Groove odyssey: A player's diary, Chapter 3

June 07, 2011

*Max Adler, accomplished competitive player and Golf Digest Staff Writer is embarking on his first year of golf with the new grooves. Periodically, we'll let you in on what he's learning and how the change impacts his game. This week it's Connecticut State Amateur qualifying, where old grooves aren't outlawed and Max is experiencing a different game than his playing partners: *

New wedges have been riding in the bag a month, and I'm just now appreciating the difference. The most telling evidence? Yesterday I competed in a qualifier for the Connecticut State Amateur and used only one ball. After eighteen holes the two identification dots from my red Sharpie were faded, but the urethane cover was barely scuffed. With my old wedges and steep amateurish downswing (unfortunately the latter hasn't left me) I used to replace my ball at least once a nine because the cover would shred so badly.

The other evidence was more subtle.

On one hole, my fellow competitor and I short-sided ourselves in the same patch of light rough at the foot of a greenside bank with about with about twenty feet of slightly tilted downhill putting surface to work with. Michael Kelly, a rising sophomore at the University of Hartford, opened up a lob wedge and cut aggressively across the ball with an out-to-in swing path. The divot he unearthed was handsome, and the ball shot off his clubface fast, checking and sizzling with righthand English when it hit the green. His ball settled three feet above the hole. I used to hit shots just like that, I remembered. In fact, Michael, with his thin build, mild facial acne and carefree summer mentality, reminded me of my former self in so many ways.

But I was not sad, filled with pathos for college days. I like the way I've been chipping lately. I opened the face of my 58-degree and made a gentle sweep that barely disturbed the grass underneath the ball. As I release my hands, I wait to feel the ball rolling off the clubface. Instead of dunks, I now make my flop shots more like finger rolls. Sweet offerings. My ball rises slow and lands soft, then releases and lolls to about three fast past the hole. We both make par. Because I can't be as aggressive, I actually prefer my updated short-game technique because it encourages me to be more smooth, relaxed. If you're not careful, trying to hit hard spinners can make your forearms tense. At least that's what it could do to me.

"Our college coach got us some of the conforming wedges to try," Michael says a few holes later when I bring up the subject. "I hate them." Michael shoots even par 72, one shy of medalist, and if I can adjust in a few weeks, surely it won't be a problem for the talented young man. But for now he doesn't have to. With a summer of tournaments scheduled, most active amateurs don't have three weeks to experiment.

Incidentally, I shot 77 (+5)--with a triple and a double--to make the cut on the number and advance. Doesn't matter what kind of grooves you have when you belly a wedge off a tree root.