June 23, 2009

Groove Rollback Could Be Placed On Hold

The latest indications from PGA Tour players is that the groove rollback slated for 2010 could be delayed

"We decided that it was too heated of an issue to decide on a conference call," Stewart Cink said of the groove rollback.

"We decided that it was too heated of an issue to decide on a conference call," Stewart Cink said of the groove rollback.

CROMWELL, Conn. -- After more than three years of research and nearly a year after the USGA announced that a rollback on grooves would be put in as a condition of competition in 2010, we should find out next week if all the research, time, effort and expense will actually result in PGA Tour players using rollbacked grooves in 2010. By all indications from players, the answer is likely to be no.

"Last night there was a conference call and we decided that it was too heated of an issue to decide on a conference call so we're going to wait until next week's board meeting to make a decision about it," said Stewart Cink, a member of the tour's policy board. "I would expect by Tuesday there will be some kind of an answer on it."

If tour veteran Joe Ogilvie is correct, expect that answer to be along the lines of placing the implementation of the condition of competition on hold for 2010.

"They botched it and because they botched it, it won't be implemented in 2010," said Ogilvie. "I'd say there is a 90 percent chance it is not going to happen. I think they are going to have to [change the date]. I don't see it being adopted earlier than 2011."

If that happens, the ramifications include a domino effect in which the U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Senior Open also likely would not be played with the new grooves. When asked at Bethpage what the USGA would do should the tour decide not to implement, USGA president Jim Vernon said, "It is likely that if they were not to adopt it for 2010, we certainly would not adopt it for the U.S. Open either."

Within the last six weeks, Augusta National, the PGA of America and the LPGA Tour (including the Futures Tour), all indicated they would implement the groove rule as a condition of competition starting in 2010. The PGA of America said the rule would only apply in the PGA Championship and the Senior PGA Championship, but not in the National Professional Championship or any sectional events in 2010. Presumably, those organizations also would delay implementation of the groove rule if the PGA Tour and USGA opted out.

One of the reasons the players may vote not to implement is that there have been concerns expressed by some tour players that both they and manufacturers are having difficulties making and testing the clubs that feature the new groove. The measurement stipulations for the new groove are more technical than some previous groove rules, and include the use of specific groove edge radius measurements and restrictions on how many grooves have to meet the new stipulations. The measurement procedure is detailed in a nine-page document. By contrast, in the past groove sharpness was regulated in the field by "the finger test" to determined raised or sharp edges on grooves.

Of course, it is also worth noting that manufacturers were apprised of this procedure last August by the USGA, and were provided preliminary and final reports on the USGA's groove research dating back to August 2006. Further, approximately one-third of PGA Tour players currently are using irons that would conform to the new rules and most major manufacturers have told Golf World that they planned to have irons and wedges that conform to the new rule in time for 2010.

What makes the situation particularly confusing is that when the USGA and R&A announced its new regulations on grooves last August 5, a section of the press release stated, "The PGA Tour, the European PGA Tour, the LPGA, the PGA of America and the International Federation of PGA Tours have all indicated their support for the new regulations on grooves. Each of these organizations, as well as the Augusta National Golf Club, have told the USGA and The R&A, the game's governing bodies, that they intend to adopt the condition of competition, applying the rules for their competitions, beginning on January 1, 2010."

So what's changed since then?

"Two years ago it was announced the grooves changes were going to come into effect in 2010 and everyone said, 'Whoa, that's good, new changes,' " Cink told Golf World in May. "Now players are actually testing clubs with these new grooves & and they're coming out swinging because they feel like they're going to have to make big adjustments. If there are enough rumblings it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that we could not adopt the [condition of competition in 2010]. We never have wanted to do that. We're not a rule-making body. We don't want to be a rule-making body. But it's going to be a very big change. Very big."

A big change, of course, is what the USGA has wanted all along. In its announcement, the USGA said "The revisions are designed to restore the challenge of playing shots to the green from the rough by reducing backspin on those shots. The initial focus of the new rules will be competitions involving highly skilled professional golfers and will have little impact on the play of most golfers."

Ogilvie disagrees with the last sentence. "I don't know of one rule the USGA has made in the last 20 years that has actually improved the enjoyment of golf for the average guy," Ogilvie told Golf World in May. "We're the best players in the world. We'll figure it out. [But] there's very little push back in regards to USGA rules. I think the PGA Tour and the professional golfers need to be the ones who push back. & I've argued that the PGA Tour should say, 'Sorry, we're not going to do it.' "

And now it appears that may be exactly what they're going to do.