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Frank's Reaction to PGA Tour Announcement

 

 

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced Tuesday that the Tour will adopt the new groove rule as a “Condition of Competition,” which means that as of Jan. 1, 2010, Tour players will be required to use irons and wedges with grooves that are approximately 50 percent smaller in volume than the existing grooves – a rollback in equipment performance which is without precedent.
 
The groove rule change has its roots in the United States Golf Associations’s belief that elite golfers – less than 0.01 percent of the golfing population – are not being penalized enough for drives they hit in the rough. However, there is no evidence that a change to the grooves will resolve the problem, whereas less disruptive alternatives, such as growing the rough higher for the major events, might address the problem more effectively.
 
Based on PGA Tour stats, the average score per round was 71.5 in 1988 and 71.2 in 2008, during which time driving accuracy increased (from 64 percent in '88 to 69.5 percent in '98) and then decreased, leveling off to about 63 percent since 2005. Driving accuracy is a measure of how many times the golfer hits his ball in the fairway per round. Without any assurance that the problem will be solved, should we not test the proposed solution where the problem seems to exist, before requiring that the manufacturers change their entire production process for all clubs marketed after Jan 2011, affecting all of us?
 
Unfortunately, the rest of us are going to be detrimentally impacted by this change. Our next set of clubs – if we buy them after Jan. 1, 2011 (the date manufacturers are required to begin shipping products with the new groove configurations) – must have the new grooves, which will not only cost more than clubs with the existing groove specs, but will cause the ball to spin less. If we ever hit that perfect shot from the light rough, using a soft covered ball, it will not stop on the green the way it would with today’s grooves. This reduces the enjoyment of the game, and does not enhance the challenge the game presents. The game is already challenging enough and nobody has ever given up the game because it's too easy.
 
The USGA rules require that we must abandon our existing clubs by 2024. There is some comfort in knowing we have some time to use our existing clubs, but a little discomfort when we realize that there is no evidence to demonstrate that the change  will resolve the  problem, specific to the performance of the elite player. We are all being adversely affected even though we are not causing any problem ( if there really is a problem.)
 
The USGA gets its authority to govern our game through the consent of the governed. We do not go to jail for violating the rules, which we voluntarily adopt, but if a rule doesn’t make intuitive sense to us we may choose to ignore it. The groove rule change is such a rule. It is a travesty, based on the lack of ample justification, the manner in which it was adopted and the isolated problem it is meant to resolve.
 
The real problem is that if we selectively abide by the Rules of Golf because some don’t make sense or “apply to us”, then the USGA loses its authority. The integrity of the game and the very foundation, on which it is built, is then fractured. This is not good for the game.
 
Would it not be prudent for the USGA to suggest  a “Condition of Competition” for only the elite golfers (PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, European PGA Tour) to determine whether or not the problem has been resolved, without affecting 99 percent of the golfing population? In the interim, we will have a bifurcation of the rules but for less time than the proposed phase in (i.e. until 2024) and the disruption to the game will have been minimal.
 
Commissioner Finchem made the right decision on Tuesday because it's best if the USGA and PGA Tour agree on the adoption of a rule, but this doesn't mean it's a good rule. It's a very questionable rule, because of the universal disruption and without evidence it's going to solve the problem.

 

Frank's New York Times Article

May 10 2009

Click here to read the full text

Your Letters to the USGA

March 10th 2009

THANK YOU to all of you who sent us your letters and opinions. We have sent these to the USGA and await their response.

For your interest, we have taken some comments from the letters and included them in a pdf which you can read by clicking here. A full transcript of these letters is available by emailing us at inquiries@franklygolf.com

Please also read the letter sent to us by John Solheim of Ping. It is a very considered letter which clearly outlines this issue. You can review this by clicking here.

We Need to Know Why

21 January 2009

The USGA has changed the groove specifications for ALL golfers because some elite golfers on tour are seemingly able to extricate themselves from the light rough, without sufficient penalty in minds of the USGA rules committee. This is an unnecessary burden on golfers and the game itself. For background material see "groovy update" below.

We need to step lightly when the consequences of the change are of such import. Surely, an experiment to determine if there really is a problem, such as an interim  “Condition of Competition” (local rule) for the elite golfers or growing the rough would be prudent. However, these suggestions are rejected without explanation.

There has been a complete lack of transparency, and an unwillingness to provide us with the evidence to justify the change. It is the principle of not being forthright with golfers, who voluntarily abide by the rules, which is of concern. This manner of governing our game is not what we expect from the USGA.

If the lack of transparency is of concern to us, we need to let the USGA know. Email your comments to us and we will forward these on to the USGA. Click here to email us.

Thank you for supporting our game.

Frank  

 

This Q&A Appeared on the 19th January Posting

Is the USGA Bailing out Manufacturers?

