Disorderly Golf

January 29, 2010 7:00 PM

Will you PLEASE shut up about the grooves?

After-dispute-Mickelson-to-use-Ping-lob-wedge-341337.jpgFingers are pointing and snipers are snarking about new grooves, old clubs, and the spirit of the rules on the PGA Tour.  

Only in golf could a rules change measured in hundredths of an inch lead to this kind of boring bitterness.

The USGA announced in August 2008 that it was changing the rule governing the grooves in irons, offering it as a Condition of Competition for high-level tournaments beginning in 2010.  The Tour announced last June that it would implement the change this season.

There are two changes required by the new regulations, which essentially apply to irons 4-LW: (1) The edges of the groove must be more rounded than in previous specifications; (2) The area of space within the groove must be roughly 40% smaller than it was before.  

Does this make it harder to stop the ball on the greens from the rough?  Yes, a little.  Does it make a big difference?  No.  Are they good enough to cope with the change they knew was coming?  Hell, yes.

But the players figured out something the organization may have forgotten: In a legal settlement negotiated twenty years ago, Ping Eye 2 clubs manufactured before March 1990 were declared to be ok regardless of future groove rule changes.  A handful of players -- John Daly, Dean Wilson, Hunter Mahan, and Phil Mickelson among them -- have dug out their old wedges and are using them in tournaments.     

Is it a loophole, letting them get around the prohibition on "square grooves"?  Yes.  Is it within the rules?  Absolutely.  Is it cheating, as several pros have suggested?  

No.  No way.  

The clubs are permitted  They're also twenty years old, and you're not allowed to regroove them or mill the faces.  They provide minimal advantage, if any, mostly psychological.  Not that that's not important in golf.  

Tour players have a reputation for carping when the courtesy cars are the wrong model Lexus.  If Phil Mickelson wins this week at Torrey Pines, it won't be because he's using old grooves in one wedge; it will be because he drove the ball well enough and made putts.  

Ping's not rushing out to make a big new batch of these clubs; only the old ones are covered by the exception.  If the other pros think the clubs provide an advantage, get on eBay, scour the pro shops -- but, please, shut up about it already.  The spirit of the game also involves playing your best and shaking your opponent's hand, even if you have to grit your teeth to do it.  

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