Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Pro Game Has Changed

RIP Shotmaking. At least according to Craig Dolch and some of his Tour players quoted in the article he wrote for the Palm Beach Post today.

The art of shotmaking may not be completely dead, but it appears to be on life support as a new generation of tour players tee off without ever having to worry about shaping shots or taking something off their enormous distances.

You can blame it on technological advancements with equipment, course setups or swings taught by instructors.

Whatever the reason, it's clear that the days of a player "working his ball'' around a course are going the way of the persimmon driver.

"The kids don't have a clue how to manufacture shots,'' tour veteran Kenny Perry said. "They just grip it and rip it and off they go after it. It's a totally different game now."

Of course, the example that this strategy can work has been Vijay Singh - the only other guy in about the last decade to win the PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

"Vijay proved (that) just hitting driver on every hole was the best way to attack golf courses," Woods said. "If you're driving it well, great. If you're not, you're going to have a wedge in your hand. That's not the way the older players used to do it. They used to shape it, move it around the golf course, and go about their business that way."
And, as is a trend among golf writers, there is a shot at the USGA.

The U.S. Golf Association, which regulates golf in this country and Mexico, has floated the idea of going back to "V-like" grooves that don't impart as much spin on the ball in 2009 for "elite" competitions such as tour events. But many insiders wonder if the USGA will ever follow through, having lost a lawsuit to the Ping equipment company in 1990 when it tried to ban U-grooves.

Purists believe that the USGA has dropped the ball, so to speak, and the only way for shotmaking to become the premium it should be is for the PGA Tour to implement its own set of rules in terms of grooves.

But do not think that Craig Dolch isn't talented enough to get a shot in at Tim Finchem, too.

"I personally think the tour should step in, but Tim (Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner) is never going to go that way," tour pro Tom Pernice Jr. said. "Tim is going to do everything to be as non-confrontational as possible as commissioner.

"That's just his personality. Is that good or bad? Who knows? But almost every other sports organization has their own set of rules instead of us. The problem is with the Ping lawsuit, everybody is scared."

Pernice is correct: Finchem, when asked at last month's Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, made it clear he and the tour are not ready to implement its own set of rules. He says they will continue to monitor the situation, but believes the USGA and the R&A are the ones to make the rules - something he's been stressing for more than five years.

"There seems to be a slippage in recent years in that area," Finchem said of shotmaking. "You could interpret the data different ways. But we have taken the position that the USGA and the R&A should take the lead in that area and we should be in a supportive role."

Dolch's references to both Finchem and the USGA hit on a couple of articles that I have linked in the past week. To the USGA comment, Adam Schupak in Golfweek this week mentioned in his piece that the USGA is sitting on such a large stash of money - and won't use it, says David Fay - because of the fear of a huge lawsuit one day. There was a fear of that on non-conforming drivers when the USGA initially set up the rules around COR. There is probably a prevalent fear today that any ruling related to grooves - even if the ruling forces all of us to buy new equipment - will draw a massive lawsuit to the USGA.

As for Finchem, I quoted a piece from John Hawkins last week in which Hawkins describes Finchem as known to be a strong negotiator and movement killer when need be. In recent actions on Rule 78 and drug testing, Finchem made unpopular decisions (with the help of the PAC and Policy Board). But, he seems opposed to making a potentially unpopular decision by bi-furcating the game between pros and amateurs.

Even though the reality is that the pros play a completely different game than you and I, that is done subtly by the USGA and behind the scenes and in Tour trailers. (Although that is changing thanks to a very good USGA ruling on interchangeable shaft technology.) Tim Finchem does not want to be the guy that overtly ruins the mystique that amateurs and pros play the same game of golf. And this piece highlights a very important reality that Finchem would not want to tinker with: the nature of the Tour game has changed and reverting technology rules back to a prior time would cause maylay among players that simply do not have the game today to play with technology at the level before 460cc drivers and one cover golf balls

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