Greetings from semi-retirement, Sand Trappers. I couldn’t help but chime in with a quick thought or two about the USGA’s announcement (and concurrent R&A announcement) proposing a change in the rules regarding grooves on irons and wedges.
When I first read the proposed change last week, it seemed fairly reasonable. It would only affect the best players using urethane balls, which might increase the importance of driving accuracy without taking the air out of the ball or changing driver designs. But then I wondered if this proposal has a deeper meaning that isn’t so benign.
As it has for decades, the USGA (and R&A) is setting a regulation for how equipment can be made for use in competition or for handicap purposes. Nothing new there, right? Wrong. The proposal to change groove regulations marks a significant new strategy for the USGA. Instead of setting a limit on future performance gains, the groove proposal is an attempt by the USGA to roll back performance and take away something that they’ve already approved.
Think about it. The 460cc limit on driver size? Imposed before most companies had gotten anywhere close to it. The 0.83 limit on Coefficient of Restitution? A limit based on the hottest drivers that were already on the market. Neither of those controversial rules changes took widely used clubs out of the hands of professionals and amateurs alike.
But if you’ve bought irons or wedges in the last 20 years, those clubs probably have grooves that will run afoul of the new USGA proposal. If you’ve bought wedges in the last couple years, especially wedges like Titleist’s Vokey Design Spin Milled models or Callaway’s X-Tour wedges with MD grooves, those will definitely need to be shelved in a couple years.
So what, you say? Sure, a lot of us buy new irons and wedges every couple years. We’ll just buy irons and wedges that conform to the new rules the next time we upgrade, right? Sure thing.
But what’s chilling is that the USGA has decided to put the genie back in the bottle with square grooves, one of the biggest hot-button issues in equipment history. If the change to groove depth and shape doesn’t make whatever difference the USGA intends, what else will be taken away?
“Well, we goofed on 460cc drivers, let’s take that back to 300cc. And let’s nudge that COR back to 0.70, and dial back the distance of the golf ball, too.”
Will that happen? Who knows? But I think it is significant to point out that this could be a sea change in how the USGA does business. The shift from looking at current performance and saying, “You can have this, but no more” is one thing. Deciding that you can go back and change the rules is something entirely different.
And I thought the USGA didn’t believe in mulligans.