JERSEY CITY — Slow play was the topic, but Bryson DeChambeau wasted no time getting started. He stepped atop the interview platform Saturday at Liberty National Golf Club, and before a question could be asked said, “I’ll introduce this and talk about it.”
What followed amounted to an impassioned 16-minute character defense.
“When people start talking to me about slow play and how I’m killing the game, I’m doing this and that to the game, that is complete and utter you-know-what,” DeChambeau said.
His par-71 round Saturday left him at 6-under, eight strokes off the pace of the 54-hole leader, Patrick Reed, who carded a 67. The crowd of reporters huddled around DeChambeau was twice as large as the one that showed up to hear Reed speak, proving that until punitive measures are taken by the PGA Tour, slow play is going to threaten to overshadow sterling play.
DeChambeau, the defending champion, and Dylan Frittelli, the player with whom he was paired in the third round of the Northern Trust, had just played 18 holes in a combined 146 strokes over four hours.
None of that was the problem.
At issue was DeChambeau’s play during Friday’s second round, where he took 2 minutes, 20 seconds to execute an 11-foot putt on one hole and two-and-a-half minutes to complete a 70-yard approach shot on another. Video clips from both holes were posted to social media and quickly went viral.
Critics of the PGA Tour’s pace-of-play issues, in general, and DeChambeau’s deliberateness, in particular, were quick to weigh in. One needed only to read the tweets of the Englishman Eddie Pepperell, the 40th-ranked player in the world, to gauge which way the winds inside the golfing bubble were blowing.
“Slow players do this to their playing partners making the game less enjoyable,” Pepperell said on Twitter. “Problem is the unaffected single-minded twit in this instance doesn’t care much for others.”
DeChambeau, 25, a five-time PGA Tour winner, fired back, “I would love to speak to him personally and talk about it.”
DeChambeau added: “Look, I am not really that sensitive of a guy. I don’t get hurt by a lot of things. It’s not like I’m throwing clubs and slamming clubs, you know. This is a conversation about playing golf in a certain time.”
The tour tracks pace of play according to a group’s position relative to the groups in front of it. If a group is deemed to have fallen behind the overall pace, all the players in the group are put on a clock, after which they have 40 seconds to complete a shot unless they are the first to hit in the group.
Once on the clock, a player has to exceed the time limit twice for a one-stroke penalty to be assessed. Players remain on the clock until they are deemed not to be out of position. DeChambeau’s groups were not placed on the clock Friday or Saturday.
Tommy Fleetwood, who was in DeChambeau’s Friday threesome, said, in reference to the putt and approach shot, “If we were on the clock he wouldn’t have taken that amount of time, for sure.”
DeChambeau argued that he strides quickly to his ball, and since he often out-drives the other players in his group, he hits last and can’t set up his next shot until it is his turn.
Obviously, not all shots carry the same degree of difficulty. And if the wind is blowing, as it was Saturday, and the greens are slick, a player is going to take longer than usual.
“If it’s not an easy shot, I’m going to take a little bit longer because that’s my job,” DeChambeau said. “I’m trying to do my absolute best. I’m trying to provide entertainment, and I hope that people can realize that it takes more than just me playing a shot in 30 seconds or 40 seconds for us to call it slow play.”
Justin Thomas, who rounded out DeChambeau’s threesome Friday, started two groups after him Saturday. DeChambeau was still holding court with reporters when Thomas, a major winner and former world No. 1, walked past him on his way to sign his scorecard.
Thomas didn’t need to stop to know what was being discussed.
“I like Bryson as a person, but he’s a slow golfer,” Thomas said, adding, “I hate saying this because I don’t want Bryson to think I’m throwing him under the bus or anything like that, but it’s just unfortunate where the pace of play is in the game at the moment.”
Thomas said there are others who need to play faster. But on Friday, DeChambeau was the one in his group and, hence, in his cross hairs. “It’s hard because I should have just said something to him in person,” Thomas said. “If I feel that strongly about it, I don’t need to hide behind it.”
DeChambeau said the criticism was on his mind during Saturday’s round. “It was stressful,” he said.