Hurry Up! Sports Has a Time Problem

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We’ve pounded on this topic in the past, and we’re going to keep pounding, because it’s important, and we’re in a hurry, with lots and lots of stuff to do:

Everything in sports…is…taking…waaaaaaaay…too…long.

How many times do I have to say this? We live in an impatient, 5G, instant download, Amazon Prime society. Nobody can stand waiting anymore. We want what we want, when we want it, and when is usually two days ago.

Hour-long wait at a restaurant? You have to be kidding me.

Movie taking two minutes to buffer on the iPad? I think I might die.

Another 850-word sports column about sporting events taking too long? Cut to the chase, Jason!

We’re all so restless and in a rush. Have you been to a baseball game recently? You can fly in a hot-air balloon from Chicago to San Diego—and then take a covered wagon back across the Rockies—in the time it takes to play the average baseball game.

I’m serious. My neighbor took his 4-year-old to a double-header this summer. By the time they got home, the kid was 6.

(The Journal’s baseball czar Jared Diamond rolls his eyes when I make fun of baseball’s pace of play. But I know for a fact that Jared brings a Harry Potter book to the press box every game—and finishes it by the fourth inning.)

Baseball has tried to improve pace of play by experimenting with a pitch clock in spring games.


Photo:

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

College football is worse. College football games drag on longer than, well, college. If it runs into overtime, you can tack on a couple of years of graduate school, and a medical degree. Nick Saban grows a long, shaggy beard by the end of the average Alabama game.

Even tennis is trying to speed up. Chair umpires now warn players who take too long with the bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce before their serves, even if it means getting a laser death stare from Novak Djokovic. We just had a Wimbledon men’s final with a new tiebreaker format that cut the match down to…OK, that match still lasted almost five hours, it’s probably not the best example.

Perhaps the most chronic time offender is golf. A sport invented to ruin the weekends of reasonable human beings, golf is not tailored for accelerated modern life.

You need at least four hours to play 18 holes of golf, and that’s if you’re playing briskly. Four free hours? Who do you think I am, Jay Gatsby? Do you think leisure time exists in 2019? I have to take the kids to a birthday party, shop for organic cheese sticks at Trader Joe’s, get the car washed, and it turns out the cat may finally have to go to the vet for a hairball thing.

Four hours? I can give you 20 minutes. How much golf can we do?

Even golf pros think golf can go on too long. Witness the recent controversy around the young golf star Bryson DeChambeau, a wildly talented, tournament-winning 25-year-old who sometimes moves around a golf course like, well, a tortoise on Benadryl.

A viral video made the rounds this past weekend of DeChambeau preparing for a putt at the Northern Trust. DeChambeau looks at his putt from one angle. Then he looks from another angle. Then another. DeChambeau spends more time prepping for this putt than I did for my wedding and the birth of my children combined.

The whole thing lasts…well, it only lasts a bit longer than two minutes, but it feels like forever. One of DeChambeau’s playing partners starts reading Dickens. The other crochets a cable-knit sweater. OK, I’m making that stuff up, but you get the point.

Here’s the big finale: he misses the putt. It’s like watching someone spend six hours making a pie, only to drop it on the ground.

DeChambeau seems to feel he’s getting scapegoated as the slow play villain. I refuse to pile on any further, because DeChambeau is one of golf’s more interesting human beings, and because I read that he’s studied stipple drawing—that’s right, the style of tiny dot drawing style that is used to illustrate the visages of business and world leaders in the pages of the Journal.

(Bryson! Give us a call! Let’s go stippling.)

A serve clock has been added in tennis.


Photo:

Michael Noble Jr./Associated Press

These are hard days for unhurried athletes. Take too long to putt, to pitch, to pass, to kick, to serve, and you’re going to be targeted for impatient ridicule. This is a world, after all, where people pay extra to cut the line at the amusement park. This is a world where people buy gin and tonic in a can. That’s right: we’re all in such an urgent scramble, we don’t have the two seconds it takes to mix gin with tonic.

Sports say they are trying to get better. They’re installing time clocks and cutting commercial breaks to lop minutes off the game.

They might want to get more aggressive. We’re on the go, barreling around, barely tapping the brakes. There’s no more luxurious leisure anymore. The era of the meandering sporting event is over. There’s a pre-made gin and tonic waiting at home. And I think that movie has finally loaded.

Share Your Thoughts

Is everything in sports taking way too long? Can pace of play be improved? Join the discussion.

Write to Jason Gay at Jason.Gay@wsj.com

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