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.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.