Gear & EquipmentMarch 17, 2011

Further clarification over groove clamor

Because you probably haven't had enough of it yet, I wanted to update on the latest back-and-forth over a recent Sports Illustrated first-person column bemoaning the hardship on amateurs being required to use new groove-rule clubs written by a Mr. John Ziegler, club champion at California's Oakmont Country Club.__ In yesterday's post here, I suggested that amateurs have plenty of lower-cost alternatives to Mr. Ziegler's proposed $1,000 estimated cost for a new set of conforming irons.__ Those wondering should be aware that the USGA, as it announced in September 2009, will be extending the new groove rule to U.S. Open Local Qualifying, in essence requiring all the thousands of entrants to use irons and wedges that meet the new standard.

In his response to my post, he seems upset. He makes many arguments. He asks me to apologize.

I don't think I can.

I'm not singling out Mr. Ziegler. Let me emphasize that my fundamental point has nothing to do with money. Whether it's $100 or ten times that amount (and as I've said I think it can be much less than the latter), competing for the national championship shouldn't be a lark. If you want it, you have to want it deep in your soul, and that means nothing should stand in your way, least of all the cost of some new irons.

That said, I feel obligated to point out the flaws in his logic.

  1. He writes, "To compete at the U.S. Open level you must have fitted clubs and that means brand new." Well, I've read the entry form twice. The phrase "must have fitted clubs" does not appear. Ben Hogan won it four times with a set no fitter would have ever recommended. Conservatively, given that as many as 90 percent of golfers have not gone through a fitting, I'd guess a third of the 9,000 entrants for the U.S. Open haven't been through a fitting, either. But beyond that complaint, there's no reason why used clubs cannot be fit to you. You could even take your current shafts and put them on a set of conforming irons. You could even do it yourself in your basement or your garage if you wanted to.

  2. He writes, "Why is it that you could use "old" clubs in last year's Open qualifier, and not this year? Simple. The USGA recognized that there wasn't widespread availability of new groove clubs, particularly wedges, early last year. That is no longer the case.

  3. He writes that U.S. Amateur winners used nonconforming clubs to qualify. My thought: The rules of this year's event, which include all qualifying tournaments, are the rules this year. This is like pointing out that Angel Cabrera and Tiger Woods qualified with nonconforming equipment, too. It's irrelevant to the rules of Local Qualifying because Local Qualifying and Sectional Qualifying are means of qualifying this year, right now, when plenty of conforming irons and wedges are available. There would be a special exemption for Local Qualifying if there were a shortage of conforming equipment. There isn't anything of the kind.

Complaining about the cost also misses the real point because it essentially asks for the right to not qualify for the U.S. Open. Since new groove rule clubs obviously would be required for Sectional Qualifying and the championship proper, wouldn't a player who advanced to that stage have to buy new clubs anyway? (I don't believe he would withdraw after advancing just because he didn't have the right clubs.) Quite simply, the intention of entering the event is to qualify for the championship, isn't it? So by complaining about the cost of entry, you're simply acknowledging that you don't think you're advancing. Conversely, if you believe you can advance (and therefore be required to use new groove clubs), why would you be hesitant about outfitting yourself with the new clubs? The point is, you wouldn't be. In fact, even if they weren't required in Local Qualifying, you'd have purchased them months ago because you wanted to be ready to use them at the Sectional Qualifying.

One could make the argument that if an amateur golfer produced genuine evidence of financial hardship, the USGA should do what it can to help that otherwise extremely qualified amateur obtain the necessary equipment. Other than perhaps the guy on Pipe Dream, however, I don't see financial hardship as a legitimate problem for serious U.S. Open competitors.

Bottom line: Competing, or attempting to compete in the U.S. Open is not a right, it's a privilege. The requirements for acquiring that privilege are clearly stated, and as I've delineated, fairly easily obtained, expert skill notwithstanding. All I know is, if I had the skills to compete for the national championship, I'd be donating blood, if that's what it took, to get me to the first tee. Let's be honest. If you aren't willing to do that, aren't you just pretending to qualify for our national championship?

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