Well, the early part of the PGA Tour season certainly wasn’t quiet, and I’m not talking about Tiger’s travails. At Torrey Pines in late January, Phil Mickelson actually hinted at taking legal action against fellow player Scott McCarron for being accused of “cheating.” Mickelson’s supposed violation: He was using Ping-Eye 2 wedges with square grooves, and the USGA has a new rule this year that irons must have grooves that are closer to being V-shaped.
However, the Ping-Eye 2 wedges that were made before April 1, 1990, remain approved for pro play through a Ping lawsuit that was settled 20 years ago. Mickelson used the Ping wedges in January after reading about John Daly and Dean Wilson using them in Hawaii a few weeks before. Said McCarron: “It’s cheating, and I’m appalled Phil has put [that wedge] in play.” Though he stood firm that he was simply following existing rules, Mickelson took the wedge from his bag a week later, but said: “If the governing bodies can’t get together to fix this loophole...I’ll put the wedge back in play.”
As for us mere mortals, there’s no need to worry—unless you plan on playing in a tour event or you make it into U.S. Open qualifying, this rule does not affect you now. In 2014, the rule will affect USGA amateur events. But the old, square grooves will be legal to use for the rest of us until 2024. There’s a catch, though: Starting in 2011, all new clubs with a loft of 25 degrees or more will be made with conforming grooves. Driver, 3-wood, and 5-wood will not be affected.
This past winter, we spent lots of time working on new iron sets for professionals who will need them soon. In our tests, we saw no performance difference in full shots from the fairway between the old square grooves and the new grooves. The difference appeared, however, from the rough and also on half-wedge shots—in fact, there was a big difference. With the new grooves, less ability to spin the ball from the rough means that the “flyer” shot is back. As a result, being in the fairway is going to be more important among competitive players than it has been in 20 years. Also, many of the pros are used to hitting low wedge shots that take one or two hops and then stop dead. With the new grooves, this shot is almost impossible. Basically, the ball slides a bit up the face on impact, which creates a higher launch and less spin. That’s great for a driver, but not for
“The new groove standards will put more pressure on better players’ short games,” says Bob Vokey, master craftsman and senior product development manager for Titleist. “There is less room for error when players do not have as much spin as they are accustomed to, and they must be much more precise in their execution. It will be crucial for them to determine the most effective combinations of loft, bounce and
sole grind in their wedge set-ups.” Even so, master club builders at the club manufacturers are trying to improve their groove-cutting tools so they can get as close to the new limit as possible, to keep some of that bite on wedge shots.
Still, it’s very important to understand that even with the old square grooves, if your wedge is not fit properly with the correct bounce and shaft, then your wedge is not working best for you. Most golfers we see don’t have enough bounce on their wedges, and the shafts are too stiff.
My recommendation for amateurs: Get fit properly for your wedges this season, then go buy a few of your favorite ones as backups for the future. This way, when your primary wedge wears out, you have a personal stock to take a new one from. Remember, even if they don’t make them after next year, you can use them until 2024—or until you qualify for a Met PGA event, the Nationwide Tour, or the Champions Tour. Good luck!