Gear & EquipmentMarch 16, 2011

Groove rule unfair? Not really

Entries for the 2011 U.S. Open close six weeks from today, and apparently some folks are still confused. Or maybe they're just reverting to their natural state: petulant children.

A recent column in Sports Illustrated's Golf Plus section decries the recent USGA decision to mandate that the new groove rule specifications apply to U.S. Open Local Qualifying starting this year. The author, John Ziegler, who is the club champion at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, Calif., complains that because of the decision, which was in truth foretold a year ago, "this effectively means the U.S. Open will cost golfers in my situation an extra $1,000."  And he also says, "It seems pretty clear that thousands of us dreamers ... will decide participating in our national championship simply isn't feasible." And also offers this: "We will have to purchase a new set of irons for the right to most likely play only one round in this year's event."

As Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers might say, "Really."__ __ An extra $1,000? Really? I urge Mr. Ziegler and others to check out sites like 3balls.com, where I just found a set of Titleist 962 irons for $68.50. The same ones right there on the USGA Informational Club Databasethat say "Meets 2010 Groove Rules." Not "feasible"? Really? How about some Mizuno MP-30s for $139.50. Also at 3balls.com, also on the conforming list. Don't want something used? Sure, I understand that. Here's an idea: The __Dynacraft Prophet Tour __is $359.60, 3-through-pitch; Snake Eyes 685Xis less than $500 a set. Mizuno MP-52s are less than $500 at 3balls.com, while a set of the MX-23s just went for $230. All conforming. Really.

And what's this "the right to most likely play only one round in this year's event." Really? That's what the U.S. Open Local Qualifying is to you, a glorified outing? Really? Our country's most storied national championship, a bargain golf trip, a day out with the boys? Really? How about this: If you think you've only got enough game to be playing only one round in U.S. Open Qualifying, is it really necessary that you enter?

But let's get back to the economics of this whole deal. The SI piece suggests "what [the  USGA] really has leveled are the dreams of all those players who gave the Open its unique, democratic quality." Really? Spend some time on the PGA.com Value Guide and you'll find plenty of conforming irons for less than $1,000. Mizuno MP-67s? $270. Titleist DCI 990 irons just went for about $70. That's for the set. That's less than half the entry fee. If a couple hundred bucks is all it takes to level your dreams, pardsy, then they weren't really dreams. They were kinda like delusions, weren't they. I don't know that the national open needs to be supporting delusions.

It is not like the groove rule snuck up on us. Any decent player with aspirations of qualifying for the U.S. Open ought to have known that the potential for the groove rule to apply to them sooner rather than later was high, especially since this was what was said by the USGA's Mike Davis (then senior director of rules and competitions, now executive director) back in Sept. 2009; "We plan to adopt the condition of competition for all stages of Open qualifying in 2011..."

(Note to the oblivious: When the USGA says it plans to do something, it means it will be doing that exact thing on that exact timeline.) In other words, if you don't have the scratch now, start saving so when the time comes, you do.

A serious amateur choosing not to purchase clubs that meet the new guidelines is nothing short of a glaring dereliction of duty. Yes, you will need to get yourself some new wedges (which have been available for the last 12 months at least), but the fact is, if you're a serious competitor and you aren't buying new wedges every year anyway, well, then it's hard to believe that you're really a serious competitor. A serious competitor knows the equipment rules just as he or she should know the rules governing a lateral hazard. And a serious competitor ought to be industrious enough to know he or she doesn't have to spend $1,000 to find clubs that conform to the new rules. As a matter of fact, I know a guy who just walked into a Dick's Sporting Goods store in New Jersey and got a used set of conforming irons for $35. For eight irons. Really.

What troubles me is the overarching sense of entitlement. Playing in the U.S. Open isn't a right. It's an opportunity. Pursuing such an opportunity requires sacrifices, like practicing every day or getting lessons or choosing golf over family or, perhaps even forking over a little extra cash. Like say, $68.50. Really.

--Mike Stachura

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