June 7 (Reuters) - The first serious attempt to speed up play on a major golf tour was overwhelmingly rated a success by players in the opening round of the Shot Clock Masters in Austria on Thursday.
Players were timed on every shot, allowed either 40 or 50 seconds, with the prospect of a one-stroke penalty hanging over their heads if they failed to hit the ball on time.
Rounds were completed about 40 minutes quicker than normal on the European Tour and not a single penalty was handed out as the players quickly adapted and officials kept their red cards in their pockets at Diamond Country Club near Vienna.
Some threesomes completed 18 holes in less than four hours, nearly an hour quicker than average, and none took more than a few minutes over the four-hour mark.
Soren Kjeldsen said he had adapted quickly to the need to be decisive.
“You decide I’m not going to back off even if there’s a sound or a fly or something like that,” the veteran Dane said after a three-under-par 69.
“I was surprised how much that helped me because in a way you’re more committed, because (you are thinking) I’m going to hit now, no matter what.
“That was a learning experience for me.”
Swede Peter Hanson also embraced the change.
“I’m loving it,” Peter Hanson said after a 67 that left him one stroke behind fellow Swedish leader Oscar Lengden.
“We played the front nine in 1 hour 55 (minutes) and managed to get in under four hours.
“It’s so nice to play. You don’t overdo things, don’t think too much and everybody’s ready to play.
“I think this is the way we should play golf, the way I was born and raised to play the game.”
American Billy Horschel, who is not playing in Austria, also weighed in.
“Amazing how fast rounds go when players play within the rules,” he tweeted. “Wish we had something like this on the PGA Tour.”
The format is being tried amid ongoing concerns that a round of golf takes too long at the professional level, setting a bad example for amateurs.
There have been half-hearted attempts to speed up play, but none as serious as this week’s experiment in Austria.
Normally in professional golf, players are timed only if their group has fallen out of position on the course. (Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Ed Osmond)