EquipmentJune 7, 2010

Grooves Reviewed

A midyear look at the new groove rule reveals small changes -- and a few questions

Justin Rose switched to TaylorMade's Rossa Corza Ghost putter, and it led to his first PGA Tour win.

Justin Rose switched to TaylorMade's Rossa Corza Ghost putter, and it led to his first PGA Tour win.

In its announcement on Feb. 27, 2007, regarding potential groove regulations, the USGA stated, "The skill of driving accuracy has become a much less important factor in achieving success while playing golf than it used to be. … Today, the correlation between driving accuracy rank and winning rank has reached a very low level."

Guess what? It still is.

Although half a season is not enough data to draw conclusions with certitude, it is only natural to look at what effect the groove condition of competition has had so far.

Statistically, it has not had much of an impact, although it would be unfair to say it has had none. In fact, the accuracy correlation coefficient the USGA hung its hat on does show a modest turn. Last year the correlation was -0.07. For the previous three years, it was -0.04. So far this year it is +0.12. In layman's terms, it means those doing well on the money list are ranking slightly better in driving accuracy. Emphasis on slightly.

Still, for those hoping the rule would somehow penalize bomb-and-gougers in a way that fundamentally repositions the axis around which elite golf rotates, it may be a disappointing number. The fact is, 22 of the top 50 in earnings currently reside outside the top 100 in driving accuracy, including the two at the top of the money list -- Ernie Els (122nd in accuracy) and Phil Mickelson (181st). That's out of 190 players. Only 19 of the top 50 in earnings are in the top 50 in accuracy as well.

Dick Rugge, senior technical director for the USGA, said it is too early to draw conclusions. "One year doth not a trend make," said Rugge. "One year can be just an anomalous spike in the data. Three years showing the same thing is not a spike." Rugge also acknowledged he did not buy into the paradigm shift some had predicted. "It would have been extremely unlikely -- and we had zero expectation -- that the correlation would have returned to the level it was in the '80s," he said.

Switching from the statistical to the anecdotal, the impact of the new grooves depends on the speaker. Robert Allenby is quick to tell you it's made a difference.

"Every time I go in the rough now, I allow for a flier," said Allenby. [Earlier this year], I didn't allow enough. Sony being one and Torrey Pines being another. That cost me two victories."

Davis Love III, however, believes it's much ado about nothing. "There hasn't been that much effect," said Love. "It's just an adjustment. The disappointing thing is I played with a young man who is one of the best college golfers, and he's going to play in a Nationwide event in two weeks and he has to switch wedges. That's the problem with it."

And it has been a problem at times. Erynne Lee, a 16-year-old from Silverdale, Wash., won a playoff to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open only to find out two of her wedges might not be conforming. The clubs were sent to the USGA and a week later Lee found out she was disqualified. Other players could not get conforming clubs and withdrew. Add the Ping Eye 2 controversy earlier this year with the fact there hasn't been a dramatic performance difference, and it is easy to understand why some would question whether this rule was truly necessary.

SPOTTED

It was another week of driver tweaking for Tiger Woods. This time Woods dropped his driver loft from 9.5 degrees to an 8.5-degree Nike VR Tour head ("I was spinning it a little bit too much," said Woods, explaining the loft change) while also changing shafts from Mitsubishi's Diamana Blue Board to the company's White Board model. The White Board is designed for players wanting extreme stability and is a low-torque, stiff-tip shaft.

BAG ROOM

Scary good: At the Memorial, Justin Rose made a switch to TaylorMade's Rossa Corza Ghost putter, and it led to his first PGA Tour win. For the week Rose needed just 108 putts (ranked second), while he topped the field in putts per GIR at 1.585. "I've got to be honest, putting is one part of my game where I've had some slight doubts," said Rose. "[The final round] was fantastic because I felt like I putted my best under pressure. That's something I can now dispatch out of my mind and really take positives going forward."...Ryan Moore also made a timely putter change, using Ping's Redwood Anser at the Memorial. Moore ranked T-3 in putts per round and T-8 in putts per GIR en route to a T-5 finish -- his first top-10 since the Bob Hope Classic.