Pace of play of first round is ‘ridiculous,’ ‘insane,’ ‘just sad’

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – With apologies to the USGA’s sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, the longest day of golf this year was the opening round of the 150th British Open at The Old Course.

“It’s just a joke, isn’t it?” said reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick of his round alongside Tiger Woods and Max Homa, which clocked in at 6 hours, 10 minutes. “This just shouldn’t be happening ever in golf.”

Fitzpatrick nailed it, but he also conceded there was little to be done about it, given that with modern equipment seven of the par-4 holes are drivable, and the conditions had most everyone waiting on the tee to swing for the fences, often not even needing a club under a head cover.

“It’s the way the golf course is set up. It’s how firm it is. The way the golf course is designed. You’re crossing over a lot, and to get better angles and better lines, you’ve got to hit across all the fairways,” Fitzpatrick explained. “There’s nothing you can do unfortunately about it. It’s just sad more than anything. It’s just ridiculous.”

The morning wave turned in a brisk 5 hours and 30 minutes, by comparison. In the afternoon, there were some odd moments such as waving up Tiger’s group to tee off at the par-5 14th.

“Wait on the tee for a while and then they said we were going to hit up on them, and they let us drive, so, we hit our drive,” Homa said. “Then when we got up there, we waited 20 minutes for them to hit, which meant we had to wait another 20 after that for us to hit. It was very bizarre.”

Not just bizarre but the snail’s pace prevented players from finding any rhythm.

“I felt like everything was like choppy,” Homa said. “It was just an insane amount of waiting.”

The traffic jam got so bad that Homa’s group actually returned the favor and waved up the group of Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Harold Varner III at the 18th. At that point, were they really saving time? But this happened on several other holes, too, including the fifth, seventh, ninth and 12th.

Rory McIlroy was the most diplomatic when asked about the stop-start nature of the round.

“I think St Andrews is that way,” he said. “There’s a lot of crisscrossing and waiting on other greens and waiting on greens to clear because the drivable par-4s.

So I think, especially the first two days when it’s the full field, it’s to be expected. It is what it is. Thankfully it speeds up over the weekend and two balls, and it gets moving a little bit more. But I think playing this tournament, you expect it to be that way the first couple of days.”

McIlroy, who waited 20 minutes on the fifth tee, sounded like a man in a state of bliss after shooting a 66. The old Tiger-ism ‘It is what it is’ rings hollow in this case; it is what it shouldn’t be. It doesn’t get dark until after 10 o’clock here and there’s no reason for daylight to be an issue. Yet, still players finished in the gloaming in front of abandoned grand stands.

Six hour-plus rounds? That’s both insane and sad, and it needs to be fixed.

As Fitzpatrick put it, it should never happen in golf.