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PGA Tour: The Groove Changes Are Much To Do About Nothing

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2010

SOUTHAMPTON, BERMUDA - OCTOBER 20:  Lucas Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during the first round of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf on October 20, 2009 Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton, Bermuda.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

You know you’re not watching the most exciting golf tournament in the world when the commentators spend more time talking about the golf clubs than those swinging them.

Angel Cabrera’s sand wedge received more attention than Lucas Glover’s 35-foot-putt on the 11th green.

Golf Channel commentator Nick Faldo received more air time while demonstrating wedge shots than Nick Watney received during his six-under-par round of 67.  

So what’s with all the hoopla about the golf clubs?

Well, in the absence of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, the most intriguing story of the week—aside from Tim Finchem having to hold himself back from ripping a few reporters’ heads off when asked about Tiger Woods and possible HGH use during his Wednesday afternoon press conference—has been the groove changes.

This week marks the official implementation of the USGA’s new rules to limit the depth, width and sharpness of grooves on clubs with a loft greater than 25 degrees.

Without getting too technical, this more or less means that players will get less spin on their approach shots when hitting any club less than a five-iron (i.e. seven-iron, sand wedge, 56-degree wedge, etc.).

If you happened to watch any of yesterday afternoon’s coverage of the SBS Championship from Kapalua, Hawaii, you’d think that these guys had just been forced to change from metal and graphite shafts back to hickory.  Or that the USGA had implemented a rule stating that all players previously playing Pro-v1’s will now be forced to play featheries in 2010.

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Players will receive slightly less spin on their wedges coming out of the rough….BIG DEAL!

Last year, in comparable conditions, Geoff Ogilvy opened the SBS Championship (then known as the Mercedes-Benz Championship) with a 67.  Ernie Els, Kenny Perry and Johnson Wagner were the only three players within a stroke of Ogilvy after the opening round.

Yesterday, Lucas Glover opened with a 66, five players carded 67s and four others came in with scores of 68.

It certainly looks as if the groove changes dramatically affect the scoring in 2010.  

It’s not like world renowned golfing superstar Matt Kuchar—with his two wins over the past decade—was stopping pitch shots on a dime from a mere 60 yards away or anything.

Or Nathan Green—with his one career PGA Tour win—was sticking one approach shot after another yesterday afternoon.

The vast amount of attention being given to the groove changes is much to do about nothing.

Why?

Well, think about it.

Prior to yesterday afternoon, players were playing their approach shots based on the knowledge that they would more than likely receive some degree of backspin.  

So, Steve Stricker staring down a 120 yard shot with a pitching wedge in his hand would have known that he needed to land the ball a few yards past the whole because the ball would more than likely land, hop a few yards forward and then spin back four or five yards.  

Touring pros have been correctly judging and executing these shots for the better part of the past decade.

Now, Steve Stricker starring down a 120 yard approach shot with a wedge in his hand will need to land the ball a few yards short of the hole because he knows the ball will land, take on hop and stop dead, rather than spinning back.

That certainly sounds like an earth-shattering alteration to way in which Steve Stricker will play the game in 2010, doesn't it?

Perhaps Old Tom Morris will come to Stricker in his dreams and let him on his ancient secret of how to land a golf ball two yards shorts of the hole rather than two yards beyond it.  

You may be saying that this is really only going to come into affect when players are hitting approach shots out of thick rough.  

Ok, yes, players will get less spin out of the rough.  But again, last year they were playing for the backspin, whereas now they will simply land the ball a few yards short of the hole while playing for the release.

There are few instances where the groove changes will actually cost a player a stroke or two.

One example would be if a player is coming out of the thick rough to an elevated green with a pin placed just three yards from the front.

In that instance, they may have been able to stop the ball next to the flag in 2009, whereas in 2010 there’s little they can do to stop the ball from rolling a few yards past the hole.  

Players who short-side themselves in thick green-side rough may also have some difficulty getting up-and-down in 2010.

But other than that, the groove changes will have little effect on scoring in 2010.

If anything, it might actually help some players.

How many times have we seen players land their approach shot two feet from the hole, only to watch their golf balls grab and spin back off the front of the green?

Those days are probably over.

Many players might actually be more aggressive with their short irons due to a new-found ability to stop the ball on a dime next to the flag, without the threat of 20 yards of backspin.

Out of the rough they’ll be a degree of release on their approach shots, but they can play for that just as they used to play for the backspin in 2009.

Perhaps all the attention being given to the golf clubs rather than the golfers yesterday afternoon highlights a deeper underlying issue.

That in terms of excitement in golf, Lucas Glover, Martin Laird, Nathan Green and Matt Kuchar just ain’t gonna cut it.

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