June 19, 2008

A Call For Status Quo

As time passes and USGA policy on grooves remains unchanged, the question lingers: Are new regulations really necessary?

Mahan's birdie-conversion stats drop dramatically from the rough.

Mahan's birdie-conversion stats drop dramatically from the rough.

Limbo is never a great place to be, but that is where the USGA's proposal on grooves resides. The USGA announced it was studying spin generation in March 2005. Its initial report was released in August 2006 with a second issued five months later. In February 2007 a proposed rollback on grooves was put forth, along with a notice-and-comment period that ended Aug. 1.

That was nearly a year ago. The proposal called for pro tours to play with the new grooves in 2009 and manufacturers to start making them for the masses in 2010 (although a grandfather clause would allow everyday players to hold on to their irons and wedges for 10 years or more). As previously reported in Golf World, the change for the tour in '09 isn't going to happen, but common sense dictates a ruling has to be made in the coming months.

Here's one vote for no change, and here's why. According to the USGA's and RA's Joint Statement of Principles: "Should such a situation of meaningful increases in distances arise, the RA and the USGA would feel it immediately necessary to seek ways of protecting the game." Fair enough. However, distance has flatlined on tour. After the U.S. Open in 2003, average driving distance stood at 283.8 yards. After this year's . Open it was 283.9 yards. There has been some ebb and flow to the number over the last five years, but essentially distance has held steady.

Next is the groove proposal itself. It is not in dispute that U-grooves impart more spin than V-like grooves. But the USGA has stood by its assertion that the correlation between accuracy and success on the PGA Tour—its primary basis for considering a grooves rollback—is virtually zero.

The USGA points out that nearly half the shots hit from the rough find the green, and that's true (it's currently 48.64 percent). But what it doesn't say is that number rises to 74.68 percent from the fairway. In other words, over 14 holes (throw out the typical four par 3s), if a player hits it in the rough every hole he would hit seven greens on average. If he hits it in the fairway every hole he would hit 10.5.

Accuracy, in fact, is key to how players such as Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk compete for titles. From the fairway Mahan makes birdie 21.28 percent of the time. From the rough it's 9.60 percent. Furyk goes under par 21.10 percent from the fairway and just 9.82 percent from the rough. The correlation between accuracy and success is zero? Perhaps for some of the bombers, but not for everyone.

Distance is not increasing. Playing from the rough is appreciably more difficult than playing from the fairway. Is it really necessary to do anything at this point? Just asking.

Spotted

After using Scotty Cameron by Titleist and Guerin Rife putters for most of the year, Justin Rose debuted a prototype TaylorMade putter—the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" as Rose calls it—at the Travelers Championship. The putter, as its name implies, is a smaller version of the company's large-headed Spider mallet.

Bag Room

Kenny Perry finally has committed to a set of irons, using TaylorMade's r7 model for the seventh straight week. In his previous 10 events he had not used a set for more than three weeks in a row and had gone through four different models. The last time Perry used an iron set for as many consecutive weeks was in the middle of the 2006 season. … Kevin Streelman started the week with the putter he used at the U.S. Open but changed Friday to a prototype Scotty Cameron by Titleist Squareback that was modified by having part of the back flange cut out.