PGA Tour players in search of the right groove

By Rex HoggardJanuary 27, 2010, 5:08 am
Farmers Insurance OpenSAN DIEGO – For the modern professional it had become something of an urban legend, pure fantasy like Sasquatch, Nessie and four-hour pro-am rounds.

Steve Flesch once declared it had been a decade since he’d hit one and even the word flyer had all but succumbed to the Draconian affects of neglect and faded from the golf lexicon.

That is until the U.S. Golf Association turned back the clock, however delicately, with a seemingly innocuous rule change that outlawed the modified U grooves for a less-aggressive version of the old V grooves.

Three events into the USGA/PGA Tour experiment and the impact of the new rule is still a mystery. The flyer, however, has made a comeback.
Grooves are the big talk on Tour this season. (Getty Images)
“I hit this shot on (No.) 16 at the (Bob Hope Classic) on Monday and I’m just posing,” said Ryan Palmer, who seemed to have little trouble adjusting to the new grooves considering he won in his first start of the year. “The ball still hasn’t come down. Man it just kept going over everything.”

To a man, players on Tuesday at Torrey Pines for this week’s Farmers Insurance Open had similar “flyer” stories.

Jay Williamson, never to be confused for one of the circuit’s most powerful, hit a “hard wedge” from 135 yards into a slight breeze two weeks ago at the Sony Open and watched in stunned silence as his ball shot over the green and onto the next tee box.

“It would have hurt someone if there would have been a gallery,” Williamson smiled, only half joking.

Boo Weekley, one of the circuit’s best and most consistent ballstrikers, launched a similar rocket over the eighth green on Sunday at the Sony Open.

“I had 168 to the hole and it flew 197 yards . . . all the way over the ninth tee box,” said Weekley, who said he’s hit about a dozen flyers this year, more than he did all last season. “It was like a Phil Niekro knuckleball, just low and hot.”

If the USGA, with the Tour’s tacit approval, wanted to liven up play the return of the flyer promises to keep galleries, and players, on their toes. But if the plan was to make driving accuracy, a statistic of little value on the modern Tour, mean something the jury seems to be hung.

Winning scores at the first three events remain consistent with tournaments played before the change, and there seems to be little interest in dialing back games or adjusting equipment to counteract the effects of less spin.

“No one is crying the blues yet,” said Todd Chew, a Tour rep for TaylorMade-Adidas. “No one is asking us for a ball that spins more. Our groove is a lot closer to last year’s groove than a (traditional) V groove.”

Most consider the new rule an indirect attempt to force the bomb-and-gouge set to give the middle of the fairway a chance, but if the first three events are any indication the adjustments have been minimal.

Palmer ranked seventh in driving distance at the Sony Open, Bill Haas was 18th last week at the Bob Hope Classic and Geoff Ogilvy won the season opener at Kapalua with a less-than-stellar combination of driving accuracy (T-16) and driving distance (17th).

Opinions vary, but most observers say the new rule will favor more consistent players like Tim Clark and Mike Weir, both of whom were in the hunt last week at the Hope, and those players with exceptional short games, like Palmer and Ogilvy.

“Players like Geoff are going to use the true loft of the club more now and not squeeze the ball like they used to,” said Dale Lynch, Ogilvy’s longtime swing coach. “The new rule is going to be an advantage for him because he has good technique.”

After the “flyer phenomenon” the biggest adjustment will come around the greens. The new grooves tend to allow the ball to travel up the clubface more, causing the ball to come off higher with less spin. An adjustment, to be sure, but hardly cause for concern among the world’s best.

According to Chew, players who produced a great amount of spin will feel the greatest impact, particularly from the deep rough, while those with less spin will have less of an adjustment.

“A guy like (Retief Goosen) who spins it a lot could have a large reduction (in spin) out of the rough. Maybe up to 40 percent,” Chew said. “But a guy like John Mallinger isn’t spinning it as much and won’t have that big of difference.”

Truth is it may be too early to tell what impact the new rule will have.

West Coast courses are generally softer than what is found the rest of the year, mitigating the impact of spin on approach shots, and the rough early in the season produces more consistent lies which makes adjusting for a flyer easier.

“I worked my butt off in the offseason to see what they would do,” Kevin Streelman said. “I can look down and see the lie and know if the ball is going to jump or not.”

Most agree the real test won’t like come until the Tour heads east, to the dryer and more demanding layouts at Doral and the Honda Classic where spin is crucial and judging lies from Bermuda rough is more of a guessing game.

Yet if early player reaction at Torrey Pines is any indication, don’t expect a wholesale change in the way the game is played at the highest level. Few players have switched to a golf ball that spins more in an attempt to make up for any perceived loss of control and for most a 120-yard wedge shot from the rough is still a more preferred option than a 160-yard 8-iron from the middle of the fairway.

“I’m not going to play any different because we have new wedges,” Palmer said.

Which may be bad news for defenseless galleries, to say nothing of USGA officials.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.