In the late 1980s, PODS Championship winner Mark Calcavecchia was at the top of his game. He was so good, in fact, that some competitors started to complain about his equipment.
That may have been one reason why the U.S. Golf Association looked at square grooves for the first time.
"Pretty ridiculous, actually," said Calcavecchia when the issue came up at his PODS Championship press conference last week. "That actually was a shot I hit at the Honda Classic that Jack [Nicklaus] and Tom Watson and a few other guys went berserk over when I gashed it out of the right hay and sucked it back on the 16th green."
The USGA recently released guidelines for phasing out square, or U, grooves in irons and wedges. Critics have complained that the grooves help players get the ball out of rough more easily, thus losing the half-stroke penalty that an inaccurate hit into the thick stuff is supposed to cause.
"It's a non-issue to me now," Calcavecchia said. "Everybody's grooves are pretty much the same, blades, or Pings or Callaways, whatever.
"It's not the grooves. It's the ball. You hit a slice out there and it starts dropping to the left, not like the old days with the woods and balls went everywhere. Duck hooks ... guys used to hit it all over the place. Now it's bombs away and straight and far."
It would be a pity to cast the slur on any course as being altogether ‘futile and superfluous,’ however bad it might be or wherever it might be situated, simply for the reason that it has its uses as the terrain for the pursuit of certain ends, a kind of happy and perpetual hunting ground. And all such hunting grounds partake in an equal measure of the earth and the sky; the hand of man is fortunately only able to mar the face of the earth.
I had a chance to re-read E. Michael Johnson's fine overview of the USGA's groove smokescreen and discovered that I had stopped reading the online version prematurely. There was more!
And after having read most of the USGA's Second Report On Spin Generation, I was left with questions about the science behind the conclusions. Now, maybe I missed it, so please help me if I did.
First, from Johnson's piece:
"They made a brilliant lab study, but the player testing fell a bit flat," said Dr. Benoit Vincent, chief technical officer for TaylorMade. "I think there was a bit of a rush to conclusion about what actually happens out on the course. In some areas they have made an emotional conclusion based on a global macro-assessment of the data."
Translation: Vincent has some issues with the test protocol and the proposal itself. For starters, he would prefer a larger sample for the player test and a firmer definition of what constitutes "light rough."
I was wondering if I was the only one who couldn't find a definition for rough or light rough. Since this groove stuff is all about the rough and grass moisture levels within the rough grass blades, the rought height would seem like key information in understanding the player testing and how that relates to championship golf.
It's also important considering Frank Thomas's comments on the lack of influence U-grooves have on hay over 4 inches.
Oh and while quiblling, about that field testing. From what I have read in the report, six developmental tour players and 9 PGA Tour players (unnamed) conducted this elaborate field study.
Does that sound like a skimpy sample size to you?
Peter Kostis really needs to pick up, oh I don't know, say, a book on the power of positive thinking.
I mean, how can one be so cynical:
The FedEx Cup hasn’t changed anything yet. Okay, maybe it's still a little too soon for this, but I don’t see how the much-hyped FedEx Cup has changed anything on the PGA Tour so far. The stars have not committed to playing a lot more events and TV ratings are not exactly surging upward.
As the Tour season plays out and we get into June and July the points race will likely take on more meaning, but right now, it’s business as usual out there. And please—quit telling the winner each week in the press room that his most important accomplishment was gaining 4,500 FedEx points! His most important accomplishment was beating 143 other players!
Peter, think positively. It's The Secret!
To Solheim that means a return to V-grooves, because he doubts clubs can be cast to the "aerospace specs" that would be required.
"No doubt we'd have to redesign every groove," he says, echoing Vincent's opinion.
Grooves might have to be milled into the face and then buffed to meet the USGA's guidelines. Solheim says that would add another expense to the manufacturing process.
Vincent estimates the changes could add 10% to the suggested retail of TaylorMade's premium irons, priced at $1,299 for a set of eight.
Further, Solheim says, the manufacturing process might require softer metal, which would degrade quicker and limit durability.
There have been several stories like this Mark Gillespie piece that quote Ping Golf Chairman and CEO John Solheim complaining about the USGA's proposed groove rule change.
"It's straight back to where we were before," Solheim said.And...
