The way professional golf is played may have changed for good after the U.S. PGA Tour decided to go along with a new rule that amounts to a rollback of golf technology, a move that world number one Tiger Woods has endorsed.
The rule, implemented by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and Royal and Ancient Golf Club (RA), means that from the start of 2010 the U-shaped grooves on wedges will be banned in favor of V-shaped grooves, with the intention of rewarding accurate driving over distance hitting. Research by the USGA has shown that U-shaped grooves allow top players to generate much more spin when playing the ball out of the rough, making the ball come to a quick stop on the green. The USGA and RA felt this meant that landing in the rough was no longer enough of a penalty for shots that strayed from the fairway. In recent years pro golfers have begun to drive for distance rather than accuracy, knowing they can spin their way out of the rough if they miss their target — a style of play known as “bomb and gouge.” Despite pressure from some players and golf equipment manufacturers, the U.S. PGA Tour has decided to go along with the rule change, meaning U.S. PGA Tour competitions, including the U.S. Open, will feature the club restriction from next year. Amateur competitions will not ditch the U-shaped grooves until 2014 and the new rule will not apply to recreational players until 2024. Gareth Taylor, Product Manager at leading golf club manufacturer Callaway, told CNN he believes the change will reward more skilful players.
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“At the moment players are getting a lot of spin on the ball so I think it will make people play better,” he said. “They’ll have to get their technique finely tuned and not rely on the club.” He says club makers have been given ample notice to prepare for the switch. “I don’t think the change is a regression, it just means research and development will have to come up with better ideas to help the players out.” Taylor explained that as a golfer strikes the ball the grooves on the club face catch the coating on the ball’s surface, producing back spin. He said that the rule change applies to five irons and up and requires the grooves on the club face to be more spaced out, which will make it harder for the grooves to catch the ball. Tiger Woods has supported the changes, saying: “I think it’s great. We’ve had plenty of time to make our adjustments. All the companies have been testing and getting ready for this.” To compensate for the loss of spin from the rough, tour players may use softer balls, which spin more but do not travel as far. That could favor players who already use the softer ball — including Tiger Woods.