To me the case is this: It’s not the rule that’s the problem. Agree or disagree whether the rule is needed (I, personally, never have thought it necessary), but once it is enacted—and it was enacted—get with the program and learn the dang rule if you want to play competitive golf or be a rules official for competitive golf. When I hear stories of players showing up at tournaments only to find out their clubs don’t conform (as has been the case at several events) I have zero sympathy.
Read the entry form, jackwagons.
What we had in the Sarah Brown incident wasn’t a problem with the groove rule. What we had was an abuse of power by a pair of rules officials. The rule was in place. A protocol for applying that rule was in place. It simply wasn’t followed. If it were, the officials would have seen Brown’s wedge was indeed on the list of conforming clubs and she would have been allowed to continue. Instead, the officials didn’t read far enough down the list (her model of club was the fifth of five Ping Tour-W 54 degree/10-degree bounce clubs listed), wrongly assumed her club was illegal and then wrongly removed her from the golf course. That’s not someone being driven to the brink of insanity. That’s someone not doing his or her job.
The same writer is blaming the USGA, said they “did not adequately prepare the world of golf for the changeover from old grooves to new grooves.” Bull. What is there to know? Prepare the world? The rule doesn’t apply to the world. Here’s your seminar: Read the entry form. It tells you if you need the new grooves or not and for what portion of the competition. If you do, there is a USGA list that tells you if yours are good or not. Sarah Brown read the rule, obtained conforming grooves from Ping and played with them. She’s 18 years old and was able to figure it out. Would it have been easier if the switch was universal? Sure. But it’s still pretty simple to figure out if you just pay attention.
Oh, and one last thing. The same article closes by saying “Now we are paying the price. Well, Sarah Brown is paying the price.” Well Sarah just reached a settlement with the tour. She was asking for prize money equivalent to 8 under par in the tournament ($5,638) and waiver of the entry fee to LPGA Q School which is another $5,000. That’s about $10,638 worth of monetary concessions if that is indeed what she received. For a player who has won just $5,302 in 11 events, if she’s being honest with herself, that’s a pretty good deal.
GOUGE: The rule is easy to follow. The USGA has even offered to test a professional's clubs if he or she is unsure about their status. Gratis.
Now, what would make it less confusing is if there weren't so many old-groove wedges still floating around, old-groove clubs the USGA has to keep track of on its conforming and non-conforming lists. The reason they're floating around, of course, is because they're still OK to use for college players, elite amateurs and everybody who doesn't get paid to play in a golf competition. The rollover for non-professionals doesn't begin until 2014 events and the rest of us don't need to purchase new-groove stuff until at least 2024. The USGA used those deadlines in an effort to be fair to working men and women who want to play in local city championships or club member-guest events. That was the only mistake here.
Let's put the rule in place for everybody—EVERYBODY—starting in 2012, 2014 at the latest. If you don't feel like playing by the rules, well then you just don't matter. (However, if such a huge number of people demand to play with clubs that have grooves that don't conform to the new standards, then we no longer have a game that matters.) In an ideal world, by the end of next year, old groove clubs should quickly have the reputation of the Bandit golf ball. Unacceptable for all but the lowest life forms in the game. The USGA didn't extend a grace period for average golfers so people could stock up on non-conforming equipment; the grace period existed so people could get new, conforming equipment in a reasonable amount of time. The ideal solution is to take all that old-groove stuff, melt it down and turn it into something useful. Like metal eyeglass frames for reading glasses that we can ship to rules officials. Just in case.
But for the lazy among you, here are some of the highlights: In metalwoods, the K15 line is being touted by Ping as "Straight Flight" technology. In other words, designed more for us choppers than tour pros. It will also be available as an hybrid/iron set, too. The Anser Forged irons and S56 irons (which Louis Oosthuizen—who made an appearance at the meeting—used to win the British Open) have been well documented by now, but the new women's line, called Faith, is a welcome addition.