"Will the average player get the same enjoyment they get out of shots now?" Solheim asked. "The average golfer likes to see a little spin on the green and feel they've accomplished something."
Solheim said Ping will submit comments to the USGA and will weigh its options.
Asked if that could mean more litigation, Solheim said, "I pray that it doesn't come to that."
What am I missing here?
Won't this rule change be a Godsend for equipment manufacturers, who can now sell new irons to all those wannabe "elite golfers" by 2009?
Woods has frequently said he wants to bring golf to kids and minorities. Wouldn't a great way be entering, just once per five years or so, Tour events he has never or rarely played? Wouldn't that be great for the charities of those events?
What if Woods played Tour events in Houston, Los Angeles and Tampa, cities with large African-American and Hispanic populations? What about the Zurich Classic and the shot in the arm he would give the New Orleans area?
Right now, the events with Woods in the field are healthy. Too many that don't get him are struggling.
Perhaps it's unfair to Woods that he makes or breaks events, but there it is.
The question stands: Tiger, are you listening?
Thanks to reader Edward for sending the link to Gerry Dulac's definitive piece on the Oakmont tree removal program, which appeared around Nissan Open time and when I was preoccupied with that.
This is one you'll want to print out, assuming you are a member of a club debating tree removal. I know, a longshot, but just thought I'd put it out there.
The decision to remove trees, sometimes without the consent of the membership, led to one of the most contentious periods in club history, pitting members who liked shaded fairways against those who sought to restore Oakmont to its original design and, by doing so, improve the health of its turf.And...
But, with the U.S. Open looming four months away, most Oakmont members appear to have embraced the new look. Trees have been replaced with high fescue grasses that sway in the wind, creating a Scottish look.
"If it's not 100 percent, I don't know who is on the other side," said Oakmont golf professional Bob Ford. "There is no grumbling at all. Everybody is very upbeat about it."
But that look began to change in the 1960s when Mr. Brand took umbrage with a comment made by writer Herbert Warren Wind in The New Yorker magazine. Mr. Wind wrote that the U.S. Open was returning to Oakmont, and referred to the course as "that ugly, old brute."
"Well, I got to thinking, why can't it be a beautiful old brute," Mr. Brand was quoted as saying in "Oakmont 100 Years," a book detailing the club's history.
And so began a makeover in which Mr. Brand commissioned architect Robert Trent Jones to plant more than 3,500 trees -- pin oak, crab apple, flowering cherry, blue spruce -- around the property. It was known as the beautification of Oakmont, a program designed to enhance the appearance of the course but one that would ultimately lead to an unsettling era in the club's rich history.
It changed Oakmont from the links-style course that Mr. Fownes had embraced to a parkland-style course like New York's Winged Foot, site of last year's Open, and Merion, a legendary course near Philadelphia. It was a look that likely would have had Mr. Fownes spinning in his grave.
"They were beautiful trees," said Mr. Smith, who started the tree removals. "It went from a links-type course to a very pretty, shaded Western Pennsylvania-type of course. But it wasn't unique."
I got my first look at the Golfweek Top 100 (not posted online). Obviously it was hard not to giggle at the site of Augusta National dropping from 3rd to 10th (Dr. MacKenzie, Bobby Jones and every other golfer with use of their eyes has been wondering what took so long). It was also great to see Herbert Fowler's Eastward Ho! finally get the recognition it deserves by making the list, though this essentially ends its reign as the best kept secret in America.
On the modern side, Rustic Canyon is somehow hanging on at No. 100 in spite of well, we won't go there. Not making the list was Erin Hills, the new Hurdzan-Fry-Whitten design outside of Milwaukee. Golfweek's Brad Klein obviously didn't give it a very high score:
Errant Hills Award: Erin Hills, Hartford, Wisc. A much-ballyhooed new co-design of Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten and professional designers Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry. Too bad it opened a season early in late 2006, though inadequate fescue turf cover is the least of this sprawling daily fee’s problems. The U.S. Golf Association heralds it as a likely future U.S. Open site, but the routing is a mess, in large part because Whitten insisted on moving no dirt at all – thereby taking trendy “minimalism” to its absurd extreme. The raw site is great, but half a dozen holes are inexcusably awkward and much of the bunkering is overexcavated and unmaintainable. The 593-yard par-5 10th hole offers a blind, fall away Biarritz green; the short par-4 second putting surface ends before it begins; and the completely blind par-3 seventh “Dell Hole” plays up and over to the bottom of a vast taco shell. They should have thought “inside the bun” on this one.
