Peter Kostis on Tiger Woods, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan and PGA Tour groove rule changes

Peter Kostis on Tiger Woods, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan and PGA Tour groove rule changes

John Daly wins the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews.
Jacqueline Duvoisin

Last week I was asked several questions by golf fans and readers. Here are my answers to some that I found to be especially interesting.

1. The PGA Tour is adopting new rules governing grooves next season. What have you heard about how the new grooves are going to affect play?
Most people think we are going back to the good old days of V-grooves, but that’s not necessarily true. The rule changes reduce the volume of the grooves and the sharpness of the grooves’ edges, but they do not mandate a V-shape.

A lot is being made about the changes, and rightly so. I’ve tried several clubs that have grooves conforming to next year’s standards, and in my opinion, they might spin the ball even less than the old V-grooves did! Players who have not yet tested these grooves might be in for a rude awakening.

Some people think the bomb-and-gouge style prevalent today on the PGA Tour has necessitated the changes. Hitting fairways and shaping shots will again be a requirement for low scores.

But for those who think shot-shaping became a lost art when modern clubs and balls became available, I offer as exhibit No. 1 the world’s No. 1 player — Tiger Woods. His creativity, shot-shaping and control are as good as anyone who has ever played the game.

I’ve also heard this whole thing has really been a back door way of getting players to change golf balls. That theory supposes that in order to maintain spin and control around the greens with the new grooves, pros will switch to a softer, higher-spinning ball. Changing to a softer ball would likely reduce driver distance and make tee shots curve more in flight, which will place a greater premium on driving accuracy. Maybe, maybe not. Golfers who naturally produce high, low-spinning drives will be affected differently than players who naturally hit lower, high-spinning drives.

If fairways remain ridiculously narrow, and rough remains ridiculously high, not much is going to change.

The cat-and-mouse game between players and golf’s governing bodies is going to continue. In order to increase the distance off the tee with the softer ball, pros might experiment with lower-lofted drivers and different driver shafts and lengths. In addition, making a ball change could require players to adjust fairway woods, hybrids and other equipment. The groove change, and the resulting ball changes, could create a domino effect through a player’s entire bag! This “simple” groove change is going to be more complicated and expensive than was anticipated.

Not everyone is going to be ready for all this on January 1, when the rules take effect. And I wouldn’t want to be the person in Hawaii at the first PGA Tour event testing every player’s wedges and irons to ensure they conform to the new rules.

2. Is there any reason why Tiger Woods shouldn’t be as much of a favorite at Turnberry as he was heading into Bethpage?

Nope. Tiger has made dramatic improvements in controlling his swing and has been getting better and better this season. When his rhythm and effort are under control, he is swinging beautifully.

Tiger has plenty of power, tremendous creativity, a knack for making clutch putts, and more experience playing in the spotlight than anyone else. At Turnberry, like everywhere else, he has to be considered a favorite to win.

I also think Tiger will be especially motivated to win this year’s British Open because his buddy Roger Federer has now won 15 major tennis championships. It was reported that the two friends exchanged text messages after Federer’s victory at Wimbledon. I’m sure Tiger would love to send Roger a “15-All” text after Turnberry, and another message in mid-August after the PGA Championship, “16-15” or “My Ad,” before Federer arrives at Flushing Meadows.

3. Hunter Mahan has played well so far this season, but he has only won once on the PGA Tour (Hartford ’07). What has held him back from winning more often?
Many people who follow golf, especially members of the media, make a huge miscalculation and think that a great swing equates to a great player. They think to themselves, “If I could just swing like Ben Hogan, I too could be a great player.” Trust me, there’s more to it than that.

Sure, a great player needs to have a dependable swing, but he must also be an excellent putter, maintain emotional control, have great determination and heart.

Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Charles Howell III, Sean O’Hair and Hunter Mahan have beautiful golf swings, but they don’t putt nearly as well as they hit drives and iron shots.

Everyone, including me, was shocked to see Mahan shoot a final-round 62 at Congressional on Sunday given the difficult hole locations. It was an incredible round, but looking at it carefully, you’ll notice he wasn’t sticking approach shots consistently to within a foot or two of the pin. In fact, his average proximity to the hole was 33 feet. Mahan made a lot of long putts Sunday, including putts from 18, 19 and 36 feet. Had Mahan not made so many long-range putts, his 62 could have been a 66 or a 67 (which still would’ve been a great round).

For players like Scott, Garcia and Mahan to win more, they have to improve their putting and the weaknesses in their short game. Winning golfers hole critical putts at critical moments, and they rely on superior scrambling skills. Too many golfers — even PGA Tour professionals — fall into the trap of practicing what they are good at. If you really want to get better, you have to practice what you don’t do well.

4. What’s up with Anthony Kim this season? He won twice in 2008 and was a major factor in the United States’ Ryder Cup success last fall, but he’s been inconsistent this season.
There is no doubt that Anthony Kim is one of the most talented players on the PGA Tour. When his game is firing on all cylinders, no flagstick is safe, and he can shoot some extremely low scores. At this year’s Masters, Kim set the record for the most birdies scored in a single round (11), and he shot an opening-round 62 in his defense at the AT&T National last week, setting a new course record.

However, we have learned that Kim, like everyone else, struggles when he tries to play through injuries. He’s battled shoulder problems, knee problems and most recently a thumb issue this year. Playing through injuries can really mess up your golf swing.

To play through the pain, he developed a few compensations that led to increased inconsistency. On Sunday at Congressional, I thought Kim did a good job of battling the emotional challenges while paired with Woods. It was clear to me, however, that the flaws he’s developed resulted in a swing that produced two-way misses.

But those flaws are fixable. After Kim has adequate time to fully recover, I expect him to be a factor every week.

If you have a question for Peter Kostis, write it in the Comments area below.