But as always with Ping, it's interesting to see what's in the putter category and the company is coming with two new lines. The 14-putter Scottsdale line (including the intriguingly named Wolverine (shown), Y Worry and HoHum models) and the Karsten 1959 line (which includes an Anser and Anser 2 model) which, as the name suggests, looks quite classic. Why 1959? That was the year company founder Karsten Solheim introduced his first putter, the A-1.
— E. Michael Johnson
The key quotes from the announcement are these:
--“[W]e have concluded that raising the issue again through another widespread request for manufacturers' opinions would likely result in similar divergent non-consensus views and could cause additional confusion in the marketplace. Accordingly, after giving due consideration to all the views expressed, the Governing Bodies have decided not to change their earlier position that assembly and distribution of pre-2010 clubs into the marketplace (or 'retail environment,' the synonymous term used by The R&A), should conclude by the end of 2010.”
--”Our goal has always been to achieve a smooth transition to the new groove rules, while minimizing the impact of the changes for all golfers. In this particular case, however, we concluded that a necessary component of the establishment of a crossover date for implementation of the new rule should include reference to ‘manufactured by’ and ‘sold by’ dates. Such inclusions are very rare and the Governing Bodies believe that while careful management by the manufacturing community is needed, this arrangement will result in much less impact on the vast majority of golfers than a single date for the introduction of the Rule.”
--”We have also been asked by some manufacturers how we intend to monitor compliance with the ‘sell by’ provisions. In short we do not see it as our role to actively monitor the distribution of equipment by manufacturers. In keeping with the spirit of the game in which golfers regulate their own compliance with the Rules, we trust and believe that the same ethic will prevail within the manufacturing community on this issue.”
Now, my sense of this whole series of clarifications is that it was the right thing to do. However, I still think it would be just fine if everybody (PGA Tour, U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, next year's Mixed Member-Guest, etc.) had to play by the new groove rules starting Jan. 1, 2011. It’s no less enforceable than the sell-by rule, and yet if this change is so important to the future of the game, what is the harm in making it international law immediately? It’s like the stroke and distance penalty no one observes when they hit their first tee ball out of bounds on No. 1 every Saturday morning. Let everybody who’s playing golf for fun continue to play whatever game they think they’re playing, and everybody who thinks they’re actually participating in a golf competition adopt the new provisions no later than right now. Eventually, everybody will play equipment that adheres to the new rules, and by the time everybody comes around to the new rules it should be no later than 2024 anyway, by which time we will have forgotten there was ever anything like a Zip Groove.
BOMB: Goodness, I thought I was reading one of my business law books from my college years at Boston University. But for the most part, in a colossal upset, I actually agree with you that they should keep the date as is. Argue as much as you want whether or not the groove rule should have ever been implemented (and the statistical data, to date, indicates the effect has been minimal at best), but the rule's in place so now let's get on with it -- and that includes implementing the “sell by” date. Manufacturers have made their business plans based on it, so to change it now would be unfair. So give a brownie point to the governing bodies for sticking to it.
But there’s one thing I’d like everyone who plays the game on a recreational level to ponder: Maybe, just maybe, wedges with the new grooves will actually help your game. That’s right, help it. Be honest with yourself, you’re not hitting that one hop, stop, and check shot. What you are doing is leaving your approach shots, chips and pitches short of the hole almost every time. So what will a little roll out do for you? Get you closer to the hole. Partner, remember that little experiment we did with some of my fellow members and golf shop hands at Rock Ridge CC? The one where we gave them wedges with the ld and new grooves? The one where half of them thought the new groove was the old groove? The one where they actually ended up closer to the hole on average with the new groove? Thought so. It's in the August issue. In other words, let the new wedges in the marketplace—because it’s not going to impact everyday players one way or the other.
The letter decries the increased distances of recent years that led to the lengthening of the Road Hole by 40 yards for this week’s Open Championship at St. Andrews. Their general sentiment is that the change is a travesty, and more importantly an indication that the golf ball is out of control. Or more precisely, as the letter states, “increased golf ball distance has increased the danger golfers, greenkeepers and the public face. On the same angles of dispersion, golf balls travel a greater distance, creating safety problems on and around old golf courses and the need for greater safety margins on new golf courses.”
