BOMB: It’s not Pebble Beach, but the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., is a home game for us and too good an opportunity to roam the range to pass up. Most interesting tidbit of the morning? Well, remember those new Titleist drivers—the 910 D2 and 910 D3 that went on the USGA’s conforming list of driver heads and then were quickly removed? The 910 D2 and 910 D3 with SureFit? Seems like Titleist will be bringing them out next week at the AT&T National at Aronimink GC. (And, yes, they're back on the Conforming List.) Titleist has been a solid No. 2 in drivers on tour for a while now. Should be interesting to see if these new clubs produce some extra traction.
GOUGE: Probably not mid-season they won't, but I bet there will be a few extra in play at the PGA Championship with plenty of Titleist club pros in the field. But while those snazzy new Titleist drivers (some sort of shaft adjustability will be part of its story) will be on tour, don't expect one at your local Edwin Watts or Golf Galaxy until at least October. Seems a little silly since they're all over the internet already, but I don't market golf clubs.Then again, with the way counterfeiters are working, you could probably see one matriculating its way through the street vendors in Shanghai well before that. U.S. Golf manufacturers are doing their best to stem the onrushing tide of lookalike products that aren't legit, but like drug-testing it's hard to stay on top of the bad guys.
We're hearing new stuff from Ping, Callaway, Cobra-Puma, Odyssey and Mizuno is just around the corner, too. In other words, the candidates for the 2011 Hot List are already lining up.
Now, I know a lot of folks feel bad for Lee, but here’s the deal—if you’re going to play, you have to know the freaking rules. It’s not like the USGA or the Washington State Golf Association kept this a secret. The groove requirements were on the entry form and reinforced with an e-mail to contestants. The USGA also offered to check clubs for free (only 13 players—13!—have taken them up on this). And at the Washington qualifier, an official on the first tee reminded them once more.
Yet along with Lee (who actually knew the rule but inadvertently put the wedges in her bag), two others withdrew because they said they couldn’t procure conforming wedges while another contestant went into battle with only 12 clubs after learning on the first tee two of her wedges didn’t conform. Seriously, it’s not that hard to understand, is it? It’s like a couple of years ago when Steve Elkington pulled out of a Open qualifier because he couldn’t wear metal spikes. But it was right on the entry form that he couldn’t. Lee’s disqualification, while unfortunate, points out yet again that players are responsible for knowing the rules, whether it be signing a scorecard, knowing there are only 14 clubs allowed in the bag or what spikes or grooves are acceptable. Period.
GOUGE: Knowing the rules is one thing. Being confused by them is another, and while golf is awash in confusing rules (what other recreational sport devotes pages of its leading publications to rules pages and rules quizzes?), it certainly doesn't need more confusion. But the groove rule by its very nature is confusing because you can't see it when you hold it right in front of your face. But its most confusing aspect is its staggered implementation process. The theory in setting up different deadlines for implementation (2010 for elite professional events, 2014 for all amateur championship events) and at least 2024 for all golfers and their handicaps) was not to put an undue hardship on the game's paying customers. Admirable? Certainly. Smart? Probably. A recipe for disasters such as we saw with Miss Lee? Most definitely.
Golf is a game of honor, but I think it would have been better for all parties concerned that the rule go into effect for everyone at the same time. We know where product lifecycles are today. It clearly would have been easier and less confusing if one year, 2012 for instance, was the year everyone needed to be using the new clubs. I still think that would be a better idea than waiting until Tiger Woods is ready for the Champions Tour.
Look at it this way: I know you won't be thrilled when you're playing the club championship next year at Rock Ridge with your freshly purchased post-2010 wedges and your opponent is unsheathing a pair of previously unused pre-2010, Spin Zip Milled wedges he stockpiled in December of this year. You thought the accusations that got Erynne Lee DQ'd were nasty. What's it going to be like at the member-guest in 2013? Get the aggressive groove wedges out of the game, for everyone, now. Come to think of it, it would be even better if the USGA and the PGA Tour combined to set up a Cash for Clunkers program to get rid of these blights on golf's environment. Together anything's possible, right?
