Technical Director Jeff Summitt Weighs In On The New Groove Rule

I have been asked by several of you readers to share my thoughts about the upcoming USGA groove ruling.  If you are not familiar with the changes, it involves an amendment to the current rules regarding groove width, groove depth, spacing between adjacent grooves and the radius of the top of the groove. It is not designed to eliminate U-grooves and go back to V-grooves, rather redefine the sharpness at the edge of the grooves and tighten the tolerances in manufacturing.
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How companies were able to make aggressive grooves and still fall under the existing rule is still beyond my comprehension. But all it took was for a few manufacturers to decide to challenge the existing rules by manufacturing and then touting their wedges will produce greater spin, before the USGA decided to do something about it.  Fair enough, after all the USGA was created to protect the integrity of the game.

So here are my top five thoughts on the latest groove controversy.

5. The USGA set the stage for confusion galore because this rule is unlike any other in the past because it does not apply to all the golfers at the same time.

Power Play Caiman Irons Custom Assembled $29.95 Each

Power Play Caiman Irons Custom Assembled $29.95 Each

This new rule which goes in effect next year will affect less than 1% of the golfers out there.  That’s right, less than 1%!  Unless you are among the most elite golfers, you will not have to worry about buying new equipment because of the grooves on your current clubs.  Even if you are a really good amateur then you might have until 2014 to make a switch as the next tier of players will become affected by the rule.  And for us “everyday golfers”, we don’t have to worry about the groove rule on our existing equipment until 2024 as long as they were previously submitted and conformed under the old rules.  Confused still?  If you are, join the club.

4.  Check out the average golfer’s grooves next time you walk past the bag drop at your local course.  Are they filled with dirt, mud or grass from the last round (or before)?  If they are, it won’t matter what kind of grooves those clubs originally had because they are effectively groove-less in that state.  If that describes you, well your reaction might be “just eliminate grooves altogether as that will be the simplest solution for all”.  That may not sound that far fetched knowing that it took nearly 400 years of golf to starting putting grooves of the faces of clubs.  If you don’t believe me, look in the old history books.

3.  OK, maybe there will be a conforming wedge list soon, just like there is a conforming ball and conforming driver list.  Playing devil’s advocate, let’s say a player uses a groove cleaner or re-grooving tool to “clean” the grooves on one of those clubs on that list. Inadvertently, the person enlarges or eliminates the radius at the top of each groove so it no longer conforms?  After all the strict dimensions and tolerances the USGA is allowing are measured in the thousandths of an inch and this is very possible inadvertently or not.  And who is going to able to check it?

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Dynacraft Prophet CNC Forged Iron $35.95 Each

2.  Set up the tour courses like the ones everyday golfers like us play. Course conditions play an important role in a player’s ability to spin the ball.  To give you some evidence, I was lucky to play in a Hooter’s Pro Am several years ago. I must have been on fire that day because I was sucking the ball back on the greens – and I never do that.  My playing partners got mad at me because I couldn’t get the ball to the hole.  I was coming up short each and every time.  When you are not used to that shot, it is hard to make that adjustment mentally. After leaving the tournament later that day, there was still enough daylight to play a quick round at my home course.  With the same clubs and ball, not once was I able to have the ball suck back on the green.  It comes down to course conditions plain and simple.

1. Last time I looked, the one with the lowest score wins the tournament (unless playing the Stableford Competition).  So what is wrong with a PGA or LPGA player shooting a 15 under round of 57?  After all it might be exciting and I am sure the PGA and especially the LPGA Tour right now wants to increase their audiences and TV ratings.  Has anyone shot a 57?  None have, that is the point, not with V-grooves or these new aggressive grooves.  Plus a score of 57 is no where near a perfect score either.

This rule may do nothing more create needless hysteria amongst the everyday golfer, at least in the next 6 months to a year. For manufacturers like Hireko, we cringe over the thoughts of retooling and investing into special club head finishing machinery to make sure the grooves can conform to the new rule.  In the long run, elite golfers will put in the time and learn the techniques necessary to get the ball to land close to the hole; something of which the average golfer won’t creating an even bigger difference talent-wise.  I am sure ball manufacturers will continue with the magic to make sure the ball will spin at current levels but with the new grooves – at least for the professional ranks.

This is not the first rodeo the USGA has been involved with regarding grooves.  In the 1920s the USGA outlawed irons made with unusually wide and deep grooves.  Many of you won’t forget the controversy regarding the Ping Eye 2 irons in the mid 1980’s. I doubt this latest issue will be the last one either.

So for now, at least clean the grooves of your clubs…

7 Comments on Personal Feelings About The New Groove Rule

  1. Walter says:

    From what I have observed in my 40+ years of playing golf, the biggest problem with 95% of golfers is their swing, not the grooves in their clubs. A bad swing pretty much eliminates any advantage a certain type of groove can make in lowering your score.This is a non issue as far as I am concerned.

  2. Glenn says:

    To V or not to V: that is the question.

  3. Jeff,
    I agree completely.

    In fact, I’ll go further. In the last decade or so, the USGA has changed from the protector of the game to the enforcer of special interests. How do you reconcile setting all sorts of dimension limitations on the clubhead and limiting the length of the club with allowing broomstick putting and spring faces. I stopped renewing my membership several years ago. I’m frankly disgusted with them.

    DaveT

  4. Matt L. says:

    As far as I see it, most of us amateurs don’t get much advantage from the extreme grooves – so it won’t matter at all. The only wedges that really impact my ability to “suck back” the ball would likely rip the outer cover off the ball!

    The only time I get good backspin that either stops the ball or gives it a hop back would be an uphill shot about 20 yards from the green with my 60* lob wedge. With the ball in line with my front foot and way too much wrist action, I can get the ball up high and fall almost straight down on the green. Does it work all the time? No way. Does the new groove rule affect that shot? Not likely.

    I play inexpensive knock-off blade wedges that I got for less than $3/head on clearance. I hit the ball the same with those as with brand-name wedges costing $100/club.

  5. Gary says:

    I agree about the course conditions being one of if not the biggest factors. The OTHER big factor is that to put any spin on the ball, you need to hit the ball before hitting the ground with tremendous acceleration through the ball. That fact alone leaves out 99% of all golfers, because golfers don’t accelerate on the downswing and they normally hit ground before ball. End of story!

  6. David Braham says:

    Success at golfing, like many activities, relies on a combination of many factors. I agree with your assessment that grooves are definitely not the only thing impacting a player’s game (professional or otherwise). Players’ mindsets, the course conditions, among other things also play a vital role. However, like you stated, the new groove ruling doesn’t really affect the average player, so it will not impact most of us regardless of how we feel about it.

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