. “But he was working things out.”

Guan handled the penalty with grace.

“I respect the decision they make,” he says.

Another upset: The penalty is good for Guan and for golf.

If the Masters goes after a 14-year-old, it has to go after the adults who play at an ice floe pace. Perhaps the PGA will, too. Slow golfers often have quick tempers. Courage will be required.

Guan, meanwhile, has been promoted. He was an impressive 14-year-old. He is now a cause. Fans upset about the penalty and the stodginess of the Masters have a new star in their fight against the power.

Perhaps the landscape will change: a shot clock amidst the azaleas.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119

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