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Your go-to guide for groove limits

By JAMES ACHENBACH
Senior Writer

There are two major points to the groove regulations announced Aug. 5 by the U.S. Golf Association and R&A.

1.) The regulations are aimed at highly skilled players.

2.) The revisions to the Rules of Golf are intended to reduce the spin on shots hit from
the rough. The purpose never was to change the character of shots from the fairway.

Here is a look at some likely ramifications and consequences of the so-called “new grooves,” as explained by several experts and players:

QUESTION: What difference will most golfers see?
ANSWER: “Most golfers, playing with the current grooves or new grooves, won’t notice any difference,” said Dick Rugge, the USGA’s senior technical director. “They don’t hit greens out of the rough very often, anyway, but I can tell you for a fact that golfers who use Surlyn (hard-covered) balls will not notice any difference in spin. Keep in mind that two-thirds of the balls sold today are Surlyn balls.”

Said Ping Golf CEO John Solheim: “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. We don’t really know exactly how all golfers will be affected or how much they will be able to spin the ball. We need to take our time in evaluating this.”

Q: Will the best players notice the difference?
A: “We used PGA Tour players in our testing,” Rugge said, “and they knew (the difference) right from the very first hit. These guys are so sensitive, they are amazing. We used clubs that looked identical, but they knew. Let me repeat, though – most (average) golfers really won’t see or feel much of a difference.”

Q: Are U grooves being eliminated?
A: Absolutely not, although the total groove area under the new regulations must be about half the area used on today’s high-spin wedges. This means that manufacturers could, for example, reduce the size of their U grooves by 50 percent or could cut the number of current U grooves in half.

Q: Will the groove patterns be the same on all irons and wedges?
A: No. Manufacturers retain the flexibility to vary the size and shape of their grooves, as long as these grooves adhere to all rules and limitations.

Q: On full shots, how much reduction in spin will we see with the new grooves?
A: “In the range of 50 percent on an 8-iron and around 25 percent on a wedge (from the rough),” Rugge said.

Q: Will the “flier” be reintroduced to golf as a result of the new grooves?
A: Yes. Testing by the USGA and R&A, using tour players, confirmed this. Said PGA Tour star Kenny Perry: “It’s going to help all the guys who drive it better (straighter). I’m looking forward to it. We’ll see how those guys (crooked drivers) can control those jumpers out of the rough.

The people behind the greens better wear hard hats. It will make the guys play better. It will make them play a little more course management.”

Q: Won’t the new grooves affect shots from the fairway as well as shots from the rough?
A: No, according to Rugge. “We have published 300 pages of research clearly confirming that shots from the rough will be affected but shots from the fairway will not,” he said.

Q: Will there be a run on current U-grooved wedges?
A: “I can see it,” said Tom Mase, executive vice president for Hot Stix Golf. “I can see some retailer saying to a customer, ‘Don’t you want five (Vokey Spin Milled wedges), one for each of the next five years?’ Virtually every single amateur can use the current wedges until 2014.”

Q: You mean, if I’m an amateur and I play in a lot of tournaments, I don’t have to switch irons and wedges in 2010?
A: Correct. Professional tours around the world will adopt the new regulations – technically as a condition of competition, similar to the one-ball rule – on Jan. 1, 2010. However, elite amateur tournaments, including the U.S. Amateur, will not adopt the rule until Jan. 1, 2014. Average golfers have until 2024.

Q: What about NCAA competition?
A: Probably 2014. “Since we go by USGA rules,” said Donnie Wagner, NCAA assistant director of championships, “I feel we’ll fall in line with the USGA implementation date for amateur golf.”

Q: How about state and regional golf associations?
A: 2014. “Historically we’ve followed the USGA,” said Bob Thomas of the Southern California Golf Association.

Q: Will tour players start using softer golf balls?
A: It’s unclear. “If you’re not getting as much spin,” Masters champion Trevor Immelman said, “you’re probably going to have to start using a softer golf ball.”

Q: Will there be a method for tournaments to check the conformity of grooves?
A: Yes. “We have a (portable) field test,” Rugge said.

Q: Are there dissenters who question these new regulations?
A: Yes, one of the most outspoken being Benoit Vincent, chief technical officer for TaylorMade Golf.

“The data (about tour players missing fairways and then scoring better and winning events) is highly questionable,” Vincent said. “They are creating complexity for a very small issue.”

Tom Wishon, founder of Tom Wishon Golf Technology, questioned the effect on big hitters. “The bombers-and-gougers are still going to spin it more out of the rough,” he said. “If the goal is to increase the penalty for being in the rough, this isn’t going to do it. Two-to-21/2-inch rough is nothing to a guy who can swing an iron at 90 to 95 mph.”

Q: Is all this too complicated?
A: “Criticism comes with everything we do,” Rugge said. “I understand that (manufacturers’) lives would be easier if we weren’t here, but I think they understand that we tried to make the process as accommodating to them as possible.”

Lee Miller, CEO of Feel Golf, a Monterey, Calif., manufacturer that specializes in wedges, said: “I have a doctorate in engineering, and I can’t understand all this. It makes me wonder what they’re growing out there in New Jersey.”

– Ron Balicki contributed

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