An interesting bit of intrigue emerged at noon today from Washington, D.C., where people who craft policy are often accused of doing very little of substance.
Presented with the option of voting on whether to push back a controversial new equipment revision set to take place on Jan. 1, the PGA Tour Policy Board instead elected to do nothing.
And by that, I mean they didn’t even vote on the issue.
As such, the decision on whether to proceed with the implementation of a new rule requiring new grooves that impart less spin on the ball was left to Commissioner Tim Finchem, who elected not to postpone the deadline. Finchem said “a couple” of equipment companies had asked for the rule change to be postponed. One is known to be Titleist.
“We are comfortable we can meet the challenges,” Finchem said in a teleconference. “I concluded that delaying at this time was not in our best interests.”
Exactly why the board decided to let Finchem make the call remains, for the moment, unclear. It will be interesting hearing the four players who have seats on the board explain what happened, but at minimum, it removed them from a potentially uncomfortable situation – the players have endorsement deals with manufacturers, which might have created a conflict of interest.
The commissioner is authorized to manage the rules and regs of competition, Finchem said, and the board elected to let him do exactly that. Critics had begin to sharpen knives while awaiting word as to whether the tour had capitulated to the whims of manufacturers, questioning who exactly runs the game these days – organizations like the USGA and R&A, which enacted the rule, or the equipment makers.
This apparently settles that issue. The tour will fall into line with the R&A and USGA, which wanted the rule enacted Jan. 1 all along.
“We are too late in the process,” Finchem said, noting that some manufactures have proceeded in good faith and already ramped up testing of irons with the new groove configuration. “They have taken steps to prepare for this schedule.”
Finchem said the tour would begin an all-out education push that he termed “a full-court press” for players who have questions about how the grooves will change the game. Many have procrastinated or indicated they will wait until the offseason to try the new clubs, which won’t impart as much spin in the ball out of the rough. In theory, that means bombers no longer would be able to hit massive tee balls with little regard to whether they landed in the fairway or not, placing a greater imperative on driving accuracy.
Amateurs have until 2024 before the rule takes effect in casual competition. Initially, it only applies to the highest levels of tournament play.
At USGA headquarters in New Jersey, the tour's decision was met with relief.
"We're pleased they reaffirmed the decision they had already made," said Dick Rugge, the USGA technical director. "We've offered to help them with education, communication, field testing, whatever they need. By Jan. 1, it should be old hat."
The USGA began floating the notion of rolling back ther grooves in March, 2005. The rule change has been formally in the pipeline since March, 2007, so if anybody is dragging their feet at this stage in the process, it's hard to muster up much sympathy. Some anufacturer produce new driver models every 12-18 months, replete with removable shafts and weights, but they complain about tweaking a club's groove pattern?
"We didn't come right out of the blue with this," Rugge said.
The Jan. 1 start date quickly picked up a ringing endorsement from the game's No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, who doubtlessly is ahead of most players in the adjustment phase. He currently only uses two non-compliant irons. His company, Nike, was in favor of the Jan. 1 start date.
"I think it's great," Woods said Tuesday. "We've known for over a couple years now what this decision was going to be, when it was going to come down, and we've had plenty of time to make our adjustment.
"All the companies have been testing and getting ready for this, and the guys will make the changes."
Woods already plays what he calls "the spinniest ball" on tour, so he might be ahead of the game in that regard as well, since he will be able to create more spin than most of his peers even with the new groove patterns of 2010. Other players are expected to consider moving to a softer-covered ball, which presumably won't travel as far.