- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On the surface, Anthony Kim’s year doesn’t match up with his breakthrough 2008.

He rolled up two victories - including the 2008 AT&T National - and eight top-10 finishes while emerging as one of the top young players on the PGA Tour a season ago.

This year, he has earned only one top 10 (the season-opening Mercedes Championship) and has struggled with various ailments.

Yet in many ways, it could be a crucial experience for the 24-year-old, who is back at Bethesda’s Congressional Country Club this week to defend his title.

“I’ve learned so much about myself this year,” Kim said. “It’s probably been my toughest year on tour, the fact I’ve had these little injuries that have held me back. But I’m learning more about myself when I’m not playing well. I’m learning how to play this game. I’m learning how to approach different situations when I’m not playing my best.”

It has happened more than expected this spring. In a five-week stretch in May, Kim missed the cut twice and failed to crack the top 40 in any of the events.

Kim attributed the problems to a left thumb injury, which prevented him from gripping his clubs with as much pressure as usual. That seemingly minor adjustment discombobulated his approach, substantially derailing his play.

“It sounds like it’s not a big deal, but it was a huge deal because I couldn’t get through the ball and I couldn’t hit a fade,” Kim said. “So I was playing a draw, and that’s not what my game is about. My game is about working the ball from left to right.”

There are signs he’s emerging from the rough spring. He shot four rounds of 71 or better at the U.S. Open, finishing in a tie for 16th two weeks ago. Then at Hartford, Kim pieced together four rounds in the 60s en route to a tie for 11th.

Combined, they were Kim’s first back-to-back top-20s of the season and lent some hope he again could contend at Congressional, where he shot 12 under a year ago and defeated Fredrik Jacobson by two strokes.

Going with new grooves

Commissioner Tim Finchem announced Tuesday the PGA Tour has rejected a proposed delay in its groove-restriction policy and will move forward with plans to implement the rule on Jan. 1, 2010.

The new policy will reduce the volume and sharpness of grooves, effectively limiting the spin rate some clubs currently produce. The move was intended to increase shot values in PGA Tour competitions by targeting clubs that allow players to impart significant spin - and thus control - even out of moderate to heavy rough.

Officials from the USGA and R&A originally proposed the changes more than two years ago, feeling players were no longer being effectively penalized by errant shots that found the rough.

The rule primarily will impact wedges, on which U-grooves that impart high spin rates will be scaled back to the V-groove rates produced by most other irons. The rule won’t change the game much, if any, for the common player or even the accomplished amateur. With the exception of major Open events like the U.S. Amateur, the rule won’t apply to amateurs or amateur events at least until 2024.

But it will hurt wild-driving pros who use low-spin, hard balls to maximize distance and rely on deep, sharp grooves for escapability and spin. Players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both of whom miss a lot of fairways but use relatively soft balls, shouldn’t be hurt by the rule.

“I think it’s great. We’ve had plenty of time to make our adjustments,” Woods said. “Most of the guys play with V- grooves throughout their irons. The only U-grooves they usually have are in their sand wedges. … I think it will be an advantage to the guys who play a softer ball that spins more already. Guys who play harder balls will have to make a bigger adjustment to the grooves. I do play a pretty soft ball, and I’ll have to make less of an adjustment than most.”

Bigger adjustments are in store for players like Vijay Singh, a wild driver who uses a hard ball and deep-groove wedges and either will have to sacrifice distance by switching balls or scale back to hit more fairways.

In fact, some players have labeled the new groove policy the “Vijay Rule.”

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