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Opinion & Analysis

Why do golf’s ruling bodies keep making the game more difficult?

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Golf is one of the most difficult games on the planet. So why is it that golf’s ruling bodies, the USGA and R&A, continue to establish new rules that make the game more difficult?

The argument is often made that we need to protect the integrity of the game. If that is the case, we need to all immediately go back to using all wooden clubs and feathery golf balls. And let’s go back to letting sheep maintain our golf courses, too.

Innovation is good for the game. Lower scores are more entertaining at the professional level, and much more fun for the amateur golfer. They bring more fans, more revenue, more players and a generally healthier industry.

Let’s look at the last three major decisions with respect to the rules of golf:

  • Limiting the spring-like effect (COR) of drivers

Limiting the coefficient of restitution (COR) in a driver limits the distance that golfers will hit a golf ball. Longer drives bring crowds to PGA Tour events. Bubba Watson is one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour and John Daly is still popular for this very reason.  Amateur players benefit from hitting shorter clubs into every hole with a hotter driver.

  • Dulling grooves in wedges and irons

Controlling a groove’s volume and sharpness limits the amount of backspin that can be generated, particularly out of lies in the rough. This will lessen the ability of golfers to hold greens, and depending on conditions it can lead to higher scores — players will have to either pitch or chip instead of putt.

Again, lower scores lead to a more entertaining product and less enjoyment at the amateur level. If you look at scoring at the highest level, one could argue that this ruling really hasn’t affected touring pros – if it has, the changes are minimal. Amateur golfers were the one who lost in this scenario, especially the ones who like to play by the same rules as the pros and were forced to buy new wedges.

  • Anchoring of the putter

Anchoring the putter will allow some players to get more enjoyment out of the game, and for some it will allow them to play at a higher level. Some use the technique to escape the yips, while others use anchoring for health reasons. Regardless of why a player decides to use an anchoring technique, it will immediately make the game more difficult for some by not allowing all to give the technique a try.

The bottom line is that the governing bodies should not be focusing on making the game more difficult for the less than 1 percent of the golfing population that make a living playing the game. They should allow innovation to make the game more fun for us all.  Making the game more fun for most of us will also allow for a more entertaining product with lower scores. If you want to protect par in your championships, don’t make the game more difficult by changing the rules and stifling innovation. Make the rough higher, the fairways narrower and greens smaller in your course setups. Yes, I’m talking to you Mike Davis.

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum. 

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. butch

    Dec 1, 2012 at 8:41 am

    For whatever it is worth I don’t think any of these “improvements” made the game any easier for the average golfer. The average golfer can’t compress the spring on a high COR driver, doesn’t hit the ball cleanly enough in the rough to benefit from square grooves and in my group of golfers I have not seen anyone improve their putting stats from using a long putter. So the real game that is being “protected” is the professional game and very high level (future pros) amateur golf game.

    But having said that the point is well taken that we don’t want to go back to wooden clubs and feather balls. I don’t even want to go back to wooden headed, steel shafted driver. So advancing technology has kept some of us in the game by giving us a chance to play well.

  2. mpierce

    Nov 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Poorly thought out article…written to stir the kettle. Why not just keeping letting manufacturers make the equipment hit it farther, make the ball go longer and keep obsoleting more and more great courses? The game can always benefit from developers building more courses on bigger parcels of land that go bankrupt or existing courses can always find more land. Oversized drivers, long distance balls and anchoring the putter should have been banned on day one. They stopped Sam Snead from putting side saddle and deemed the stroke illegal. 13 clubs you swing and one you don’t. I think it is time for the governing bodies to govern by simplifying and purifying the rules. The threat of litigation from manufacturers and players has reduced ability to act decisively for the good of the game!

  3. stu

    Nov 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Its a game of skill, talent, control of spin, flight, distance…………..get a grip.
    Anchoring is not part of the game, its not a swing, not like the game was intended to be played.
    The only part of your body to touch the club should be your hands, two points. Not your chin and two hands, not your belly and two hands which are three points. The r and a and the pgatour should have also banned Kuchars grip also.
    Play a different sport if you cant stick to the rules

    • Scott

      Nov 30, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      Putters have been anchored for over 100 years. Stu, you have some anger issues you need worked out.

      • stu

        Dec 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm

        you are right Scott, I do have anger issues, only with those who dont care about the values of the game. Think about the title “why do they keep making the game harder”…going by the way that idiot thinks we should play every hole with driver then lob wedge. Technology has made golf as easy as its ever been, but rather than work on their game or get some lessons, these bozos think they can just buy the latest driver and it will solve everything.
        We have a generation that have not hit and cannot hit 2,3, 4 or 5 irons because they would rather hit a hybrid!!!
        same with the long putters!!
        Those Bodies are just preserving the game.

