Cink practices with duct tape on wedges

Stewart Cink during the first round of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf on Oct. 20.

Stewart Cink during the first round of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf on Oct. 20.

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Never in golf has something so small had consequences so big.

Call it “Dancing with Grooves.”

In his version of the groove dance, Stewart Cink recently covered the faces of his wedges with duct tape. He practiced that way for a week.

Why? He wanted to simulate a reduction in spin. However, he went too far.

“There was no spin,” Cink said. “It was not fun to play golf that way.”

PGA Tour players will be forced to use smaller, duller grooves in 2010. As a result, short-iron and wedge shots from the rough will spin less and fly higher (because the ball will slide up the clubface at impact). Shots from the fairway will remain basically unchanged – from 2009 to 2010 – in both spin and trajectory.

The consensus here at the Chevron World Challenge: Touring pros will adjust quickly to less spin, but distance control from the rough could be a significant challenge.

Listen to three-time major champion Padraig Harrington: “Between box grooves (2009) and V grooves (2010), out of a reasonable amount of rough, there’s about 40 yards of difference with a 7-iron. At the U.S. Open, I hit a 7-iron about 130 yards out of that rough, whereas with a V groove I’d hit it at least 170.

“It’s to our advantage to have V grooves at times,” concluded Harrington, who revealed that he has used V grooves in several major championships to get more distance out of the rough.

To find the right grooves for 2010, Harrington has danced a complex groove tango with engineers from Wilson Sporting Goods, his equipment sponsor. Wilson’s Jon Pergande created “about 20 different groove configurations,” and Harrington eventually picked one from three finalists.

Under U.S. Golf Association rules, manufacturers can use different groove configurations as long as they conform to the size and sharpness regulations.

Despite all his groove preparation, Harrington is not playing the new grooves here at the Chevron. He wants to win, so his oh-so-comfortable 2009 clubs (irons and wedges) are still in the bag.

Lee Westwood, the European Order of Merit winner, also is using his 2009 set.

After the conclusion of the Chevron, both Harrington and Westwood will begin serious practice with their 2010 clubs.

Cink already has changed entirely to the new grooves. So has John Cook, the Champions Tour hotshot who was playing here in the pro-am but not the tournament.

Said Cink, “It’ll just make you learn how to read lies better. If it’s a perfect dry fairway lie, ‘there’s not going to be any difference, but when there’s moisture on the ground, like dew, or if it’s raining, or if you just have a lie that’s maybe iffy, maybe a ball’s muddy, that’s when you have to start reading the lie.

“There are two different kinds of shots – the kind we’ve always hit that come out low with a lot of spin, and then there’s the kind that slide up the clubface and go real high with no spin, and you’re going to have to learn to predict which one’s coming.”

Observed Cook, “The best guy is gonna be even more the best guy, because he knows what to do.”

Advantage, Tiger Woods.

Cook brought up another possible scenario with the new grooves: “On a downwind shot, the ball might fall out of the sky. It might dive because it doesn’t have as much spin to keep it up there.”

So the new grooves could create iron shots out of the rough that go longer (fliers) or shorter (divers).

Ricky Barnes, playing in the Chevron pro-am but not in the field of 18 for the tournament, agreed with Cook about Woods and other great wedge players. “I think shot creators are going to have have an easier time,” Barnes predicted.

And then there was the slightly bemused Graeme McDowell. “No, I don’t have the new grooves in my bag,” said the Northern Irishman. “No, I haven’t experimented with them. No, I don’t have a plan for next year.”

Added agent, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler: “He doesn’t need a plan. He doesn’t need to worry about the rough. He never misses a fairway.”

They all wish for such accuracy.

And they all wish for a speedy adjustment to grooves that are limited to a width of .035 of an inch. That’s 35 thousandths of one measly inch.

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