Groove Changes Could Go Beyond Clubs

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Golf club grooves are supposed to change on the PGA Tour next year, thanks to new regulations designed to limit the effectiveness of grooves on shots from the rough. But the ripple effect from this decision could go far beyond just a few clubs ' it may affect the golf ball. And that has at least one equipment manufacturer lobbying for a delay in the effective date, which is Jan. 1, 2010.
 
According to a Titleist official, the company is trying to persuade the Tour to hold off on its plans to adopt a condition of competition that would require new groove cross-sections for all clubs with lofts of 25 degrees or more ' that is, a 5-iron and above. The rule would mostly affect wedges, because many companies, Titleist included, have already brought their non-wedge irons into compliance with the rule.
 
Not all manufacturers agree with the rule, which the U.S. Golf Association developed in an effort to increase the emphasis on hitting tee shots in the fairway for professional and elite players. The new groove profiles would feature a smaller cross sectional area (less volume) and more rounded edges ' not as sharp as the current square, or U-shaped, grooves ' preventing shots from spinning as much. The hope for the new rule, which is the result of investigations the USGA began in late 2003, is that players will think twice about bombing their drives and gouging out from shaggy lies in the rough if they have to use wedges that will impart less ball-stopping spin.
 
Still, all the major manufacturers claim to be ready to proceed with the effective date for the condition of competition the Tour wants to adopt, which is Jan. 1. (Beyond the Tour, the rule would apply to any club manufactured after that date, but clubs made before then will be permissible for use for recreational players until 2024.) Even so, Titleist is asking the Tour to push the rule implementation date back a year because of the intricacies of fitting players under the new groove rules.
 
None of the major manufacturers would speak on the record for this story. But sources close to the situation have said that the refitting process will be much more complicated than switching out some old wedges for new ones. It has been suggested that the performance of wedges with new grooves might even require swing changes, which could lead to the use of a different ball model and, in turn, encourage a driver switch. In other words, the ripple effect of the groove rule could be felt throughout the entire bag. That has some manufacturers and players thinking they need more time to experiment and adjust than the post-season stretch usually reserved for incorporating such new equipment.
 
Some manufacturers have said theyre not going to be ready [for the change], said PGA Tour player Brett Quigley, a member of the Player Advisory Committee. [But] theres also the argument that players wont test until they have to. So why wait another year until 2011? Guys still wont bother to do it.
 
Quigley said the PAC voted at the Colonial event to ask for more education about the situation.
 
It probably wont [get pushed back], but I would bet more than half the guys on Tour want it pushed back, Quigley said.
 
No one has an issue with the rule, said Ted Purdy, another of the 16 members of the PAC. We dont care if it starts January 1. The issue if from the manufacturers standpoint is getting everyone fitted in time.
 
And theres the question of what theyll be getting fitted for. If indeed the new groove measures force the golf ball to change, what kind of ball will Tour players migrate to? One major ball manufacturer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it will add to its line a ball that spins more to counteract the lower spin of shots coming off the new wedges. A wedge designer from another company predicted that the wedge spin loss could be substantial ' as much as 30 to 60 percent from the rough.
 
Of course, players these days wont stand for any loss of yardage off the tee from the new generation of higher-spinning balls, said the ball manufacturer source. That will be the chief engineering challenge, he said.
 
The irony for students of the modern game is palpable. Within living memory, the game has moved from the high-spin balls of the Nicklaus-Trevino-Watson era, where shotmaking was more prized, to very low-spinning orbs that rocket off the driver but are harder to shape from left to right or right to left. Will the new direction be a retracing of golf ball developments recent steps, or a new path altogether?
 
Questions about the groove rule are sure to arise at next weeks U.S. Open, where USGA officials traditionally field queries about the future of equipment regulation. But a USGA official confirmed this week that the discussions between the Tour and Titleist about the effective date for the PGA Tour involve only those two parties, not the USGA.
 
Rex Hoggard contributed to reporting in this article.