New Grooves No Problem


The new rule restricting the volume and edge sharpness of grooves has been a big topic of conversation with players on the PGA and European Tours over the last few months. Effective Jan. 1, 2010, all clubs with lofts equal to or greater than 25 degrees must conform to the new specifications and the condition of competition adopted by the USGA and R&A – at least on the professional levels. (Recreational golfers have until 2024 to get their clubs to conform.)

The goal of the USGA is to put a higher premium on hitting more fairways and greens; they don't want players bombing it out there, then having an easy time stopping the ball out of the rough. They want us to pay a greater penalty for hitting our tee ball or second shot into the rough. The game has become quite different over the last five to 10 years: Guys are hitting the ball a long ways, and in response to that, golf courses are getting longer. That makes it harder on us shorter hitters. But that's no excuse because there are plenty of guys out there who hit the ball about the same distance as I do, and still manage to win. It just makes winning a little harder.

Luke Donald wedge shot.
Luke Donald will need to find a new sand and lob wedge for 2010.
Will the new grooves have a big impact in 2010? We'll have to wait and see, but if it does make any difference, it'll be in my favor because I've been playing with conforming irons (Mizuno MP-62s) all year. The only irons in my bag that don't conform to the new specs are my sand iron and lob wedge (Mizuno MP Series 54- and 60-degree wedges).

Tee to green, it's not going to be a big change for me, but around the green I'll have to put in a little more time getting used to the new grooves. I'll probably continue to use the MP-62s, although Mizuno just brought out a new line of irons, the MP-68s, which are similar to the old MP-33s. I may give them a try in the off-season, and they're conforming as well.

The guys who have non-conforming irons right now are saying there's quite a big difference in the new grooves compared to the old. Some said the ball was flying 15 yards farther with a 7-iron – that's a big change to get used to. The ball comes out flatter and hotter, they say, and it doesn't stop as easily. Fortunately for me that's not an issue.

The biggest adjustment I'll have to make will be around the greens. I tested a few wedges with conforming grooves at the Tour Championship and the ball definitely releases a little more; you can't get it to bite as quickly. A lot of guys now play with the spin grooves, which makes the ball come out low, check, and stop dead. With the new grooves, the ball is going to roll out a couple of more feet from 20, 30 yards away.

It's not just the rough, either. If you find yourself hitting from the bunker or a tight lie the ball is releasing a little more. It tends to roll out one or two more feet from the sand. I feel like I have pretty good technique from the bunker and will be able to stop the ball, just not as much. It's the guys who don't have good technique and rely more on the technology of the grooves to do the work who will struggle, especially if they short-side themselves.

One thing you might see players do in the future is go to wedges with less loft, because the way the new grooves are they make the ball pop up in the air easier, even though it doesn't spin as much. So you don't need a lot of loft to get the ball to come out high and soft.

You might also see guys changing golf balls. I know companies are looking at making balls that are a little softer to counteract the ball releasing and rolling out more. Hopefully, they can find a ball that's softer around the green but still flies as far. I can't afford to sacrifice any more distance, but if I can find a ball I hit as far or farther than my Pro V1x, and it spins a little more around the greens, I'll certainly look at it.

I did switch drivers a few weeks back, from a Titleist D2 to a TaylorMade R9 460. I felt like I spun the ball a little too much with my previous driver and didn't get as much roll as I wanted. With the R9, I get a little better ball flight; the ball is coming down flatter and, consequently, rolling out more when it's on the ground. Mizuno has a new prototype driver I tested out at the Tour Championship, but for the remainder of the season through the Dubai World Championship I'll be sticking with the equipment I have.

Right now I'm currently enjoying my off-season, albeit a short one. I was in New York last week to have two souchers removed from my surgically repaired left wrist. The souchers weren't dissolving properly, and were irrititating some soft tissue, so it was best to clean it up now. I'll be ready for the final sprint in the Race to Dubai in a few weeks (Nov. 19-22), but until then I'll be relaxing at home in Chicago. It's nice to have a few weeks off in a row to get away from it all and recharge my batteries.

Luke Donald headshot.Editor’s Note: Two-time PGA Tour winner and European Ryder Cup team member Luke Donald will be writing a monthly column for throughout the remainder of the 2009 season. The focus of the column will be “What I’m Working On,” and will give you an inside look into life on the PGA Tour from one of the game’s elite players.