Golf World's E. Michael Johnson does a nice job of covering the groove issues, with some surprising comments from Tour players about the change (Davis Love is against it, Jason Gore for it).
But here's the more interesting stuff in the cover story:
If implemented, the rule likely will not have the impact rolling back the ball or reducing clubhead size (two ideas consistently bandied about) would. But it is groundbreaking territory nonetheless. The proposal is the culmination of a two-year research study, and the end result is that the USGA wants to reduce the impact of grooves to what it was 20 years ago--in some ways a make-up call for the perceived mishandling of the groove situation by the USGA in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Dick Rugge, the USGA's senior technical director, refuses to point fingers or lay the blame at his predecessors for the groove situation spinning out of control. "The equipment is much better today and that made it much easier to do the research," he said. "We have more resources and more engineering people. And we had the impetus to do it, which was 20 years of data from the tour. That showed us there was a problem."
The USGA has never admitted there was a distance problem, even with 20 years of data and a long list of people who know the game well telling so. And we're in year 5 of the ball study, yet they pick grooves after 2 years and little demand for a rules change.
The data Rugge speaks of is a correlation coefficient using the PGA Tour's money list and four primary statistics--driving distance, greens in regulation, putting and driving accuracy--since 1980. It revealed that while as recently as the late 1980s accuracy was as much an indicator of success as putting, the relationship between accuracy and success is now almost nonexistent.
Therefore, data should show that rough isn't costing the top players much in the way of shots.
Oops, this chart accompanying the piece would seem to say otherwise:
"It's the most totally wrong thing I've heard of in a long time that's sticking it to the players," [Rich] Beem said March 8.And...
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has said that the AT&T National, to be played July 5-8 in Washington with Woods as the host, likely would be considered along the lines of tournaments run by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer that have limited fields.
The Memorial Tournament has a minimum of 105 players, while the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill has a minimum of 120 players, although 133 eligible players already have committed to play next week in Orlando.
"I was shocked when I heard that," Brad Faxon said. "We've got players looking for spots, and we're replacing a tournament that had a full field. With the amount of tournaments we have that are invitationals, it doesn't make sense to do more."And...
"We're trying to get back more spots throughout the year, and all of a sudden we're going to have a limited-field tournament? That goes against everything the players voted on with the playoff system," Beem said. "If that stays the way it is, I promise you there will be some action taken."
He said players can override the board if it gets support of 66 percent of the voting membership.
Bivens’ latest gaffe in her 18 months at the top came via the 2007 LPGA media guide. This is a book for which Annika Sorenstam had been the annual cover girl for the past 10 years.
Guess what? No Annika out front in 2007, as Lorena Ochoa, Seon Hwa Lee and Julieta Granada adorn the book’s cover. Granted, Ochoa belongs, but Hwa and Granada over Sorenstam?
The Sorenstam snafu is the equivalent of the PGA Tour leaving Tiger off its media guide. And, you can bet that will never happen.
Apparently snubbing the greatest player ever in women’s golf, the same player who doesn’t necessarily see right down the middle with the commish, was the point. And trust me, this latest LPGA media guide cover fiasco didn’t just roll out of the marketing department without Bivens’ blessing.
The same can be said for every other detail involving the LPGA these days. They are Bivens driven, and if an employee dares disagree — “You’re fired!’’ It’s happened so many times since she took over late in 2005 — 13 “resignations,’’ including her top three assistants — you have to wonder: Who’s next?
Certainly Bivens’ dissing of Sorenstam isn’t enough to break her reign of terror. But apparently Sorenstam’s 69 career wins don’t carry much weight these days. That is especially true for those who dare question Bivens’ iron rule.
Sorenstam, however, is one of those few who dared. Last year, after watching fiasco after fiasco that began with top media outlets boycotting the LPGA, was followed by world rankings that were a laughingstock (Sorenstam the exception), and then more resignations from within, Annika observed: “I am quite concerned about some of the decisions and changes I have seen lately. I just wonder where we are headed.’’
Hard to believe my NSA sources had time to pick up this Tiger Woods-Tim Finchem instant message exchange, what with all the time they put in on the Libby jury deliberations. Anyway...
twfPGATOUR©: Tiger, are you there?
