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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

New groove policy unlikely to affect average golfer

It was a hot topic this winter, a sweeping ruling that influenced the PGA Tour and will alter the way golf clubs are made for decades. The United States Golf Association's ban on square-shaped clubface grooves grew so contentious that Phil Mickelson was accused by a fellow pro of cheating.

The accusation later was recanted by Scott McCarron. And the Ping company calmed the storm by quietly agreeing to retire its old square-grooved Ping Eye2 irons (the ones Mickelson was using), waiving the waiver it had won in a court case. Still, grooves have cut a swath through golf.

Given that fact, and that equipment affects everyone in the game, it is only natural to ask, what does this mean to the average golfer?

"At this point, zero," said Steve Feder, head pro at Indian Island Country Club, the Suffolk County course in Riverhead. "I think it will have an effect on tour players and the best amateurs. It is going to change a lot of things, like hitting the little shots around the green.

"But for now, it's not going to affect the average golfer," he said.

No one is going to stop you at the first tee and demand to look through your golf bag. No one is even going to bother you in a tournament, unless you reach the sectional round of U.S. Open qualifying, where the new policy will be enforced. Brian Mahoney, tournament director for the Metropolitan Golf Association, said the MGA does not plan to implement what the USGA calls the new "condition of competition" before next year.

"The MGA in particular intends to review it for pro events in 2011. We'll see how it goes," Mahoney said, adding that the word in the business is that the USGA probably will not incorporate the square-grooves ban into the official Rules of Golf until 2024.

Dick Rugge, senior technical director for the USGA, told MGA officials in a meeting that the decision was aimed at elite players, who had been having too easy a time getting onto the green from the rough. Rugge had demonstrated the concept when he hosted Newsday on a tour of the USGA testing lab three years ago. He compared grooves to the tread on a tire, which allow for more control. If it's too easy to control a shot out of the rough, what's the use of having rough?

Cameron Wood, the director of instruction at Inwood Country Club, put it this way: "The objective of grooves is to get rid of water and debris . If you're not going to get rid of as much water and debris, you're going to decrease efficiency by 10 to 15 percent."

New grooves will be narrower and shallower, V-shaped instead of U-shaped. The average golfer doesn't generate enough clubhead speed and put enough spin on the ball for that change to make a difference. Rugge pointed out that average golfers don't reach the green from trouble spots all that much.

"We must have had a couple hundred people come in this year, talking about equipment," Wood said, "and not one said anything about grooves."

Jay Standard, the pro at Island Green Golf Center in Selden, said business is starting to pick up and that some of the low-handicap players have actually been talking about the grooves issue. For the most part, though, it is a non-issue on Long Island. "More people," Standard said, "are talking about whether Tiger Woods will win the Masters."

Woods actually does affect local play, he said, adding, "It seems to me that when he's playing and winning, we have more people here. He drives it a little bit. Let's face it, most people are not tuning in to watch Hunter Mahan win."


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