By John Huggan
ABU DHABI — It depends who you talk to—or at least try to talk to—but the European Tour’s new pace-of-play initiative seems to be having an effect. Two days in, players and caddies alike have been moved to comment on the improvement, with most threesomes at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship getting round the 7,642-yard course in no more than 4½ hours.
Billy Foster, bagman for the early second-round leader Matthew Fitzpatrick, is one who has noticed a positive difference, one he estimates at around 20 minutes compared with years past.
“The big thing is that players are no longer taking 90 seconds to hit a shot,” Foster says. “They’ve got a club in their hands and they are ready to play. The knowledge that two bad times over four rounds means an extra shot on your score seems to have got them moving quicker. They are aware of that and they are getting on with things. Even Bryson DeChambeau, who was in our group, played at a decent speed. I was impressed.”
The same likely cannot be said for DeChambeau, although it is impossible to be definitive. Playing alongside Fitzpatrick, DeChambeau shot 77 to finish at five-over 149, well outside the cut line and 14 shots worse than Fitzpatrick. DeChambeau didn’t hang around to talk about it all either. After a brief visit to the scorer’s hut, he turned down a request for interview before heading to the clubhouse.
Not surprisingly, Fitzpatrick was in finer fettle after adding a 67 to his opening 68. Long one of the faster golfers on the European Tour, the former Ryder Cup player was more than happy with the brisker pace of play, one more suited to his temperament.
“So far, so good,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time we got round so fast in a three ball. That was great. The only thing is that, because I am already quicker than most, I’m feeling a bit of pressure now that I’ve got to get even quicker. But it’s all good. Playing with the slow guys in the past, I had time to think, but now that they seem to have their act together, it probably feels a lot quicker to me than to them.”
Still, it would perhaps be as well not to get too excited. While the initial signs are good, there are some caveats to consider. For one, the 132-player field is significantly smaller than will be the norm at events later in the summer. And for another, the Abu Dhabi Golf Club course has three par 5s that are reachable for only the longest players in the field—and even then only when they find the invariably narrow fairways off the tee. So only occasionally are players waiting for the par-5 greens to clear. For the vast majority, those holes are “90-yard par 3s” after a lay-up second shot.
“It’s hard to tell how much things are going to improve because pace of play varies from course to course,” says Scotsman David Law, who is six under after 36 holes. “But the new rules are definitely going to help. Guys know their record isn’t wiped clean at the end of each round. A bad time hangs over them all week now. That helps keep things moving, too.”