Let’s wonder a bit if the golf ball goes too far or even dangerously far, as the haters suggest. First, no average golfer who pays his own green fees would sincerely believe the ball is going too far. He or she would wish that it would go farther, frankly. So as a universal statement, it seems laughable to suggest the ball goes too far for me or you or 95 percent of the people we know. It is not laughable to suggest, however that the ball is going significantly farther today than it did 20 years ago for elite players. Emphasis on elite players.
Statistically, from the PGA Tour, the averages show a flattening. It’s what the R&A and the USGA repeatedly tout as the reason not to roll back the ball. But when Paul Goydos is hitting it about the same distance Dan Pohl did 30 years ago but ranks 171st instead of first, we know we’re in a different era. Dig a little deeper and you see that there are now 40 players on the Nationwide Tour averaging more than 300 yards in driving distance. Five years ago that number was 36 and the average driving distance on the warm-up tour is two yards greater today than it was five years ago, and 17 yards greater than it was 10 years ago. Those are higher than PGA Tour averages, but only slightly. There are a lot more 350-yard-plus drives on tour today than a decade ago, but really the numbers this year are a little lower than they were last year, a little higher than they were the year before that and within the neighborhood of what they were five years ago.
Step down another level, at the elite college and amateur level, and you will see the more than occasional 350-yard drive there, too. And if you want to creep further down Apocalypse Road, you might notice that average ballspeed on the PGA Tour (the speed of the ball as it leaves the face of the driver at impact) has increased almost 1 mile per hour (OK, 0.7 mph) in the last three years. Are these clouds covering the horizon, signaling the approach of a tropical cyclone? I mean, I don't want to sound like golf's version of Rachel Carson here just yet, but are these signs of something cataclysmic festering?
In a word, truly, umm, I don't know. When I hear our own Max Adler, scratch player and recent participant in the U.S. Amateur Public Links talking about being outdriven by 60 or 70 yards by one of his fellow competitors, I'm curious as to the disparity between very, very good and stupid good. And those differences don't have anything to do with improved athleticism. But is the resulting increased distance a cause for bloviating swoons, Shakespearean tragedy and ultimately fear over possible human carnage? I don't really think so.
I think what it means is that elite players hit the ball unconscionably farther than even decent average players, but that might be all. We could seriously think again about two sets of rules, but more likely changing nothing other than a few holes at the 200 or so golf courses around the world that host elite events might be the only action necessary, if that.
Then again, there's this: The way the Old Course was pounded into submission Thursday morning certainly gives one pause. Right now, the morning wave was 106-under-par for the day. But then you notice that the same 7,300 yards, with a bit of weather, showed a bit more teeth. At this moment the afternoon wave, equally talented one should assume, is 39-over-par and likely getting worse. So do we roll back the ball because of the 106-under, or do we keep it where it is because of the 39-over? (UPDATE: At day's end, the afternoon wave was 67-over. SIXTY-SEVEN.) But maybe you've got some equally compelling numbers of your own.
BOMB: Oh, I’ve got the numbers all right. All you have to do is look at a story our architecture editor, Ron Whitten, did for the British Open preview in Golf World.In that article, Whitten cites the following: “Statistics showed the average drive by European Tour players was 287 yards in 2003 and down a yard to 286 yards in 2009. American PGA Tour statistics were similar, he said: 287 yards in 2003, 288 yards in 2009.”
So all the hullabaloo is over a yard. One stinking yard. Get up out of your chair, take one long step, and that’s what we’re worrying about. I mean seriously, what do these people want? A 5 percent rollback? That’s 14 yards. Now, that would bring average distance back to the level it was in 2000. But to what end? I am so tired of rules that will affect every golfer being made because the best 200 or 300 golfers in the world can blast the ball obscene distances. Golf, my friend, is a professional SPORT. It is not a game. It is a sport. And in a sport, physical prowess should count for something. As for course getting longer, that’s pure ego on the part of course owners. I’ve played plenty of courses that are plenty good for everyday players at under 6,500 yards. And tour venues such as Harbour Town and Pebble Beach show you don’t need 7,400 yards to test the game’s best. And honestly, I think architects complaining about the length of courses is a bit laughable. Feel that strongly about it? Then just turn down the job.
