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Solheim Calls for New Groove Rule to be Abandoned, not Delayed
PING Chairman and CEO John Solheim, who has adamantly opposed the USGA New Groove Rule since it was first proposed February 27, 2007, released the following statement today from the company's headquarters in Phoenix, Ariz.:
"The new groove rule harms the game and golfers and should be dropped. The recent uproar about it from PGA Tour players demonstrates this fact," said Solheim. "However, the PGA Tour's proposal to delay implementing the rule is not a solution. You can't turn a bad idea into a good one by waiting an extra year to adopt it. We hope everyone who cares about the future of this game keeps that simple concept in mind."
A summary of Solheim's concerns that were shared with the USGA and R&A since the 'New Groove' Rule was proposed is as follows:
1. It is simply wrong to place the potentially biased concerns of a small number of Tour professionals above the needs of tens of millions of amateurs. Why are amateurs being needlessly harmed and told to reach into their pockets to pay for an alleged problem that the USGA believes applies to just the PGA Tour? The PGA Tour has undergone tremendous economic growth and success over the past decades, in concert with golf club innovation. Innovation is one of the oldest and most important traditions of golf. Professionals who get their clubs for free should not be causing the rulemaking bodies to force amateurs to buy new clubs.
2. Once the rulemaking bodies approve a golf club, it should remain approved. Golf needs respected and responsible rule makers. Respect is earned - and it can easily be lost. Tens of millions of golfers purchased hundreds of millions of irons and wedges based on the fact that the rule-making bodies said these clubs conformed to the rules. It simply is not fair to say to the golfing public, "You know those clubs you bought, the ones we said conformed to the rules? Well, we changed our mind. Sorry about that, and you will need to get some new ones." This not only harms amateur golfers, but it damages the respect many have for the USGA and the R&A.
3. The skill of driving accuracy continues to be richly rewarded. In proposing this rollback of the Rules, the USGA stated: "The skill of driving accurately has become a much less important factor in achieving success while playing [on the PGA Tour] than it used to be...." That statement is not correct. The data from recent US Opens and from PGA Tour events (including its improved ShotLink data - which was ignored by the USGA) establishes that there remains a significant penalty for landing in the rough. In fact, the USGA is able to define, and obtain, the level of penalty ("Cost of Rough") it desires through its course set-up. Any tournament is free to do the same. ShotLink data also establishes that accurate drives at PGA Tour events continue to result in the ball ending up much closer to the hole after the second shot (a true measure of an accurate shot). In short, there continues to be a significant penalty from hitting into the rough, even for the best players in the world.
4. In targeting grooves, the rulemaking bodies ignored numerous changes that likely impacted the game over the past 30 years. It is nearly impossible to conclude that a single variable (grooves) caused any observed changes to the game at the PGA Tour level over the past 25 years. To attempt to do so requires that you ignore all of the other changes to the game since 1984 (the year square grooves were allowed), including the following: course conditioning, driver improvements (such as large-headed drivers made with exotic materials), shaft improvements, improved golf balls and golf ball cover materials, improved agronomy, increased athleticism, improved player conditioning, improved player training aids, launch angle-fitting and even improved coaching. As an example, tremendous course-conditioning changes have occurred on the PGA Tour since the 1970s. According to historical PGA Tour Course Conditioning Guidelines, since then the length of the primary rough has been reduced by as much as 60%. The height of the intermediate rough (also described as the first cut) is now as short as some fairways used to be. The grass on the fairways and greens is also shorter. If the USGA/R&A are concerned whether PGA Tour pros find it too easy to hit out of the rough, why didn't they focus on changes to the PGA Tour's course set-up guidelines? If the PGA Tour's set-up guidelines were reviewed, why weren't they mentioned in any of the reports? It is unfair to make amateurs buy new clubs, just so PGA Tour pros can continue to play courses without the deeper roughs yesterday's pros were forced to tackle.
5. The money list-driving accuracy rank-correlation analysis cited by the USGA to justify its change in grooves is fundamentally flawed. The downward pattern in this correlation cannot be tied to the introduction or increased use of square-grooved irons. We believe it is more closely linked to PGA Tour player behavior than the introduction of any particular equipment innovation. We undertook extensive statistical analysis of publicly available PGA Tour data. We quickly discovered the number of tournaments played annually by the top-10 money earners has been gradually decreasing since about the mid-1990s. In fact, the number of PGA Tour events with three or more of the top-10 money earners in the field has dramatically decreased since the 1980s. The decreasing trend in participation by the top money earners at PGA Tour events closely mirrors the decreasing trend in the money list/driving accuracy rank correlations, and could be the cause of it. All of this was demonstrated, graphically and otherwise, in my letters to the USGA.
6. The USGA has not demonstrated that any change in any PGA Tour statistic is due to grooves. If the rule-making bodies believe that grooves are wreaking havoc on the PGA Tour, why is it that among the hundreds of statistics kept by the PGA Tour no one has ever deemed it worthwhile to identify the specific grooves each individual PGA Tour Pro is using in his irons and wedges? If grooves truly are a problem, it seems obvious that someone would gather and analyze this easily obtainable data before telling tens of millions of golfers the USGA is reversing its prior approval of hundreds of millions of golf clubs. The failure to do so suggests there may be something else going on here.
7. What happens to hundreds of millions of "used" golf clubs - which have always been an important asset in golf. I believe it is important to many golfers, particularly PING customers, that their used clubs maintain a great trade-in value, often for 20 or more years. I am concerned that declaring that hundreds of millions of previously approved clubs will later be non-conforming will impact the resale value of those clubs. It is wrong to diminish the value of these previously approved clubs purchased by hardworking men and women simply because a few Tour pros (who get their clubs for free) seem to complain that "golfers today have it too easy." I do not know of a single golfer who quit playing the game because "it became too easy." This new rule will also harm the tradition of passing clubs to children and grandchildren. Used clubs are also an affordable way for many beginners to give the game a try. These concerns may not resonate with some, but they mean a lot to many who love this game and want to pass the passion for golf on to the next generation. Again, are we throwing all of that away simply so the PGA Tour can keep its rough shorter than it used to be?
PING is proud of its 50-year history of developing quality, innovative and custom-fit golf products that are designed so all golfers can "play their best." PING is also proud of its history of challenging, when needed, golf's rule-making bodies in an effort to promote better decision-making that will benefit this game we all love. With a tremendous group of employees, and continuing ideas for golf club innovation, PING looks forward to leading on both of these important fronts for a long time to come.