"You may recall that the mantra from Far Hills has been something along the lines of "the correlation between driving-accuracy rank and money-winning rank on the PGA Tour is very low." Now it's early, it's not much, in fact it's downright miniscule for May, but here is a possible difference over last year and has the potential to support the above mantra: Right now, nine of the top 20 in driving accuracy are also in the top 50 on the money list: (accuracy ranking/money list)
Brian Gay 1/39
Heath Slocum 3/40
Tim Clark 4/4
Jim Furyk 7/3
Ben Crane 11/7
Zach Johnson 13/16
Scott Verplank 15/43
Jason Bohn 17/18
Matt Kuchar 19/11
"Last year, for the season there were five (accuracy/money list):
Tim Clark 3/37
Brian Gay 7/13
Zach Johnson 8/4
Scott Verplank 9/34
Heath Slocum 11/36"
For starters, good lord, man, get the numbers right. There weren’t five last year, there were six (David Toms was fourth in accuracy, 14th in money). But you can cherry pick just about any numbers and make your point. Additionally, the author of that post failed to look at the flip side. Want to know how many of the top 50 in money are outside the top 100 in accuracy? Try 22—almost half. Included in that group are five of the top 10 in earnings and the two at the top of the heap. Ernie Els at 129th in accuracy and Phil Mickelson at 185th. That’s out of 190 players, folks. And those numbers don’t even include Tiger Woods, who hasn’t played enough to be listed.
Further, seven players ranked in the top 20 in accuracy also are outside the top 100 in earnings. How are Craig Bowden (10th in accuracy, 202nd in earnings), Chris DiMarco (eighth in accuracy, 189th in earnings) or Jay Williamson (ninth in accuracy, 172nd in earnings) doing? But now I, too, am somewhat cherry picking. Mr. Shackelford’s fan tried to make a point about "the correlation between driving-accuracy rank and money winning rank on the PGA Tour" without doing the math to figure out the actual correlation. I know you’ve been crunching those numbers in your downtime, partner. What did you come up with?
GOUGE: Numbers are a dangerous thing, dangerous enough, as we've seen, to change the rules of the game. Still, I trotted out my Excel spreadsheet expertise and did my best to compare money rank with driving accuracy. This "correlation coefficient," as statistics experts call it, basically describes how two sets of numbers are related to each other. In our case, a correlation coefficient of +1.0 would mean that money rank was exactly mirrored by driving accuracy rank (1st on the money list was also 1st in driving accuracy, and so on). Conversely, a score of -1.0 would mean the opposite (last on the money list was first in driving accuracy, or first on the money list was last in driving accuracy). A score of 0 would mean no relationship between accuracy and money list rank.
As stated above, the USGA was interested in returning driving accuracy to the level of correlation coefficient it was in the 1980s (approximately .5). In other words the idea was to make driving accuracy an important indicator of, or contributor to, success. One motivation for the groove research and rule change is that the correlation coefficient had dropped to around 0 in the years 2003-2006.
So what's happened this year with the rule change? Has the correlation coefficient zoomed up to 1980s levels? Ummm...No. By my calculations, it's around 0.12. What does that mean exactly? Could mean several things, some proving the USGA's point, some not.
First, the number is a little less than the average of the years 1995-2006. Not an indication that the rule has sparked a fundamental change in the way the leading money winners play the game. Some could argue that if the loss in spin control was that big a deal, only players who were accurate off the tee would be consistently successful. Clearly, that's not happening right now. Yet. In fact, the number is a lot closer to a ZERO correlation between money list rank and driving accuracy then it is the correlation number of the 1980s.
Second, you could say that the groove rule effect hasn't happened yet because conditions have been too soft (in general) on the PGA Tour this year. (Of course, you could argue that a rule change of this type shouldn't be that dependent on course and weather conditions to be effective.)
Third, and in contrast to points 1 and 2, conditions are typically drier and firmer through the rest of the year, and that's where the decreased volume of grooves could have a critical impact. In other words, the correlation only should go up. The U.S. Open should be a prime example. In other words, I could envision a scenario where the penalty for the rough being slightly higher than the usually stated principle of half a stroke.
