Is The USGA's Groove Rule Working?
I read with interest a brief overview of some statistics from the Farmer’s Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, and how they might have been affected by the new USGA rules governing grooves enacted by the PGA Tour this year. If you remember, the point of this change was to address the declining effect of hitting fairways on scoring on the PGA Tour. The USGA contended that the milled groove technology, with the precise sharp edges, was making shots from the rough as easy to stop as historic shots from the fairway. They felt like, if they reduced the effectiveness of grooves, that golfers would retreat some from their bomb–and-gouge approach to being more concerned with hitting fairways so they could control their approach shots.

Is it working?

Through four events, comparing this year to last, here are some stats that could be meaningful:
1. Average driving distance is down by 6.7 yards, so that looks good right? But haven’t at least two events been played in very wet sloppy conditions? Hmmmmm, could that be the real culprit with this stat?

2. Driving accuracy is up by almost 6%, so that’s encouraging, too. But realize that last year, through four events, the best players in the world drove it in the fairway less than 55% of the time!! Don’t you find that deplorable? And hard to understand? So an increase to just over 60% fairways hit really doesn’t impress me that much. How are most of these guys going to compete in majors when they can’t drive it in the fairway? That may reach back to my argument from last week that these guys really “aren’t that good”, compared to the genuine ball strikers of bygone days. (Did you see that 60-year old Tom Watson, who almost won the British Open last year, had a top ten finish in Dubai? Looked to me like the rough there was pretty tough, so maybe the old “ball striker” found a place where he could show the kids a thing or two. Just a thought.)
Now, to me, here’s what’s interesting about the next three stats that were covered in this GolfWorld article and chart.
1. Approaches from the rough – 50-125 yards. According to the USGA, this is precisely what the new groove rule was supposed to address – the ability to stick it close from the rough. Well, accuracy from those shots actually improved, from an average result of 28’7”, to 26’9”, or almost two feet! Hmmmm, doesn’t look like the new grooves are giving them that much trouble, huh? But there’s more.

2. Approaches from the rough – 125-150 yards. Here again, the accuracy improved by almost two feet, from 2009 average of 36’10”, to a 2010 average of 34’11”. Hmmm, wonder how these stats were interpreted by the boys at the USGA?
But I know . . . where the new grooves really gave these guys fits is in scrambling, right? Hitting those tricky little shots around the greens, where lack of spin is sure to put more bogeys on the card. That’s where this new groove rule would show its teeth for sure, won’t it?

Well, Scrambling Success (inside 30 yards) actually improved, too. According to this statistical review, it improved from 26.75% in 2009 to 30.30% this year so far.

So, let me get this straight, the USGA changed the rules on grooves so that these top players would have a harder time hitting greens from the rough, getting up and down would be tougher and they’d have to hit more fairways. But shots are ending up closer to the hole from the rough, and scrambling is improving.

Wouldn’t it be great to be a fly on the wall at USGA headquarters and be able to hear how they are processing this so far?

The lessons learned.

But The Wedge Guy is all about improving your scoring, so what can you take from this?

Well, first of all, compare your fairways hit to tour pros and cut yourself some slack. These guys only hit the fairway 6 out of 10 times. They find themselves in the rough 5-6 times per round. I think you should set your sights higher because you don’t hit it that far, and you are not that good from deep gunk.

Secondly, these guys average putts of 30 feet or less from the rough, inside 125 yards, so what should your fairway average be? Work on that distance alone and you’ll find your scores coming down quickly. Just rethink your last round of golf and figure out what you would have shot if almost all your shots from 125 or less were inside of 35 feet or so?

And finally, these guys average getting up and down from inside 30 yards nearly one out of three times! All their strength advantage over you is neutralized if you’re only trying to hit the ball 30 yards or less, right? How does that stack up to your up-and-down success? Maybe a place to practice this spring, huh?

See you Tuesday, guys.
The Wedge Guy is sponsored by SCOR Golf, where Terry Koehler is President/CEO. He encourages you to submit your questions or topics to be considered for his columns on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each submission automatically enters you to win a SCOR4161 wedge to be given away monthly. Click the button below to submit your question or topic today.

[ comments ]
birdie pancake says:
the soft conditions help stopping the ball on the greens a lot. looking forward to see how these guys play when it's dry, cement-like, and fast(ie, augusta, where even that shortish rough affects spin). and short shots out at pebble in june; the course will play dry for sure. i'm actually hoping the pros do end up getting it closer on average from the rough cause i think the whole rule is ridiculous to begin with, sticking it to the USGA.
cheymike says:
Terry, its so evident... as you AND many others have been saying for a long time... SHORT GAME - SHORT GAME - SHORT GAME!! *promises to read the Scor book again* LOL!
TeT says:
Sounds to me like they have been practicing the full array of shots with more seriousness than years past.... Better golfing eh...
Century1 says:
TeT, I have a hard time beleiving that overall they will be practicing more now than previously. There is so much money and prestige on the line, that anyone who is serious will, and always has practiced alot. I think Ed Word may be on the money. They have had quite a bit of rain with soft courses so far, lets see what happens when they hit the concrete hard courses. This will be interesting.
I hit the fairway with my drives about 50% of the time, Hmmm a bit of practice, the seniors tour, Hmmm, Oh, Oh, time to wake up. :)
chipotle mg says:
aren't there still some approved clubs with the old grooves being played with due to lawsuits? what percentage of the pro's really changed their grooves?
wedgeguy says:
Chipoptle mg,

Nearly all the pros had to change their irons and wedges to conform to the new rule. Some had made that change well into last year, but they all had to abandon the previously conforming grooves for play on the tour this year. The old Ping anomoly notwithstanding.
mjaber says:
I wonder if they (the pros) have regressed to playing simpler shots. Instead of trying to throw the ball to the hole and making it stop, could they be simply playing for less spin and letting it role out? That's the higher percentage shot, at least in my mind, regardless of how much spin you generate.
oobscott2 says:
i think a better stat to look at would be, what is the relationship between driving accuracy and place finished in the 4 tournaments this year versus last year. For example, what rank in driving accuracy (for that particular event) did the winner have this year versus last year? I think this would be a much better indicator of whether the new grooves are playing a role
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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