Saturday, February 6, 2010

Square Groove Rule Indicative Of Golf's Problems

I've been asked a few times by different blog readers about my thoughts on the USGA's groove rule.

I think it's one of the most ridiculous, haphazard rulings in the history of all sports.

First, I believe that the rule is in place due to the influence of golfers like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus who have been outspoken about the grooves. Let me get this straight, I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of these great men, but I do not agree with their sentiments on the rules. I can understand their line of thinking, but the grooves are not the problem.

In fact, as far as scores and handicaps actually being lowered, equipment isn't an issue. Why? Because the average golfer's handicap really hasn't reduced in the last 80 years!

Again, don't get me wrong. I think there needs to be regulations on certain things like the golf ball and the drivers because they are making good courses either obsolete or having to re-design and they lose their beautry often times when they are ridiculously stretched to odd lengths.

Secondly, the PGA Tour and other tours have been set up to become a game of bomber vs. bomber which I find much less interesting than a bomber vs. short but accurate player vs. jack of all trades, master of none, etc.

And I can see where the frustration of many of the older golfers sits in as they see the winner of a tournament hit less than half their fairways and just badly miss on too many drives. But because they are so long they are often left with such a short iron into the green it really doesn't matter if they missed badly or even worse...they miss so badly but are so long that they 'over-shoot' the trouble. Johnny Miller once made a great observation that Tiger plays great on courses where opposing fairways run parallel to each other because he can miss the fairway so bad and find himself on a fairway for a different hole and all he needs to do is hit the ball a little higher over some trees.

These problems can be solved by thickening the rough, creating more OB stakes so a golfer can't come in from another fairway and making sure that driver technology and golf ball technology doesn't get the ball flying any further than it is today.

Not getting rid of square grooves.

And the entire Mickelson v McCarron issue is just as ridiculous. Mickelson thinks he's getting an advantage by hitting a 20 year old, poorly designed wedge and McCarron, who seemingly is the only person on Tour who cannot go on eBay, thinks the same thing as well.

Oh yeah, what Phil is doing is perfectly legal as well.

But to me, this signifies a bit why the handicaps of golfers have not dropped in the past 80 years. The Secret In The Dirt crew of Sevam1 and Steve Elkington hope to figure why the handicaps have not dropped this year.

The SITD's thought is to go back in time and hit equipment that those golfers had to hit and basically see what golfers like Henry Cotton had to go thru in order to figure out how to hit the golf ball well.

I think it's a pretty sharp idea.

My current feelings on why the handicap hasn't improved over the past 80 years follows this type of logic.

A. Golf and Driver = Longer in distance

B. To Counter, Courses Became Longer

This is important to note because if we were to just say that we are not any better than we were 80 years ago, it would be erroneous because you can bet that if we were playing 6,000 yard courses with modern equipment, it would be a cakewalk for us. Instead, the courses are entirely longer and that helps offset the extra length we've gained with the drivers and the ball.

C. Irons Designed to hit the ball longer

Irons have much stronger lofts, lower COG, bigger sweetspots so they are more forgiving, upright lie angles to take away the slice move.

However, I THINK THIS IS A BIG PART OF THE PROBLEM. I can't knock the modern driver because research shows that you will put yourself in a much better position to score lower with today's modern driver vs. the vintage persimmon or even the metal drivers.

However, we have gotten into the mode of making irons so easy to hit and so easy to hit them far, golfer's are not properly testing their motor skills as well as they should and they become very sloppy with their precision in their swing.

Can't generate clubhead speed? Throw in an ultra-light club.

Can't keep the ball flight from ballooning? Go with stronger lofts.

Can't stop mis-hitting the irons? Go with a bigger clubface.

Can't stop slicing? More upright lies and more offset will do the trick.

I had a teacher ask me more about this and he thought that the modern irons were 'playing for your misses instead of playing for your good strikes.'

My response is that usually good teachers in their lessons try to 'take away the reward' when a student makes a compensatory move in their swing that is in place because of a flaw they have mechanically.

The modern day, over-sized, offset, lighter, more upright lie irons just reward golfers for their compensations and flaws that they have in their swing. If you're in a competitive round of golf, I probably wouldn't suggest anything easier than a 'players' cavity back set of irons. But if you're practicing, you should really buy some vintage blades cheap off of eBay so you can stop rewarding yourself for flaws and compensations in your swing. I think it's very difficult for teachers to stop letting their students 'reward' themselves when the equipment is trying to accomplish the exact opposite goal.