Fourth, and perhaps most telling (and admittedly complicated), if this number held through the year, this increase in the correlation could mark the largest single year bump since the stats have been kept (1980). Let's remember this: The correlation dropped in equally big chunks and stabilized twice over the last 20 years (first drop came in 1992 and stabilized for the next decade; second drop came in 2003 and stabilized through 2009). (See the USGA's Statistical Analysis here.) One could say those drops neatly correspond to two developments (widespread use of square grooves in the first case; widespread use of solid-core, multilayer urethane covered balls in the second case). Since the USGA is really only going after one of those causes (grooves), the most improvement in the correlation that we might see is halfway back to what it was in the 1980s. Something like .25, for instance. So then it would seem based on the halfway numbers from this year, we are halfway toward what's possible.
Worn out yet? Well, here's my best guess. It's way too early to tell. If it took an analysis of 25 years of PGA Tour data to see a trend, six months ain't showing us diddly. Get back to me in late 2012 at the earliest.
Well, personally, I don’t see the big deal. I enjoyed watching great shots and I enjoyed looking at the venerable venue. But I’ll allow for the dissenting opinion that perhaps Colonial has outlived its usefulness. I just hope that opinion doesn’t come from those saying the ball is going too far. The all-drives stat for the week showed the average at a less-than-robust 277 yards. Further, those topping the leader board weren’t exactly bombing it. The top eight finishers had an average driving distance rank for the week of 48th (out of 76 players). Six of those players (including the top 2 finishers), were in the bottom half of the field in distance. Corey Pavin finished T-7 while being dead last in distance. Mr. Technology himself -- Phil Mickelson—couldn’t match par in either of his two rounds.
This isn’t a case of technology overwhelming the golf course. Players have been beating up on Colonial since the mid-1980s. Fulton Allem shot 264 in 1993. That’s lower than seven of the 10 winning scores from 2000 to 2009—the large-driver, solid-core ball era. John Feinstein was on Golf Central last night and he made two points. The first I agree with, that Colonial needs to make some changes to stay relevant but that it doesn’t have to come through adding distance. The second, that we shouldn’t allow such low scores on a course that once hosted a U.S. Open is ridiculous. Begging the wizard’s pardon, sure, it was a U.S. Open course—in 1941. There’s a reason the USGA hasn’t been back since and it ain’t just the weather.
GOUGE: Colonial isn't what it was, but after enough time nothing is, so what's the big deal? Is it disturbing average approach shot distance for the week at Colonial (160.7 yards) was four yards short of the season average? Not really. It was the same as at HarbourTown for the Verizon Heritage. What may be a little more telling is the greens in regulation percentage was about four points higher last week at Colonial than it was for the year. Maybe it means the greens are too soft for elite competition. Then again, a run of the mill PGA Tour event seems less and less like an elite competition anymore. To give you an idea, the GIR for a U.S. Open is generally in the low 50s. For Colonial last week, it was nearly 69 percent. That's borderline too easy. (The Bob Hope, which is way too easy for example, was 73.5 percent this year). Only five tournaments had higher field GIRs than Colonial. Only four tournaments had a longer average driving distance for the week.
What's it all mean? It means ultimately you can't pencil-whip your way around talent. PGA Tour players will beat the best architectural plans into the ground when nothing stands in their way. Keith Foster was praised everywhere and rightly so for his thoughtful renovation of Colonial two years ago. Is that renovation obsolete now? What new technology has occurred in the last 18 months to make the course obsolete? None. How many golf courses has John Feinstein designed? As many as I have. There are ways to make Colonial resist scoring. But soft fairways and soft greens won't help. Especially when they are as smooth as billiard tables.
When it comes down to it, the sizzling scores at Colonial might be attributed to one thing: Putting. There were more feet of putts made at Colonial last week than on any event on the PGA Tour this year. The average total length of putts made was 78 1/4 feet for the week, nearly 10 percent higher than the year-long average. And there's no course change short of windmills that can stop that from happening.