October 28, 2009
If you've been following golf outside of just the tournaments this year, you've heard rumblings of the impending changes to the grooves in certain clubs. How's that going to affect you? Well, not much, unless you actually want to play the game exactly like your favorite pros. But for those pros, it's going to have a significant effect. Let's break it down.
First off, let's go over exactly what will be changing. Any club that has a loft of more than 25 degrees will have to conform to the new groove rules, which require smaller grooves with less severe edges. These rules have been handed down by the USGA, and the effects could be profound.
The USGA and R&A looked at statistics over the past few decades and determined that driving accuracy wasn't correlating to wins -- in other words, there wasn't a severe enough penalty for missing the fairway, because players were able to stop their approaches on a dime. So, in the kind of nanny-state move that would have most golf fans screaming if it had come from the White House, the USGA and R&A decided we couldn't have nice toys, and are thus taking them away. (See a more in-depth explanation here.)
Sharper, larger grooves give the ball a lot more spin, meaning that players can shape the movement of their shots like they're virtually on remote control. Smaller grooves take away that ability, which will place more of a premium on shot placement and make for a harsher penalty for slightly misplayed shots. The ball won't bite as well as it does now, so it'll be up to players who rely on that element of their game to change their style.
Starting on January 1, 2010, all PGA players and anybody who wants to play in a PGA event, along with the U.S., Women's and Senior Opens, has to use conforming clubs. However, anybody at a local qualifying tournament may use the older clubs.
One year later, manufacturers will stop making the nonconforming clubs, so if you want one of the high-spin models, now would be the time to get it.
By January 1, 2014, all USGA and R&A championships will use the newer grooves. Six years later will be the first time the USGA will evaluate the rules, and on January 1, 2024, golfers will have to use the "new" -- by then 14-year-old -- grooves even for handicapping purposes. (See more info on the dates here.)
What the pros say
A roundup of various pro quotes on the new grooves:
"I just don't understand it. We've been progressive for a hundred years, and now we're backing up 20. I'm a little confused by it, but it's not my decision." -Lucas Glover
"New grooves next year mean 10% less spin from the fairway and 60-70% less spin from the rough with short irons. Players will use a softer ball I believe." -Stewart Cink, via Twitter
"i tested the new grooves with vokey in feb. what a difference no spinnnnnn. the usga are insane to make us change so quickly ... i guess they were all bored sitting around that table drinking coffee and smoking cigars... get a life let us have fun on the course." -Ian Poulter, via Twitter (obviously)
"It's a domino effect. It's going to make itself felt throughout the whole game. I think they (golf authorities) have been very clever." -Jack Nicklaus
"I'm all for the groove change because I don't miss too many greens on the stats. I tend to be pretty good tee-to-green. It's the people that miss a lot of fairways and a lot of greens that are going to suffer more." -Lee Westwood
Bottom line: it's a huge change that's going to have a major ripple effect on the game, from the highest levels all the way down to the mini-tours. Is it the wisest idea to make such a dramatic shift in policy based on statistical speculation? Have your say, friends, have your say -- but it's happening, like it or not.