TWPrivacy: Hey Timbo. Sup?
twfPGATOUR©: I just wanted to thank you for today, I felt like it went very well. So great to have a monopolistically coterminous brand like AT&T on board isn't it?
TWPrivacy: Yep, very exciting stuff.
twfPGATOUR©: And of course it's just great to be back in the Washington market, where we always wanted to be. Well, without Ralph Shrader involved.
TWPrivacy: The Booz Allen dude?
twfPGATOUR©: More importantly, the military serviceman and women component of this D.C. re-branding really is playing nicely in the early pushback.
TWPrivacy: Yep, and maybe we can even do a little for Walter Reed too?
twfPGATOUR©: Is he the VP of Platform Protocol at Schwab?
TWPrivacy: No, that's the hospital with the mice and mold.
twfPGATOUR©: Of course.
TWPrivacy: So what can I do for you Tim? We're third in line here at Dulles and I might lose you.
twfPGATOUR©: Oh great, we're 7th up here, taxing in the Falcon.
twfPGATOUR©: Well I just wanted to thank you for wearing the FedEx themed tie and shirt today.
twfPGATOUR©: I'd do one of those smiley icons after that, but we have them shut down in the company instant messaging. Security issues.
TWPrivacy: Uh, okay. Not sure what you mean, it was just a suit and shirt and tie.
twfPGATOUR©: Say Tom Wade is here, our EVP and CMO. He says thanks for wearing the FedEx Purple with the FedEx Light Platinum suit.
TWPrivacy: Well actually, it wasn't intentional.
twfPGATOUR©: Tom says that in the future if you are interested, you can read all about their brand color regulations here: http://www.fedexidentity.com/guidelines/FedEx_Guidelines.pdf
twfPGATOUR©: One thing, Tom was hoping you'd note that the purple you wore today was a little different than the PANTONE 2685 that defines the FedEx brand.
twfPGATOUR©: And not to be too picky, but the grey suit was a little off from the PANTONE Cool Gray 6 that Tom says brings the entire FedEx brand come together.
TWPrivacy: Thanks Tim, I'l make sure to get this off to my Nike people. Anything else?
twfPGATOUR©: No that about does it, just wanted to thank you again for you help and support here.
twfPGATOUR©: Oh and one other thing. Uh, the limited field concept, how did my explanation of the hot weather and slow play go over you think?
TWPrivacy: I saw one of the writers shake his head in a positive way.
twfPGATOUR©: Excellent. It's just, you see, I'm going to have a little trouble with the Board on this, since we're not really adding a playing opportunity for a portion of the membership.
TWPrivacy: Well, that's why you have the 5 directors that you appoint, and 4 player directors.
twfPGATOUR©: Good point. Well thanks again Tiger for this very special day. Oh one other thing, could you ask Mark Steinberg to give me a call tomorrow?
TWPrivacy: Actually Tim, this is Mark. Tiger had to step away.
TWPrivacy: It was me all along. Say, I'll be in after 8, and you have the cell.
twfPGATOUR©: Right. Safe travels.
TWPrivacy: You too Tim.
Bill Huffman on Michelle Wie skipping the Safeway as well as the LPGA's first major:
Tom Maletis, the president of the Tournament Golf Foundation that runs the Safeway International, said the injury also will keep Wie from playing the following week in the Kraft Nabisco Championship – the LPGA’s first major championship.
“I’ve been in constant contact with B.J. (her father) and the Wie camp,’’ Maletis said when asked about the 17-year-old superstar’s status for the Safeway International, which takes place March 22-25 at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club near Gold Canyon.
“Officially, she’ll miss our event, and, unofficially, she’ll also miss the Kraft Nabisco. Apparently, last week she had the cast taken off, and the doctor found that (the injury) was not healing like it should – there was still some pain – and so the doctor put the cast back on for another two weeks.’’
Maletis said he was somewhat surprised that the official word on both tournaments had yet to be released.
“But B.J. told me she’s not going to play in either tournament,’’ Maletis said. “I mean, she would just be getting the cast off, and that’s hardly the time to make your first (LPGA) start of the season.’’
