I used to think I was a pretty smart guy. My high school gave me a diploma with my name on it, and a real brick-and-mortar college presented me with a journalism degree. I even hold a Journeyman Plumber’s license from the State of Massachusetts.

A smart guy? I always thought so.

But today there are doubts.

It started a couple of weeks ago with a $15/dozen golf ball from Costco outdueling the vaunted ProV1 head to head. Raise your hand if you saw that one coming. And Election Day? That was a clear warning shot across the bow of self-proclaimed experts everywhere, regardless of subject matter.

What’s next? Dylan winning the Nobel? Dogs and cats playing together?

So please forgive me for hedging my bets when it comes to what might be the craziest looking driver this side of The Hammer.

Meet the Vertical Groove Driver.

vertical-groove-driver-2

 

Say What?

What you’re looking at, according to Vertical Groove Golf, LLC, is a new technology that’s going to change the game of golf.

Vertical grooves. On the driver.

“Most golfers – 90% – have an outside-in swing,” says Rubin Hanan of Vertical Groove Golf. “That causes the head to come across the ball, so you get a kind of side-spin, which causes your slice. What vertical grooves do, since most people hit the ball towards the heel of the club, is they grab the ball and reduce the spin to keep the ball from slicing so much. You’ll actually see the ball go straighter.”

Hanan says independent testing by Golf Laboratories, Inc out of San Diego shows the Vertical Groove Driver consistently outperforming other top drivers in terms of spin rate and overall distance, as well as shot dispersion.

Could there be something to those grooves?

A 90° Twist

In wedges and short irons, grooves help promote spin. But with mid- to long irons, grooves become more spin-neutral. As lofts get even lower, grooves can help reduce spin. With some drivers, grooves are merely ornamental – many simply have lines painted on the face to look like grooves. However, it’s not uncommon to see drivers with smooth sweet spots and grooves etched into the toe and heel. Some, such as Srixon’s new Z 565 and 765, have grooves etched into the center of the face, as well as the heel and toe.

Bridgestone takes driver grooves to another level, with microgrooves milled into the face of the JGR driver. Vertical microgrooves milled into the toe and heel of the JGR are intended to reduce spin on mishits. The horizontal grooves in the middle of the clubface are arched and get closer together as you go lower on the clubface. The wider grooves maintain spin on high impact, while the tighter grooves and rougher texture decrease spin on low hits.

MyGolfSpy first reported on Bridgestone’s face milling nearly 2 years ago.  The idea of those grooves is to hold the ball in position on the clubface as long as possible (that’s known as CT, or Characteristic Time) to reduce spin. Also, several weeks ago MyGolfSpy Labs published a study on the effects of horizontal (heel-center-toe) impact location on driver performance. The study shows heel impact creating more spin as well as a fade-biased axis tilt and noticeably lower carry and overall distance numbers. Toe impact also increases spin, but with more of a draw-biased axis tilt. Distance is also negatively impacted, but not nearly as much as with heel impact.

An earlier MyGolfSpy Labs report on vertical impact location tells a similar story: high impact reduces both spin and distance, while low impact increases spin and reduces distance considerably. What can be inferred from these results is that anything that reduces or controls spin on heel or toe impact can, in theory, control axis tilt and help the ball go a little straighter and a little farther. And anything that reduces spin on low impact will help the ball go farther, too.

So, in theory, driver grooves – either vertical or horizontal – can reduce spin somewhere in the range of 200 to 300 RPM. Can that keep you in the fairway? The folks at Vertical Groove Golf certainly think so.

“Of course, it depends on the golfer,” says Hanan. “But we’ve seen consistently low spin rates – as low as 1900. We’re mostly in the 2600 to 2800 RPM range.”

Feelin’ Groovy 

Golf inventor Tony Antonious, best known for putting Velcro on golf gloves, patented this type of groove in the late 90’s. Here’s an excerpt:

“The vertical grooves on the club faces of the present invention have a beneficial effect on the ball and tends to generate a forward top spin traction producing a straight-line trajectory. Having only vertical groove face configurations, the vertical groove concept of this invention minimizes adverse direction such as exaggerated slicing or hooking and produces a low trajectory boring ball flight with top spin and increased distance.”

Further, the Antonious patent states the spacing between the grooves impacts sound, feel and energy transfer at impact, and it encompasses vertical grooves on irons and putters as well as metal woods. Hanan says hybrids and irons are in the works.

The Vertical Groove Driver has 17 rows of grooves from heel to toe, but Mike Rossi, Vertical Groove’s R&D Director, tells MyGolfSpy the properties of the head itself are just as important. “The combination of the geometry of our head – the center of gravity, the bulge and roll and our patented face configuration – it just creates launch conditions that work well for a broad range of players.”
vertical-groove-driver-patent

The Vertical Groove Driver is a 450cc head with a rather deep face. “I’d say our head shape is a little different, kind of an older design compared to what’s our there,” says Rossi. “Our CG is a little bit towards the back, which tends to help a lot of people, and it’s a hair higher, which says a bit more spin – but it seems to be optimum for a lot of people.”

So what you have is a slightly compact, deep-faced driver with a slightly mid/back and slightly mid/high center of gravity and a low launch, low spin stock shaft in the Aldila NV2k.

And vertical grooves.

Driver vs. Driver vs. Driver

Rossi tells MyGolfSpy the Golf Labs testing pitted the Vertical Groove Driver head to head against four of today’s top drivers (he didn’t tell us which ones).

“We took their stock, off-the-rack $399 clubs in S flex and compared them to ours, which has the after-market Aldila NV2K shaft,” says Rossi, who spent 16 years as Aldila’s VP of Sales and Marketing. “We also took the stock shafts out of those clubs and used identical Aldila shafts. The results were better carry distance and dispersion. Spin-wise we were comparable or lower.”

Again, this is Vertical Drive’s say-so. While it’s possible, even probable, that grooves affected spin somewhat, it’s likely the driver head and shaft combo also played a key role. We won’t know for sure until we get one to test ourselves.

Once You Go Vertical…

Is the golf world ready for a Vertical Groove jihad? Hanan – a former CEO of Champ Sports and Foot Locker of Canada – is pretty confident.

“You’re always going to have naysayers, especially if you bring out something new,” he says. “But everything that’s ‘new’ is really the same thing over and over again – they’re just moving CG around. Go into any brick and mortar store today, and you’ll see everyone one of those clubs on sale. No one’s bringing anything fresh and new to the industry, except Vertical Groove Golf.”

“If you look at the driver business, everything is recycled,” adds Rossi. “We’re back to composite crowns and titanium frames, and everybody’s talking about moving 25-to-30% of discretionary weight to bias shot patterns. That was being done ten years ago.”

As you might expect, fresh and new does come at a price. The Vertical Groove Driver sells for $399 (you can pre-order one on their website – product is expected to be available next month). Despite the price tag, the driver is non-adjustable and is available in 9.5, 10.5 and 12 degree lofts. The stock shaft is the Aldila NV2k, available in Ladies and Senior flex through XS) and the stock grip is the Golf Pride Tour Velvet. The Aldila Rogue Max 75 or the Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White, both low launch, low spin shafts, are offered as upgrades, each at a $200 upcharge.

So, does this thing work, or does it fall somewhere between the Hammer and the Grenade? Well, up until a week or so ago I never would have thought a golf ball that sells for $15 a dozen could compete with the #1 Ball in Golf, so I’m reserving judgment until we can see this thing in the flesh and test it for real.

What do you think?

For more information, visit VerticalGrooveGolf.com.