Dear Frank:

As the controversy surrounding the  bail out of Wall Street still swirls, it is constructive to ask if the USGA is doing the same for the golf club industry.  Their proposed changes would make millions of clubs instantly obsolete.  A “recall” of illegal clubs will bestow on club manufacturers a captive market for 10s of millions of new sets of irons.  It would be as though 50 million people woke up one day and decided to take up golf for the first time.  Tell me this is not a dream for Callaway, TaylorMade and others. 

Apparently big business rules the so-called regulators whether their address is  Wall Street or  Carlsbad, California. Think not?  If big-time on-air golf analysts such as Johnny Miller or Nick Faldo would dare to question the logic or the motivation behind the move they would be out of their chairs faster than Tiger’s swing speed.

Dennis

Dennis, and others who have made similar implications,

Let me assure you that – to the very best of my knowledge -- the USGA is not trying to bail out the industry, mainly nested in Carlsbad. In fact, the USGA and the industry are more frequently at odds than singing from the same hymn book, as much as the USGA would like some to believe otherwise. No, this groove rule change is not a bail out but a very questionable move on the part of the USGA to correct a perceived problem, which unfortunately will affect, as you have said, millions of golfers. The “phantom problem” -- as one major manufacturer describes it – is a result of the extraordinary performance of about 150 to 300 of the best golfers in the world and has little to do with grooves.

When we consider that there are about 25 million golfers – and declining in number –in the US and about 35 million golfers or more in the world, it does seem a little out of whack that 300 (less than 0.001%) have such an influence on how equipment rules should be rewritten affecting all of us. Especially when 99.99% of us are not even remotely contributing to, the “phantom problem”.

 It is when this  happens that golfers need to stand together and persuade the USGA and R&A that this global change does not make sense. If the perceived problem is as onerous as has been implied by such a disruptive and consequential change, should not the rule apply only to the elite golfers and for those events where the problem seems to have manifested itself? This can easily be done by adopting a ‘Condition of Competition’ or local rule for specific events. This is not without precedent.  

Yes, this may lead to a form of bifurcation of the rules but this is a better solution than detrimentally affecting all golfers who don’t need any additional hazards to deal with in their pursuit of an enjoyable experience. Bifurcation will exist anyway with the groove rule change as adopted, as most of us don’t have to change our clubs until 2024 even though all clubs manufactured after 2009 must have grooves half the size of the present legal grooves.

We don’t have to abide by the rules and won’t go to jail for not doing so. However it is better that we do abide by a code which lends order to our game especially if this code in its entirety makes sense. We really do need to support  and respect the USGA but let them know when we believe that something is not right.

This respect has become a little more difficult to bestow of late, especially when the USGA refuses to present the  information to justify the change. It also refuses to provide evidence, for our review, to show that the game will be better for the change. In fact, the USGA has refused after many requests to make this information available. We know how the lack of transparency can reek havoc to society, let not golf fall into the same trap. Golfers want the process to be transparent (see the results of the Groove survey we conducted by clicking here). 

 It would be good for golf and the USGA if it asked golfers for their input and opinion when changes of such significance were contemplated. This is what happened  when there was consideration given to a proposed ruling on steel shafts in 1921; and again in 1931 when it changed the weight specification for a ball to 1.55 ounces – which lasted for one year -- and again in 1938 when it restricted the number of clubs to 14. This is what we expect from our governing body, but things seem to have changed and we have moved away from a democratic form of governing the game.

We need to say something directly to the USGA, after all it is by consent of the governed that the USGA gets its authority. It needs to be reminded of this now and again if it expects adherence to the code it promulgates. In this case it should step lightly, as the integrity of the game is at stake.

Let us support the USGA and lobby for further consideration and transparency.Click here for my latest update and to see how you can help.

Frank

________________________________________________

Groovy Update

26 November 2008

Dear Frankly Friends

First, I must urge you to support the USGA. We need a respected body to lend order to the game and the USGA is that body. The USGA must, however, be open with us about why changes to the rules are necessary and to give us some evidence that the game will benefit by making those changes. This has not been the case with the recent groove rule change, which will require that every golfer buy a new set of clubs if they are to abide by the rules. There is a grace period of some significance but this is of little consequence if the change doesn’t make sense.

As you know the USGA has decided to decrease the size (volume) of the groove in the club face by about 50%.  There has been no explicit reason given for this change and no evidence to show that there is a problem. More importantly this change is going to affect every golfer and the only data available for review – on the website USGA.org -- shows that different groove configurations result in different spin rates when a ball is hit out of the rough. This information was available in 1988.

Presumably but not stated, the groove specifications which have been in clubs for the past  twenty years are allowing some very elite – 0.001% of the golfing population -- to extricate themselves from the light rough without the degree of penalty the USGA believes they deserve for being there.

The USGA is not being transparent about this change and in fact is very defensive about providing information to justify the change or to give any evidence that there is a problem and that the change is going to be good for our game.