        • Scott

          Dec 3, 2012 at 1:33 am

          I look forward to seeing you play some day with your hickory shafts and gutta-percha balls. Oh, and shoot your 130 score. However, I agree that people need to spend more money on lessons than equipment and they should focus on a quicker pace of play, while they are at it. See, these are two issues that should be addressed before worrying about long putters (or hybrids). Almost every sport has specialized equipment for different situations e.g. catcher’s mitt in baseball, or a kicker in football, goalie equipment in hockey, (not really a sport but NASCAR tunes each car differently for each track – and the cars are hardly “stock”). If they allow “claw” grips why not anchoring? As soon as I see players clear their hips and have a full shoulder turn on the putting green, I will agree with those who like the ban of the long putter. The proposed ban is very inconsistent and a horrible ruling. Look for the USGA and R&A to see the error of their ways and overturn the ruling during the 90 day review period.

          • stu

            Dec 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm

            Scott , the only reason I may shoot 130, is because the length of courses we have today as a direct result of the technology. I’ll play the old gear , on an old course length , no probs. There will be no 130.!
            I play a European handicap system, single figure golfer, and all through practice and effort.
            Same mizuno mp-33 irons for the last 8/9 years.
            2 iron and all, no hybrids.
            My rant was not for the sake of nothing. The article is poorly thought out. I stand by my point that it has never been easier to play the game because of the equipment.
            As for the specialized equipment, I have no probs with any of them, as long as its with a swing and in keeping with the game. Two hands only on the club no matter what the length and as long as the stance and stroke are within the rules. And you are right the rule is a little vague, (I would rather they banned Kuchars stroke too), but it is a step in the right direction, for the good of the sport. The main bone of contention for me is that they were irresponsible to have left it this long. I feel for the likes of Tom Kite and Bernhard Langer who have been using it for prob 20 yrs.
            Next step is the ball, change how far the ball travels and watch the shot makers rise to the top. Its been fun and thanks for taking the time to comment. If you ever come to Ireland, bring the hickory and persimmon and we’ll play a few……

  4. stu

    Nov 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Stop whining,
    Why cant we change balls from distance balls for your drive and to a soft ball for wedges and putts.
    Why cant we have 20+ clubs in the bag.
    Why cant we tee it up in the fairway too or have placing all year round.
    Why cant we have mulligans and gimmies in a comp.
    Stop whining, we have titanium drivers, balls that dont spin off the driver but dont roll away on approach shots, hybrids, lighter shafts, adjustable clubs, basically every imaginable technology to make the game easy and you complain about making the game hard?

  5. Eric

    Nov 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Forget integrity of the game.

    Let’s focus on what makes this game fun- it’s the challenge.

    If you want easy, go tee off the ladies tee.

    If you want a rewarding round of golf, find the appropriate tee for your driving distance, and then play.

    Do the best you can with the equipment you have. If you want to shoot lower, find someone better than you, and let him hit the shot for you. It’s called a scramble – then you can have “fun”. If you want true enjoyment, then simply play well.

  6. alexander park

    Nov 29, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    amen

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Opinion & Analysis

Junior golf development 101

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So here’s a best guess: At 7-years-old, in the United States, there are about 200 junior boy golfers “trying.” That is, they are taking lessons, going to tournaments, and doing some sort of practice. In my estimation, this number doubles every year until high school. This means that at 13 there are 12,800 players trying. It also means that each and every year, it gets almost twice as tough to win. This of course continued until about 400 of these players go on to play NCAA Division 1 golf and another 1,000 or so go on to play NCAA D2, D3, NAIA, or club golf.

So why is this important? Because between 7-13 years old kids are gonna change A LOT. In particular, kids who start early and have some success are going to face infinitely better competition in three years. Likewise, students who start at 12 are going to lack experience playing competitive golf. This includes traveling, charting courses, and maybe playing in different conditions.

The difficulty with golf is that to become a college athlete the data suggest that by the end of freshman year in high school you should be able to shot about 78. Below are the scoring differentials (basically, handicaps) of players who, according to best guess are on pace to play college golf:

So what is a kid or parent to do? I would focus on the player developing at least six shots. They are:

  • go-to shot off the tee
  • stock iron shot
  • low iron shot
  • low spinning chip
  • flopper
  • bump and run

I would challenge them with games:

  • round with just even irons or odd
  • draw back; every time they miss a putt on the course, they draw the putt away from the hole a putter length
  • play the red tees and try to shoot as low as possible

The secret sauce for kids is to have the desire and internal motivation to continue to learn and grow. Kids that love golf and have a future will not only have some scoring success but will have a deep passion and interest for the game. They will spend countless hours honing different shots and trajectories, all while avoiding the dangers of adolescence (which, of course, is the real goal of youth sports).