It’s been a frustrating 2007 for Wie to date. She showed up at the Sony Hawaiian Open on the PGA Tour in January with her right wrist bandaged, which Wie labeled a “little injury.’’ At the time, she said she wasn’t sure if the wrist was sprained or strained, or perhaps a pinched nerve.
In February, she fell while reportedly running backwards during a visit to Stanford, where Wie will attend college this fall. That injury was diagnosed as a severe sprain and her left wrist was put in a cast. Now, it’s in a second cast.
Running backwards, on a campus visit?
Q. (Operator interruption. Question about size of field.)
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I've had some preliminary conversations with our board and I have to believe that we will work with Tiger and the Foundation to fine-tune it, but my guess is that at the end of the day, the field size will be commensurate with what you generally see in Invitationals which is a somewhat limited field.
Now there's a couple of reasons for that. One is prestige of the event. The other is, even though it's snowing today, it's quite warm here -- I used to live here for ten years, July 4th, and pace of play -- we want the pace of play and the experience for the players to be positive as well. So you put those two things together, and it argues for a somewhat shorter field and I think that's where we'll be.
So the experience for the players needs to be positive, therefore limit the field size so that pace of play has a chance of breaking 5 hours?
In other words, slow play is in the best interests of the world's top players?
The slower they get, the smaller the fields become?
Anyway, thanks to reader Steve for this link to Len Shapiro's online chat spelling out the key event details.
Golfweek's Alistair Tait says the USGA/R&A braintrust is way too late on the grooves and distance issues, with little hope for a happy resolution.
However, it doesn't take a Ph.D. to recognize that the game has changed immeasurably, no matter what the governing bodies tell us. Yes, the objective of getting the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible hasn't changed, but the means of doing so have.
It wasn't that long ago that John Daly was the only player to hit drives over 300 yards, now every Tom, Dick or Bubba seems to be able to do that.
You can't blame the equipment manufacturers. It's not as if they went out and broke the rules. They acted within the guidelines laid down by the governing bodies. After all, it wasn't the manufacturers who changed the specifications to allow square grooves, but the governing bodies.
Moreover, golf's two ruling bodies sat blithely by as manufacturers experimented with metal woods, graphite shafts, long putters, and did absolutely nothing.
Now they are trying to turn back the clock.
It can't be done. All this talk of rolling back the ball is just that. Try doing that and watch the writs fly. And rightly so. If I was a ball manufacturer who had acted within the rules laid down by both the R&A and USGA at all times, I'd be pretty ticked off if they turned round to me and said, "Oh, by the way, we've made a small mistake and we need you to change the way you produce your product."
The words, "Get my lawyer on the phone" spring to mind.
This grooves rethink isn't the start of some technological fight back. As far as I'm concerned they are merely putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.
We are where we are. The genie is out of the bottle and can't be put back in because there is no way the R&A and USGA can fight the manufacturers in the courts. All they can do now is try to draw a line in the sand.
Now, we all know that the R&A was utterly useless until recently, and the USGA was held back by the R&A's incompetence on equipment issues along with that messy legal situation where each of their members could be named in a manufacturer lawsuit. We also know that in testing areas, the USGA has been slow to keep up with the manufacturers (by their own admission).
So wouldn't a simple "sorry, we goofed, this has to be done for the good of the game" apology go a long way in this discussion?
I heard from a college coach today who took great exception to Hank Haney's piece on college golf not necessarily being the best place to prep players for the PGA Tour. The coach said the sense of entitlement with today's kids is already out of whack and pieces like this will only make their life more difficult, but worse than that, create ridiculous expectations from kids.
The scoring format and playing fields of college golf also impede progress. At most college tournaments, teams play with five players but count only the best four scores from each day. That can cause a player having a bad round to get in the habit of packing it in rather than battling (though that might mean he's not in the lineup for the next tournament).
Right. Like players always know which five are going to count. And let's say they do, even so, they want to stay in the line up and protect their scoring average. Players do not dog it because of the five-counting-four-scores system.
And in my experience, many college events were played on courses with little rough. Hitting it crooked without being punished is not good training for what players will face as pros.
Uh, haven't we just been hearing that there is no correlation between driving accuracy and financial success?
"It wouldn't be that big of a deal if this were a normal year,'' Jobe said. "But with the FedEx Cup and everything, you probably have to be 80th to have any chance of winning it. I'm already two months behind.''