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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Slow-play penalty on Guan highlights game's biggest problem

Tianlang Guan walks to the 18th green during

Tianlang Guan walks to the 18th green during the second round of the 77th Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. (April 12, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images


Tianlang Guan, a 14-year-old golfer in a hurry to succeed and in no particular rush to hit the ball, might be more of a role model than anyone realized. Getting penalized for playing too slowly could give the whole sport a jump start.

Slow play is the biggest problem in golf, not just in major championships and tour events but regular everyday golf. One of the main reasons the average person often gives for not playing more is that it just takes too darned long. The entire sport deserved a penalty.

The youngster from China was an easy target, maybe unfairly so on a plodding day all around. Or maybe the one stroke he was assessed by British rules official John Paramor proved that he was not given any special treatment, so it was particularly fair. That is a tough call at this point, with this peanut stand leaning toward the latter.

In either case, Guan, the youngest participant in Masters history, was meant to stand out. He qualified by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, an event created by the Masters and the R & A governing body, "with the simple objective of creating heroes whose success would inspire others to become involved in the game," Masters chairman Billy Payne said. His Georgia accent highlighted the key word, which came out "hee-roes."

There is nothing heroic about violating Rule 6-7 and taking more than 40 seconds to hit a shot, the violation for which Guan was penalized. At the time, it looked as though the extra stroke could cost the eighth-grader a chance to make the cut -- moving him from 3 over to 4 over. Still, the kid took his medicine, and the lesson could be a pain reliever everywhere golf is played.

"I respect the decision they make," he said. "I think they should do it with respect to everybody."

Paramor has gone after bigger fish. He famously warned Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington about slow play down the stretch at the 2009 Bridgestone Invitational. Harrington, a great guy and notoriously dawdling golfer, appeared to rush and took a costly 8. Woods, the tournament winner, blasted Paramor at the time. But people who follow the European Tour say he is a kind soul with a reputation for fairness -- and a strong distaste for procrastination.

The official said he spoke with Guan on the 12th tee, gave him a "bad time" notice on the 13th fairway and talked again between the 16th and 17th holes before calling the penalty. Guan's group, which included Ben Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero, had fallen behind the threesomes ahead. Paramor believed he had no choice, saying, "I feel that way every time I do that. That's my job."

Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion at 61 who has taken a liking to Guan, said, "I'm sick. I'm sick for him. I am so sorry. I'm so sorry this has happened. It's not going to be pretty. There's no question he played slowly at times. But he was working things out. This is not an easy golf course we're playing."

Manassero, a 19-year-old from Italy who played his first Masters at 16, admitted that Guan "sometimes . . . takes a little too long." He added, "We all feel sorry, but this is the way professional golf goes."

Some tour golfers make a living by going at a snail's pace. David Duval tweeted yesterday that many of them know the tricks of speeding up once they are put on the clock, then slowing down again when the referee isn't looking. Guan hasn't learned that subterfuge yet.

No harm done. He made the cut. That he got everyone talking about golf's great headache, and possibly lit a fire under everyone who plays, will make him the week's big hee-ro.