Ping Goes Public With USGA Letter

Discontent from manufacturers with the USGA's grooves ruling is growing and Ping has fired the first shot

The Grooves Ruling

Jim Herity

August 7, 2008

While the announcement on Tuesday of a rollback in the rules governing grooves is still being digested by the industry, the heat of growing discontent between a few manufacturers and golf's ruling bodies is starting to bubble to the surface.

Not surprisingly, Ping is first to fire a salvo, providing to the public a letter sent from company chairman, president and CEO John Solheim to Dick Rugge, USGA Senior Technical Director in early January. It was 20 years ago that Solheim's father Karsten, founder of Ping, was embroiled in a similar grooves controversy with both the USGA and the PGA Tour.

According to the letter, Solheim questions the statistical link between a decline in driving accuracy and the effect of "square" grooves on success on the PGA Tour. It's a link Rugge and the USGA pointed to early on in establishing the need to study the effect of certain grooves on the spin being generated by shots from the rough.

Among the six-page letter's sharpest points is Solheim's belief that "the changes to historical money list/driving accuracy correlations the USGA relies on to prop up its proposed ban of conforming square grooved irons is likely the result of who is, and who is not, playing at various PGA Tour events--rather than having anything to do with grooves."

Also, Solheim says the connection is less certain because "there are far too many 'uncontrolled' or 'unrecorded' variables at play. He continues, "We do not know which of the many types of grooves were used by each tour pro for each iron and wedge shot at each PGA Tour event. We also do not know the condition of the grooves (whether worn or not) -- nor do we know the specific length of the grass from which each shot was taken."

Interestingly, tour players, generally, seem enthusiastic about the change, which goes into effect for elite competition beginning in 2010 and for USGA amateur events starting in 2014. Typical was a response from Sergio Garcia, who said on Wednesday at the PGA Championship, "I think it's going to take a premium into driving the ball well. Maybe make you think a little bit more off the tee. Maybe decide to give a little bit of distance off the tee to make sure you hit the fairway. And then it's going to get quite interesting when you hit it in the rough. Probably the rough won't be quite as high. I mean, the flyer lies will be a lot easier. You'll get a lot more flyer lies and things like that with the change of the grooves.

"It's going to come down to a lot of feel, a lot of kind of guessing game when you miss the fairway, which is good. It makes you think a little bit, and without having to make the rough really deep and really difficult, you still have to think your way around the course, which is good."

Rugge said Tuesday that he thought the level of cooperation between manufacturers and the USGA in developing the rule was "professional."

"The process was very inclusive and I think manufacturers felt that way," he said. "I would characterize the process as very professional. I would characterize all our relationships as friendly. In this case, I would say it was a very professional job that they did in giving us their inputs, and we very much appreciated that. It bodes well for the future."

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has expressed its support of the rule change. "The new groove rule creates a greater array of flexibility for course setup because you're not boxed in to having to grow the rough deep," said Steve Horner, vice president of business development for the PGA Tour. "There are a bunch of great courses whose inherent design features do not call for heavy rough.

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