‘Slow for everyone’: Patrick Cantlay responds to Masters pace-of-play critics

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Patrick Cantlay and his caddie during the final round of the 2023 Masters.

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HILTON HEAD, S.C. — Most of the storylines coming down the stretch at Augusta National arrived right on schedule.

There was a threatening clubhouse leader. There was a 54-hole leader losing his grip on the tournament. There was one of the best players in the world pulling ahead in the chase for the green jacket. All of this felt normal. We’d seen it before. But then there was another storyline that felt a bit out of place.

The first question of Brooks Koepka’s runner-up press conference had nothing to do with the birdies and bogeys, but rather the time it took to get around the course. Koepka was the proper player to ask, too. He’s a stickler for pace of play.

“Yeah, the group in front of us was brutally slow,” Koepka said. “Jon went to the bathroom like seven times during the round, and we were still waiting.” That group ahead was Patrick Cantlay and Viktor Hovland

Now, we won’t rush to blame anyone, nor will we rush to treat Twitter as a proper representation of the golf viewing audience, but one thing is true: the comments section was not kind to Cantlay. The online discourse was rather pointed. The CBS broadcast often showed Koepka or leader Jon Rahm waiting to play. One clip in particular caught fire online, and was viewed more than 1 million times on Twitter. Hovland had reached the back side of the 13th green in two while Cantlay played his third from 149 yards. While Cantlay walked up to the green after his shot, Hovland was ready to roll, and didn’t bother waiting, playing his third before Cantlay reached the green. 

Just how incriminating is this evidence? It’s certainly unusual to play a shot around the green before your pairing partner reaches the putting surface. There is plenty of context not included in the clip above, like the fact that Hovland was already waiting near his ball as Cantlay played his own. And how it probably takes at least a minute to reach the green from where Cantlay was playing. But ultimately the penultimate pairing finished their round in about four hours and 45 minutes. That is not blazing speed. On Tuesday, though, Cantlay said it’s possible his pairings fate had been sealed long before the 13th hole. Cantlay was asked about Sunday’s pace during his press conference at the RBC Heritage. In his mind, the entire field was dealing with the sluggish play.

“We finished the first hole, and the group in front of us was on the 2nd tee when we walked up to the 2nd tee, and we waited all day on pretty much every shot,” Cantlay said. “We waited in 15 fairway, we waited in 18 fairway. I imagine it was slow for everyone.”

Therein lies one of the difficult aspects of assessing pace of play. One slow group can muck up everyone’s else day. The weather delays from Friday and Saturday backed up the tournament to the point where the final round was played in twosomes off the 1st and 10th tees. With 54 players on the course, that means 27 tee times on 18 holes. There wasn’t going to be much room on the course. But one of the enduring images of the week was posted by Koepka on Instagram: him and Rahm seated on a bench by the 2nd tee, waiting for play to clear ahead of them. It was almost certainly going to be a slow day at that point. 

Cantlay was asked a follow-up pace-of-play question later in the presser. If we can’t get players around Augusta National without causing play to creep along, is there a solution? There might not be, he said.

“Yeah, one thing that’s interesting sitting on the PAC [Player Advisory Council] is you get all the numbers and the data,” he said. “And rounds have taken about the same length of time for the last 10 or 20 years that they currently take. When you play a golf course like Augusta National where all the hole locations are on lots of slope and the greens are really fast, it’s just going to take longer and longer to hole out.

“I think that may have been what attributed to some of the slow play on Sunday, and then also when the wind is gusting and the wind is blowing maybe inconsistently, that’s when guys will take a long time, too. I think that’s just the nature of playing professional golf, where every shot matters so much.”

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