The reality is that success, particularly in junior golf, has a ton to do with things people don’t consider. This includes when puberty happens, who your children play with at the club (other competitive players?), how much they want to compete and access to their club.

In fact, in all cases, your kid would be better off at the goat ranch down the road, without a range, with three kids of the same skill level than alone on his fancy range pounding perfect range balls.

Let that sink in.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work?

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Having been in the wedge business for over thirty years now, and having focused my entire life’s work on how to make wedges work better, one of my biggest frustrations is how under-informed most golfers are about wedges in general, and how misinformed most are about the elements of a wedge that really affect performance.

That under-informed and misinformed “double whammy” helps make the wedge category to be the least dynamic of the entire golf equipment industry. Consider this if you will. Golfers carry only one driver and only one putter, but an average of three wedges. BUT – and it’s a big “but” – every year, unit sales of both drivers and putters are more than double the unit sales of wedges.
So why is that?

Over those thirty-plus years, I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers to ask that very question, and I’ve complemented that statistical insight with hundreds of one-on-one interviews with golfers of all skill levels. My key takeaways are:

  • Most golfers have not had a track record of improved performance with new wedges that mirror their positive experience with a new driver or putter.
  • A large percentage of golfers consider their wedge play to be one of the weaker parts of their games.
  • And most golfers do not really understand that wedge play is the most challenging aspect of golf.
  • On that last point, I wrote a post almost two years ago addressing this very subject, “Why Wedge Mastery Is So Elusive” (read it here).

So now let’s dive into what really makes a wedge work. In essence, wedges are not that much different from all the other clubs in our bags. The three key elements that make any club do what it does are:

  • The distribution of mass around the clubhead
  • The shaft characteristics
  • The specifications for weight, shaft length and lie angle

Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

For any golf club to perform to its optimum for a given golfer, these three key measurements must be correct. Shaft length and lie angle work together to help that golfer deliver the clubhead to the ball as accurately as possible time and again. If either spec is off even a little bit, quality contact will be sacrificed. The overall weight of the club is much more critical than the mystical “swing weight”, and I’ve always believed that in wedges, that overall weight should be slightly heavier than the set-match 9-iron, but not dramatically so.

We encounter so many golfers who have migrated to light steel or graphite shafts in their irons, but are still trying to play off-the-rack wedges with their heavy stiff steel shafts that complete prohibit the making of a consistent swing evolution from their short irons to their wedges.

That leads to the consistent observation that so many golfers completely ignore the shaft specifics in their wedges, even after undergoing a custom fitting of their irons to try to get the right shaft to optimize performance through the set. The fact is, to optimize performance your wedges need to be pretty consistent with your irons in shaft weight, material and flex.

Now it’s time to dive into the design of a wedge head, expanding on what I wrote in that post of two years ago (please go back to that link and read it again!)

The wedge “wizards” would have you believe that the only things that matter in wedge design are “grooves and grinds.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Grooves can only do so much, and their primary purpose is the same as the tread on your tires – to channel away moisture and matter to allow more of the clubface to contact the ball. In our robotic testing of Edison Forged wedges – on a dry ball – the complete absence of grooves only reduced spin by 15 percent! But, when you add moisture and/or matter, that changes dramatically.

Understand the USGA hasn’t changed the Rules of Golf that govern groove geometry in over 12 years, and every company serious about their wedge product pushes those rules to the limit. There is no story here!
For years, I have consistently taken umbrage to the constant drivel about “grinds.” The fact is that you will encounter every kind of lie and turf imaginable during the life of your wedges, and unless you are an elite tour-caliber player, it is unlikely you can discern the difference from one specialized grind to another.

Almost all wedge sole designs are pretty darn good, once you learn how to use the bounce to your advantage, but that’s a post for another time.

Now, the clubhead.

Very simply, what makes any golf club work – and wedges are no different – is the way mass is distributed around the clubhead. Period.

All modern drivers are about the same, with subtle nuanced differences from brand to brand. Likewise, there are only about four distinctly different kinds of irons: Single piece tour blades, modern distance blades with internal technologies, game improvement designs with accented perimeter weighting and whatever a “super game improvement iron” is. Fairways, hybrids, even putters are sold primarily by touting the design parameters of the clubhead.

So, why not wedges?]

This has gotten long, so next week I’ll dive into “The anatomy of a wedge head.”

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: 2023 PGA Merchandise Show recap

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All the new interesting things we enjoyed and appreciated.

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