D. 'Target Golf' aka 'Carry Golf'

'Target Golf' is a name given to Pete Dye's course designs that are prevalent today. I think it's a poor way to describe it because every golf course is 'target golf' in one form or another. But Dye's designs are more what I call 'carry golf.' It wants you to hit the target almost exclusively thru the carry of the golf ball. This is in stark contrast to even 30 years ago when courses were designed to allow for more roll, particularly landing shots short of the green and then seeing them land onto the green. I was estimating this, but the old school type of courses would have about 12 holes on average that allowed golfers to roll the ball onto the green. Today's courses probably average about 8 holes where the ball can roll onto the green.

This has meant things like island greens. It used to be a novel concept back in the 80's, now probably 1/3rd of the courses have either an island green or a green that is almost entirely surrounded by water.

A lot of this is done to make courses more pretty and believe it or not, I really don't have a problem with 'carry golf.' However, I think it makes the game harder for the general golfing public.

E. Greens are far better

David Orr ( did a study on putting and one of the many things he found out was that golfers, ranging from PGA Tour pros to the 30 handicapper, improved their putting on average 20% going from a muni type green to a Tour quality green (Pinehurst).

Simply put, smoother greens are easier to putt on, even if they are much faster. In fact, Mark Sweeney of AimPoint Golf states this clearly. You will make more putts on faster greens, period.

So, what's the synopsis of why handicaps have stayed the same in the past 80 years?

1. Ball traveled further
2. Caused courses to expand to offset that, which kept handicaps the same.
3. Iron designs became worse, causing golfers to be longer, but more inaccurate and inconsistent with their irons.
4. Courses became more 'carry golf' oriented, making them harder for golfers in general.
5. Greens became easier to putt on.

And all of that pretty much evened out.

But, it's my belief that if golfers can get back into hitting much better designed irons, at least when they practice, the scores would improve.

And while putting has improved because greens are much better today...I believe putting should be MUCH better than it already is.

Unfortunately, we have golfers who think that they wil putt better by spending $300 on the latest Scotty Cameron while they still do not know how to read greens or they do not aim that new $300 putter very accurately.

The entire groove rule fiasco symbolizes the handicaps not lowering over the past 80 years because golfers have often gone after simple 'quick fixes' from an equipment standpoint that actually hurt their game and all of these changes the game has scene over the years has been due to the driver and the golf ball.



DanL. said...

Wow! Fantastic insight. It's clear that the average player has to learn to strike the ball better, to have better impact dynamics ... or ten years from now, the average score will still be 100+. Despite all the educational material available, the problem still seems to be that the average players doesn't understand how to create a consistently correct impact. Your idea about using vintage clubs will certainly help a player discover and feel when they've made a good swing.


VJ said...

Great Article Rich, I couldn't agree more with everything in this!!

Rich H. said...

Thanks guys. I think you can still use many of the modern day irons, although I think you have to be careful about their lie angles and swingweights. I know Mizuno and Scratch will make clubs to whatever swingweight you want and should be able to get the lie angle to whatever you want as well. However, I greatly prefer the sharper leading edge and I think only Scratch's Tour Custom irons (which go for $2,500) can offer that.

John Erickson doesn't like hitting the modern driver because he feels it is too light and then he would have to adjust his swing in order to hit it properly. But when you're in competition, it's a must to have the modern driver.

Hopefully if my swing improves enough I can get my current Hogan's re-shafted to a standard length (they are currently a -1/2") and hopefully I can hit them the same length as my Mizunos, but with much more precision.


Erik J. Barzeski said...

Couldn't disagree more with your take on the grooves rule. I think it's a good rule that should restore a teeny bit of balance back to the game. This may not be evident on rain-soaked courses on the left coast, but wait until the summer or when we get to Florida or whatever. Long rough? Yeah, that's exciting... How about temptingly short rough that leads to confusion and fliers and lets balls run off into the trees if they're far enough off-line?

I also fail to see how the groove rule - which is pretty much limited to the guys who play for a living or have a low single digit handicap - relates to the rest of the post about the average golfer's handicap, which I do agree with for the most part. I think you had two posts here... The guy who doesn't break 100 couldn't care less about his grooves. He probably doesn't even clean them, and he probably hasn't bought a new wedge in 12 years anyway.

Rich H. said...

As a sub scratch golfer I could really care less about the grooves as well. I currently play with 1963 Hogan irons and have zero issue getting them to spin and hold greens.

I just think that ignoring the ball is a big mistake and far more important.

Erik J. Barzeski said...

The average PGA Tour player swings 11-13 MPH faster than they did 20 years ago. Any ball would go farther.

We're going to have to agree to disagree on the ball too. :-)

Rich H. said...

They swing faster in large part because of the equipment is lighter and longer.


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