The Masters Tournament begins this week and because of its status as a major tournament and tradition it is always a very significant golf event. For me, this year’s event is more important than ever and not for the reasons you might think. This will be the first major tournament held where the players will be required to play wedges without the benefit of the high spin grooves. The new wedge regulations have been the topic of debate at the United States Golf Academy since the rule was announced. How much impact will the change have on professional players? So far the results on tour have been mixed, with some examples of miss played shots around the green, and wedges shots that fly unpredictable distances due to the lack of spin, but the Tour players have not yet played conditions like they will face at Augusta.
While it is not something the everyday player gets to experience, there is no question that playing in major golf events has been easier because of the increased spin created by the modern milled grooves. The penalty for hitting a tee shot in the rough is lessened because the high spin grooves allow the players to have more control out of longer grass. But maybe more important is the difference in the control a tour level player has when playing green side shots. Over the past few years I have seen hundreds of shots from around the greens at the Masters that would not be possible without the help of the golf club. The speed and firmness of the greens combined with the reduction of spin will make for some very difficult up and downs. Even if it is subtle, a couple of feet here or there can really make a difference when you play a golf course with greens like Augusta. Five feet is a lot tougher than three. Next week we will discuss the effect of spin on the everyday player’s wedge shots from the rough and around the green. So your home work for this week is to watch some of the tournament to have a better understanding of the pros and cons of spin groove wedges.
Another reason I think the tournament will be important is a sentimental one. This year is the first that two of the game’s greatest players and gentlemen will be the official starters of the event. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus together again and even if it is only for one swing, it will do the game a lot of good to see them together. These are two guys who professionally always judged their actions on what was best for the game, rather than what was best for them. As a former employee of Arnold, I know of a couple of instances where he walked away from some very lucrative opportunities simply because he felt they were not in the best interests of the game and I know Jack did the same. I hope seeing the two of them together will remind the fans how great the game can be. Maybe this is a tall order for just one swing, but I think these guys are up to it.