BETHESDA, Md.(AP) PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem didn’t have to spin this one. He made it clear Tuesday that the tour will go along next year with a new rule that changes the grooves in irons and wedges.
The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced last year that effective Jan. 1, the dimensions in grooves – from the 5-iron through wedges – would change to create less spin when the ball was struck. The idea was to make shots out of the rough more difficult, putting a higher premium on driving accuracy.
Finchem was under increasing pressure from players and some equipment companies to postpone by one year the new rule, allowing for more research in what amounts to the first rollback in golf equipment since World War II.
But after a spirited discussion by the PGA Tour policy board, Finchem decided to stay the course.
“I think that we’re late in the process,” Finchem said. “I think there’s been a lot of reliance on the schedule by individuals, by equipment manufacturers, by other tours, by other golf organizations in taking steps to prepare for this schedule. We got a couple of requests to consider a delay, and we challenged whether that was a problem. And we concluded that it was.”
Grooves previously were U shaped with sharp edges, allowing high-skilled players to generate enormous spin. The USGA was concerned that players were able to spin the ball out of the rough, allowing for shots to stop more quickly on the green. It felt that players no longer were penalized severely for missing the fairway.
“I think it’s great,” Tiger Woods said. “We’ve had plenty of time to make our adjustments. All the companies have been testing and getting ready for this, and the guys will make the changes.”
Woods said players likely won’t be able to control the ball out of the rough with smaller grooves, and it could change the way they attack par 5s or short par 4s that can be reached off the tee. Missing in the round spot could mean a player “is obviously going to pay a little more of a price.”
Golf’s governing bodies announced in August last year that the grooves rule would take effect Jan. 1 for major championships and tour events around the world. However, each tour has a “condition of competition” clause that allows it to decide whether to follow USGA rules.
USGA president Jim Vernon said two weeks ago that the U.S. Open would follow whatever the PGA Tour decided.
Golf officials said recreational players could continue using irons that were manufactured through 2010, and the new rules would not apply to them until at least 2024. Also, the grooves rule would not apply for events like the U.S. Amateur until 2014.
Acushnet Co., parent company of Titleist and Cobra, had asked that the rule not take effect until Jan. 1, 2011 to align with the date manufacturers are required to ship products with the new groove dimensions.
Otherwise, the company said it would create “bifurcation,” which means not every golfer will be playing under the same rules.
“That disconnect is also unprecedented,” Acushnet said in a statement.
John Solheim, chairman and CEO of Ping, had said Monday evening the company has been opposed to the rule all along, and that postponing the date it becomes effective was not the point.
“The new groove rule harms the game and golfers and should be dropped,” Solheim said. “The recent uproar about it from PGA Tour players demonstrates this fact.”
The nine-member policy board – four members are PGA Tour players – did not vote on the postponement. Rather, it deferred to Finchem and his staff because it was not policy, rather a “condition of competition.”
“I concluded that delaying at this point in time probably was not in our overall best interests,” Finchem said. “But the good news is that there continues to be wide support for the rule itself.”
He said the tour would make available nearby courses at various tournaments later this year for players to test irons, specifically the wedges. Finchem also said there would be a “full-court press” to make sure players and equipment companies are up to speed as the new season – and new rules – nears.
Why not wait one more year?
“We thought that the bulk of the preparedness issue with the delay would be shifted to next year,” he said.