Much Ado About Grooves

By Jon LevyDecember 13, 2010, 7:44 pm

‘These guys are too good.’

That should have been the PGA Tour’s tagline this year in response to the U.S. Golf Association’s 2010 crackdown on the state of the game, its effort to get away from the ‘bomb-and-gouge’ style so many of today’s top players demonstrate by altering the legality of grooves.

In the end, however, there was plenty of smoke, but never a fire.

Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. Ask the USGA and it will likely stand by its decision to disallow clubs with square grooves.

But the facts prove advances in equipment over the years have allowed top players to drive it past the trouble on golf courses and spin the ball better out of the rough, thus dulling the need to hit fairways to score well.

We know the game is steeped in tradition – tradition that seems to buck the notion of allowing for too much change. So it's not surprising that golf’s governing bodies issued a callback to reform how much a player can and should be able to spin the golf ball.

But targeting the groove specifications on clubs as the culprit, and as a first point from which to jump – considering some have deemed the USGA’s testing on the matter as inconclusive – was a shock to many when the August 2008 announcement touched upon this particularly groovy subject

And it’s basically driven the golf industry into a tailspin since.

“How's the change going to affect the game?”

“Who's going to benefit from the new grooves?”

“Who's going to suffer?”

The media had a field day.

Now here we are, a year later, looking back at the first season of how the new regime played out.

Did it work? Were golfers forced to lay back off the tee and play more conservatively to hit fairways? Was it worth all of the effort to steamroll the change?

No, no and, well ... you decide.

GolfChannel.com’s Rex Hoggard wrote an article on how little of an effect the change ultimately had on the PGA Tour – showing how the change even helped PGA Tour players this year, considering the soft, benign conditions that yielded some of the Tour’s lowest scores in years. Even the media let the issue go a few months into the season because Tour players were still playing the same type of game, and still taking it deep.

So it wasn’t really a big deal for the players – once they got used to the new grooves, that is – because, after all, those guys are good.

“The truth is, that players are good enough that it doesn’t really matter what you give them – it doesn’t take them that long to adapt,” said Jason Schultz, a former PGA Tour player and winner on the Nationwide Tour. “I’ve basically forgotten about it. The only time you will ever really notice a difference is when the greens are real firm and fast. Other than that, you can’t really tell.”

Who has been lost in this issue – who has really been affected – are the club manufacturers and the mini-tours and their players.

Let's not forget the golfing public, either, which has also been given a countown by the USGA, allowing current non-conforming clubs to be used until 2024, but only conforming equipment to be accepted and sold at retailers after Jan. 1, 2011. Many like playing new sticks from time to time, which means hurry up and get into your local retailer before the ball drops to get those clubs that spin, because once they're gone, they're gone. Conspiracy theorists could argue that actually helps the manufacturers considering it has been an excellent platform from which to advertise (read: 'the year of the wedge,' etc.).

Regardless, manufacturers have been scrambling around like Santa's helpers two days before Christmas since the August '08 announcement to make things happen –  first to get the conforming clubs into their professionals' hands, and then to prepare for the aforementioned 2011 sanction.

They'll survive, though. They always do.

The developmental circuits and their players are the redheaded stepchild in this discussion – they’re around whether you like it or not, but no one really pays attention to their actions, nor really wants to.

It’s this factor that's been the most interesting offspring of the groove change, because the mini-tour world was forced to go out on a limb and decide what version of golf they were going to play in 2010.

Adhere to the change and follow the tours for which they hope to prepare their players or wait to help players struggling to get conforming clubs and, in essence, play a different game?

“We were definitely faced with a difficult decision last year,” says Ryan Pray, executive director of Arizona’s Gateway Pro Tour. “We tried our best to get a good hold on how the club companies were handling it and how much availability our players had to getting the new equipment before we decided to go in one direction or another.

“We normally try to follow the PGA Tour's policies as best we can, but, ultimately, we delayed the change in our policy until the spring because a number of our players were having difficulty in getting the conforming clubs before then.'

“Some companies got out in front of the situation better than others,' explains Pray, 'which gave us no choice but to cater to a lot of our players who couldn't get the new equipment and hold off for a while before the change.”

The Gateway Pro Tour decided to follow the USGA’s bill in full (affecting clubs of 25 degrees of loft), as did the eGolf professional tour, but the Hooters Tour waited until August to make their policy change, requiring conforming clubs of just 46 degrees of loft or greater to be used in their events.

Plenty of research had gone into the USGA's decision, relating to the timing, effect on the industry, etc., before they made it law. And there’s no question they instituted the new policy thinking and hoping the game would be dialed back to its strategical roots – putting an emphasis on hitting fairways and accuracy.

But the stats prove it didn’t work. Or, at least, it hasn’t yet.

Which begs the question – what’s next? No grooves? Scaling back old school to the gutta percha? 

Unless the next generation of player makes the Bubba Watsons and Dustin Johnsons of today look like Corey Pavin and Fred Funk driving a whiffle ball into into a hurricane, there's no more need for change, because it's Joe and Jane Mini-tour right now – and more importantly the whole of the golfing public – stuck paying the price.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.