GOUGE: Although it probably went by unnoticed at countless courses and clubs across the known universe, a staggeringly important deadline came and passed a week ago. It is perhaps comforting that the entire equipment industry didn't go all Cinderella on us and turn into a pumpkin last Wednesday, but as I sit here and watch you bake in Tulsa at the PGA Championship, I think to myself: All in due time, all in due time. That's right, the end of the U.S. Golf Association’s Notice and Comment period on the proposal to roll back the grooves on clubfaces was Aug. 1, and while USGA Senior Technical Director Dick Rugge was not especially overwhelmed with the amount of comments he received from the industry, he did concede that it would take two or more months before the organization would complete its review of industry comments and announce any finalization of any rule change.
But rest assured, it's coming. I figure as two people who've watched this whole scenario play out over the last two-plus years, we’re in as good a position as any to postulate on what the rule might be. So here I go:
The proposed rule would essentially return groove volume and groove sharpness (edge radii, in the vernacular) to levels similar to the early 1980s or even earlier. The proposal would apply the new standard to all clubs, and it is generally agreed that 80 to 90 percent of all iron clubs would be in violation of the proposed standards.
In short, industry Armageddon.
Now, the USGA has spent a great deal of time and effort examining the issue. As such, do not expect Rugge and friends to come to the end of their study with nothing to show for it. Some kind of rule will happen. My guess? Based on its latest published study (on rough height and grooves) the rule will go through almost exactly as proposed with one important caveat: It will only apply to clubs with more than 30 degrees of loft, or basically anything with more loft than a typical 5-iron. The USGA will perceive this as a gesture of goodwill to the industry for the simple reason that for the most part it frees manufacturers from having to carve the new groove into clubs that have bulge and roll.
But to me that's the simple part. There are a host of other difficulties with this proposal, difficulties that even a hanging judge like me concedes will be problematic.
What about the grandfather period? Will it be 10 years? Doesn't that cause problems because in some competitions (USGA, NCAA, PGA Tour, PGA of America) the new grooves will be required and in others (state, local, club), they might not be, even though some of the competitors might be the same? It really isn't two sets of rules, but it sure sounds like two sets of rules to me, and that's not in line with the USGA and R&A's Joint Statement of Principles.
What about the difficulty of manufacturing to such exacting specifications? Given tolerances, won't many manufacturers have to dumb down their groove designs even more to make sure their finished products stay well under the limit? Or will they have to use precise milling methods on even their most basic level products to maximize performance, thus raising prices? (No, they wouldn't do that. They'll figure out something and I'll bet the result will be that those who want equipment that really maximizes performance will be the ones willing to pay the most for it. Doesn't exactly sound like "for the good of the game," does it?)
What about the enforcement process? The USGA Research and Test Center routinely is busy checking drivers and balls for conforming status, and those processes are fairly straightforward. What happens when the USGA has to go through every new iron set (both from Miura and TaylorMade as well as WalMart and Target) to make sure the groove pattern, groove edge radii and groove volume are legit? How many grooves need to be a problem before one set of irons is ruled non-conforming? How many grooves need to be nonconforming on a particular set for an entire product line to get put on the black list? Is there a statute of limitations? Will there be a groove reader set up on the first tee or scorer's shed on the PGA Tour? And given that to measure a single groove requires an eight-page procedural guide, should you and I quit our day jobs and sign up to be groove readers for the USGA?
I'm a big believer that the game should be extremely hard all the time (otherwise it's bowling with gutter guards), if only that everyone experience the tragedy that I face every time I tee it up. I think several huge mistakes were made in years past by the USGA when it comes to equipment, not the least of which was the give-up over square grooves two decades ago. I think changing the groove specifications is a fine idea in theory. But in practice, it poses some serious questions. I hope smarter people than me come up with a workable solution, like maybe making it a condition of competition for PGA Tour events only.
Because where is the average golfer in all of this? Dazed and confused, I'd imagine, not unlike how you might feel if you spend another 90 minutes at midday on the range at Southern Hills.
BOMB: Partner, when you and I split paths in Atlanta Monday you chose wisely. The heat here just flat-out sucks. And although I could stand to sweat off a couple pounds, I'd like to do so without the corresponding possibility of heat stroke.
But enough whining about that. In short, couldn't agree more with you for a change. The USGA is not going to spend all that time and money and say, "Guess what? No change needed." Also, the way they have tried to address all concerns, while very commendable and smart, also means they are covering all the bases.
Admittedly there are two things I am consistent on: that equipment is not ruining the game of golf as we know it and that the USGA should have the right to make the rules. In this instance, those two thoughts are opposing forces. This time, though, I think I have to stick with the bat makers. My reasons: It's entirely unenforceable. I mean, it's not even close, for all the reasons you mentioned. Second, I'm not convinced it will achieve the desired effect of returning accuracy to a place of greater importance in the pro game. And unless there is further evidence to support that, I don't think the manufacturers should have to change everything on a maybe.
Still, talking with one tour rep from a major equipment company on the range at Southern Hills today, the sound of inevitability is in the air. "[My boss] thinks it's going through pretty much as proposed," he said. "And he's pissed about it."
Pissed, er, sorry, exasperated, enough to litigate? Doubtful, but who knows. Maybe the practice range in Tulsa this week isn't the only thing getting a little hot. Stay tuned.