Iona Stephen: “Slow play has to be punished, regardless of a golfer’s status”

Watching Patrick Cantlay play golf, it’s no wonder your weekend competitions are taking longer than ever to complete.

If that’s the example we’re letting the pros set without punishment, then how can we expect youngsters and amateurs to adhere to the rules?

I don’t buy the argument that every shot could be worth huge sums of money or a big title for the pros. The rules are the rules for everyone – from the Masters down to the Sunday Medal, the pace of play must be respected and if it’s not then players must be punished. If the likes of Rahm and Koepka can get to the ball, make a decision and pull the trigger in a matter of seconds under the utmost pressure, then anyone can.

Patrick Cantlay is regularly accused of slow play on tour.

But until the referees crackdown on the likes of Cantlay, there’s no reason for those responsible for slowing the game down to change their ways.

The 2023 Masters marked a decade since the last slow play penalty was handed out at Augusta… to a 14-year-old rookie.

Guan Tianlang was punished for slow play at The Masters in 2014.

Now, many felt that punishing Guan Tianlang, the youngest player ever to appear at the Masters, was harsh, but I had no issue with it all. Sentiment cannot come into it when rules are being broken. He breached the rule, didn’t respond to a warning and faced the consequences. What I do have an issue with is the inconsistency – there is no way that Cantlay was playing any faster than Tianlang, so why wasn’t he warned and punished? The referees have a stopwatch out there for a reason and they can’t be penalizing some and not others. Your age, name, or reputation is irrelevant.

Iona Stephen is calling on referees to crack down on slow play.

Cantlay says that he was also waiting on every tee, but I was covering the 15th and 16th holes for CBS and there was a notable change in pace when his group was due on the tee. You become very aware of these things when you work in television because you must fill an extra 20 or 30 seconds and that takes quite a bit of work. It might not sound a lot but try it and you’ll realize it’s challenging.

Of all the players in the field, I was most aware of Cantlay’s pace of play and I don’t think it’s good enough, Major or no Major.

Slow play is a real threat to our game and it’s painfully boring to watch. I appreciate there’s a lot on the line at the Grand Slam events, but there are millions of people watching around the world. If it becomes like watching paint dry, then it could be disastrous.

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka spent a lot of time waiting during the final round at The Masters.

Seeing Koepka and Ramm standing on that 16th tee as Cantlay took an age to read his putt – well, Brook’s facial expression said it all. I nearly left the booth to put the kettle on because I just couldn’t handle it anymore, I’d probably have been back before he holed out.

Golf has enjoyed a boom in recent years but we don’t want amateurs and youngsters seeing professionals reading their putt 20 times and thinking that’s the way to play. The pros need to remember that everything that happens at the top level translates back to the roots.

Playing slowly rarely helps you play better golf either. Playing with rhythm, intuition and freeness is what often leads to good golf. If you’re analyzing everything within an inch of its life, it doesn’t help.

What do you think? Share your views on slow play with us on Twitter.

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About the author

Iona Stephen is a golf broadcaster and writes for Today's Golfer.

Iona Stephen – Broadcaster and Today’s Golfer contributor

Iona Stephen is a former professional golfer, who has played on the Ladies European Tour, and is a highly-respected golf broadcaster.

She joined Today’s Golfer as a regular contributor in 2023 and offers insight into the professional game from her life working on the world’s biggest tours.

Stephen’s career has seen her work for Sky Sports Golf, CBS, the BBC, and NBC Golf Channel covering everything from The Masters and The Open, to the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup. She has also hosted prize presentations to a global audience at some of the DP World Tour’s flagship events.

The Scotswoman is as comfortable covering the game from the commentary booth as she is broadcasting in front of the camera and from the course, where she is regularly seen interviewing the world’s best players during their rounds.

Alongside her television work, Stephen also has her own YouTube channel – On The Road With Iona – which has welcomed guests including Jon Rahm, Niall Horan, Rick Shiels, Bronte Law, and Martin Slumbers.

She is also the first-ever female on-course commentator in EA Sports gaming history and can be heard on PGA Tour Road to The Masters.

Outside of golf, Stephen is an ambassador for the charity BIG CHANGE, supporting young people throughout the UK to thrive in life, not just exams. She also has an interest in optimizing health and energy for elite performance in sports and life and has a diploma in sports nutrition and a level 2 PT qualification.

She is also a mentor as part of the Stephen Gallagher Foundation buddy system and has a degree in history of art from the University of St Andrews.

Follow Iona on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and TikTok and find out more at

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