As for all the “danger,” involved, I’m not really sure what the architects are talking about. At a professional golf tournament the hazard of being struck with a ball is probably less than getting nailed with a batted ball at a baseball game. And I don’t see the houses next to my home course peppered with pock marks from errant shots. Of course, there’s a good reason for that. In Whitten’s article, Otto also stated that the average driving distance of average golfers in 2000 was 207 yards. In 2008 it was 208 yards.
Well that is quite the hazard to the game as we know it, now isn’t it?
Fans watching the pro-am at the John Deere Classic yesterday may have done a double-take when they saw Tim Clark using a conventional-length putter. After all, Clark won the Players earlier this year using an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball long putter and has used the broomstick for several years. As it turned out, the diminutive South African wasn't trying a new putting strategy. Rather, his clubs had yet to make it to TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., the result of an airline luggage issue.
"I'm just praying they come tomorrow," said Clark. "They haven't been delivered to the hotel yet, so I'm hoping -- they're coming in from Chicago today, so we'll find out."
Although missing his club, Clark said it wasn't a big problem as far as his pre-tournament preparation went. "I still got out there today and saw the golf course," said Clark, who said he does not have a backup set. "The only thing I'm missing really is my putter. That's the one thing I'm not going to be able to get back. I couldn't really get a feel for the greens, but I'll have time tomorrow morning to come out and practice.
"This is really the first time that this has sort of happened to me. I've had them not come on my way home, which doesn't matter. But this is the closest I've got to a tournament round without having them. ... if I don't have them tomorrow, I'll be in trouble."
-- E. Michael Johnson
“He tested several versions,” said Rock Ishii, Nike’s product development director for golf balls. “He wanted a less spin 'wind advantage' ball for St. Andrews." Woods saw the benefits at Aronimink, ranking second in driving distance at an eye-catching 324.8 yards. “I’ve driven the ball better this week than I have in a very long time,” said Woods. “It’s fun to hit the driver that way.”
While fun to hit the driver that way, Woods may opt not to make this a permanent switch. Although Woods historically sticks with equipment once he has switched, this change of ball appears to be British Open-specific. However, going back and forth between the two balls may not be out of the question. “I tried about eight years ago to get him to play two types of golf ball depending on conditions but couldn’t,” said Ishii. “This ball is eight points softer compression which reduces spin while the 336-dimple pattern gives him a slightly higher launch. Now he is more willing to take advantage of the technology if he sees a true benefit.”
-- E. Michael Johnson
Titleist is teaming its wedge R&D (led by Bob Vokey) with its tour department (they had previously worked in separate locales) to provide customers such options as stamping of initials (up to eight characters in three styles), personal paintfill choices (20 of them) as well as shaft band, shaft and grip options on wedges previously not available to the public except through their limited edition line, which often was sold out. Even toe engravings (40 choices) are available.
The wedges, Vokey’s TVD grind model, boast a crescent-shaped sole grind with medium bounce. The sole grind provides heel and toe relief for more versatility. The clubs are available in different finishes, including a new bright brushed chrome and an “oil can zero” finish, which is a little more of a matte finish than the original oil can, but will, like the original, rust over time. The grooves will be the aggressive pre-2010 grooves with condition of competition grooves available come September. Lofts available will be 52 through 60 in 2-degree increments.
Such detail requires attention to detail, which is why all the clubs will be built by the very folks who create wedges for the tour players, Vokey’s own design team. From the time an order is placed until clubs are in a player’s hands is two weeks max and possibly less, according to Titleist.
Of course, custom clubs don’t come cheap. The wedges themselves are $150 and the price goes up depending on the extent of the personal options. A personal grip and four stamped characters adds $25. The full deal of eight stamped characters, toe engraving, custom paintfill, shaftband and custom grip tacks on $50 extra.