__Max Adler __is staff writer at Golf Digest, former associate editor for equipment and a talented player who qualified for the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship last year. Like many elite players, he's just beginning to adapt his game to clubs that adhere to the new groove rules. Periodically, he's sharing his thoughts on how the change is changing him.
**The world-beaters haven't been bothered by the smaller grooves in their wedges. When you have buckets of talent and all the hours the sun gives to practice, you're not going to let a little thing like a rule change stop you from getting up and down and cashing checks. So far in the 2011 PGA Tour season, the scrambling average is 57.46%. In 2009, the last year the pros played aggressive-grooves, scrambling was virtually the same at 57.52%. As with Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy, you wouldn't want to bet against a tour pro being able to get up and down with a shovel and a baseball bat if he had to.
What's uncertain is how the groove rule will affect the less skilled. Whether you like it or not, less-zippy wedges will eventually end up in your bag as 2010 was the last year equipment manufacturers were allowed to make the old-style groove. And if you want to play in high-level tournaments like your state's amateur championship, it will probably be mandated that you switch to the new gear by 2014.
So what should you expect? I don't know. All I can tell you is last week I bought newly conforming irons and wedges so that I can legally have a go in next week's U.S. Open Local Qualifying (last year aggressive grooves were permitted in first stage, but my 2-over 72 at Jupiter Hills in Florida still missed by five shots). As a golfer with a non-tour caliber short game, hopefully what I discover will help prepare you for when you make the switch.
I used to carry only a 52- and 60-degree wedge, but with the smaller grooves I've decided to go to a 50-, 54- and 58-degree setup, ditching my 3-iron to stay at fourteen clubs. While I used to choke down on my 52 to cover all distances between 90 and 115 yards, with weaker grooves I'll want to give myself more chances to make full-swings. For example, if I have 105 yards to a tight front flag, I have a much better chance of stopping it close off a fuller swing with a 54-degree, as opposed to making a softer pass with a 52-degree. Clubhead speed and obliqueness of impact, not grooves grabbing the cover, are going to play larger roles in the spin-generation equation. Or at least this is the theory I'm going with, for now.
The switch from 60- to 58-degrees may seem counterintuitive (wouldn't you want more loft to make up for lost spin?) but insight trickling down from the first guinea pigs - tour players - is that the difference is most pronounced in the lob wedge, in that the ball has a greater tendency to roll and slide up the face. Phil Mickelson, of course, famously first handled this by putting a 60-degree Ping Eye 2 with then grandfathered grooves into play at the 2010 Farmer's Insurance Open.
With only two rounds under my belt, I already see what they were talking about. Soft high shots weren't rising off the face as consistently as I remember. I seemed to have better results chipping with greater hand-speed, trying to be more aggressive, rather than delicate, through the ball. For flop-shots, my new thought is that if you can't manipulate the face of a 58-degree open so that it's effectively 70-degrees or more, you shouldn't be playing a 60-degree anyway.
While my bump-and-runs definitely seemed to be running out more, that was easy to get used to. What will be a greater learning curve are the 50-80 yard pitches. I airmailed more greens than I care to tell. Off the lush, spongy fairways resultant of the northeast's late spring, the ball was jumping off the face fast, like a hedge-fund manager in his BMW trying be first out of an intersection. Even though the groove rule was intended to only affect shots from the rough, believe me when I say it's going to change how you approach pitches from dewy lies and soft fairways. It's like you have to subtract 20-percent from each distance.
My education with new grooves is just beginning. If tales of my frustration can serve you down the road, please check back for more posts...