Based on the survey results, below 96% of our respondents ask for transparency in this regard. Unfortunately this is not going to be the case and the only information available are the studies presented on the website. None of these studies – as technically sound as they may be -- have defined the problem nor have they given any evidence that the change will resolve the problem nor do they presented any evidence that the game will benefit from the change. 

I have asked, on three separate occasions, for evidence that there is a problem which needs to be resolved and that the problem is of such magnitude that it warrants a disruption affecting every golfer. I have also asked for some evidence that the game will be better off after the change. I have only been pointed to the studies and the last response to the same questions in its entirety has was:

 “I received your recent e-mail. There is no further information to be sent beyond that which has already been provided to you.” i.e. that which is available on the USGA website.

What I find disturbing is that a statement made to Golf Digest by this same USGA official – who is presumably speaking for the Executive Committee, says:

“We try to be as open and a transparent about what we are doing as possible and show people why we’re doing these things. This is not a smoked filled room here. We’re doing this in light of day…. But I think the more information that we give out the better everybody feels about it. They understand why we are doing something, and they also get to put their hands on the wheel with us.

With the groove rule change this is not the case, as noble as it sounds. I don’t know what the USGA is trying to hide by not providing the information requested. There is no place for autocracy in our game and we need our governors to be open and transparent about how they are governing our game if they are looking for our support and respect.

I will continue to pursue this issue and try to get some meaningful answers to my salient questions. If I run up against another brick wall I may ask you, our Frankly Friends, for some additional support in this matter.

Frank

 

_____________________________________________

Have Your Say on Grooves. The Results.
 
On August 5, 2008 the USGA adopted a change to the groove specifications adopted in 1984, reverting back to an equivalent performance of the groove specifications adopted in 1942. This change will affect professionals on 1/1/2010; elite amateurs 1/1/2014 and all golfers in 2024 BUT all clubs manufactured after January 1, 2010 will be required to have smaller grooves.

The reason for the change – as described by the USGA – is in essence, that the very elite players are being able to get out of the light rough and still have some control on the ball to the green i.e. the game is too easy for them. The light rough – 2 ½ to 3 inches in height -- therefore does not encourage them to become more accurate with their long 300+ yard drives.

We asked our Frankly Friends and other interested visitors to the website to have their say.
The following are the responses of nearly 800 concerned golfers:  

Statement 1)  
 The USGA should consider the effect of this rule change on all golfers (99+% ), not just the elite.
-- 92% agree and 7% don’t agree (1% not sure) –

 

Statement 2)   
The groove specifications should not be changed because of the performance of elite players only.
-- 90% agree and 8% don’t agree (3% not sure) --

 

Statement 3)   
It is preferable that the game of golf be played under one set of rules for all skill levels.
-- 85% agree and 10% don’t agree (5% not sure) --

 

Statement  4)  
If the USGA is going to justify this rule change -- which will affect all golfers -- on the performance of elite players only then we are better off having two sets of rules.
-- 48% agree and 36% don’t agree (16% not sure) --

 

Statement 5)   
The USGA should make public all comments, scientific and statistical data presented by all parties regarding this rules change, so the evidence for the change -- which has some potentially extremely disruptive consequences -- can be reviewed to determine if this change is good for the game
-- 96% agree and 3% don’t agree (1% not sure) --

 

Conclusion and Commentary

After 200 responses, the results stabilized indicating that 800 responses (the point at which the survey was closed) are more than sufficient and frankly a true representation of the opinions of the golfing population at large.

The survey shows that the majority of golfers want to be properly represented when it comes to equipment rules changes and specifically the groove specification changes. They also believe that the performance of the elite golfer alone should not dictate how the rule should be changed and certainly not if this change is going to affect 99% of golfers.

The majority of golfers (85%) believe that the game should be played under one set of rules, however, if the rule changes are going to be based on the performance of the elite golfer alone and will affect the majority of golfers then nearly half (48%) believe that two sets of rules is preferable.

Nearly all golfers (96%) are calling for transparency of the supporting evidence. They would like all the scientific and statistical evidence gathered by, or presented to, the USGA during its deliberations and used to justify the change to be made available for public review. 

I think the golfers have spoken and if the USGA wants to uphold a loyal following and develop the needed respect of its constituents – an essential ingredient in maintaining  its authority to govern -- it needs first, to make available ALL the evidence gathered to justify the change.

And second, seriously consider changing its position with regard to the recently adopted groove specification change OR start developing procedures to adopt a set of local rules for the elite players -- 0.01% of the golfing population -- if they are the only cause of the perceived problem.

I will keep you informed about how the USGA reacts to the voice of the majority of golfers. We really do need some evidence that a change of this magnitude is going to result in the game being better and more enjoyable because of the change. Without this evidence we have a real problem.
 
Thank you for supporting the game and providing your valuable input. Comments made by almost 500 respondents are available by clicking here.