PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Tim Finchem had a flesh wound on his left pinkie finger that eventually leaked all over his ring finger and trickled onto the meat of his hand.
Gesticulating during an unusually animated discussion about the confusing grooves issue that has dominated PGA Tour conversation for two weeks, the commissioner finally noticed that he was leaking oil.
|John Solheim is thought to be interested in discussing a solution, but it's unclear what he'd want in return. (Getty Images)|
So is the game, frankly. One observer cracked, "He must have cut his hand on a square groove."
Finchem dabbed away the blood. As it relates to the greater injury to the game itself, it appears one man holds all the E.R. bandages.
Two decades after his late father, Karsten Solheim, fought tooth-and-nail with the golf superpowers so that his toothy Ping clubs weren't outlawed for play, his son John represents the quickest solution to the game's messiest rules loophole in years.
There's been name-calling, accusations and dissension among the players. Phil Mickelson's decision to use the club last week was characterized as "cheating" by another veteran, a word that's anathema to Lefty's whole makeup. The tour was absentmindedly caught in the crossfire, having never anticipated that 20-year-old Ping wedges would become a divisive issue.
John Solheim, the CEO of Ping, can make it all go away.
Finchem spoke with Solheim on Friday, and the latter said he would be willing to discuss a possible solution to the grooves rift, although Finchem isn't sure what sort of demands he might make or leverage he might exert. Solheim's got plenty of it.
"I have a general sense, but not a specific sense, so there's no point in commenting on it," Finchem said. "I'm encouraged that he and the USGA are talking about getting together and I hope they do."
There's much for Solheim to consider because the 1993 agreement between the company and the golf powers is a deeply personal affair. A quarter-century ago, Ping's player-friendly clubs were effectively marked for extinction by rulemakers and Karsten spent a small fortune on lawyers fighting for the company's economic survival. The Eye 2 agreement was a result of that legal wrangling.
Karsten Solheim, perhaps the greatest innovator in golf history, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001. He created the square groove -- not to mention the astoundingly successful Anser putter -- as part of his legacy. Small wonder, then, that on principle alone, his son isn't likely to dismiss the Eye 2 stipulation lightly.
But for the sake of unity, consistency and integrity, the USGA and Solheim need to end the philosophical impasse. We already know it's hurting the tour's image. It's hard to envision how grudges arising from decisions made decades ago really helps Ping's current bottom line, either.
As British Open champion Stewart Cink pointed out, the publicity Ping has received is only beneficial to a point. The legal, 1990-era clubs are no longer manufactured, and any financial gain to be made by sticking to the legal agreement would seem limited. Cink said the perception is that the Ping wedges from 1990 are better than the equipment they are currently placing in the bags of their professional staffers. Being linked to "cheating" isn't great pub, either, is it?
Like American politics, this is a three-party deal, but Solheim has the only vote that matters as far as making an expedient fix. To make it all go away, he must strike a deal with the rulemaking body in the States, the USGA, to voluntarily vacate the agreement that grandfathered in the clubs from two decades ago. The tour is also a party to the agreement and can't unilaterally ban the clubs, at least not without first outsourcing the issue for review to an independent equipment committee that was first formed in 1994. That could take months, and the result is by no means certain.
So the quickest fix for everybody is for Solheim to play the hero, take the high road, trod the moral terrain and take one for the team. It's better for golf, obviously, when the general public isn't looking sideways at players such as Phil Mickelson because he's using a Ping wedge that would be illegal today if it hadn't been back-doored for play by the preexisting agreement between a manufacturer, the USGA and the tour.
Mickelson said Wednesday that he won't be using the club this week at the Northern Trust Open, which he won in 2008-09 and lost in a playoff in 2007. He called plenty of attention to the grooves issue last week and intimated that if he won this week at Riviera Country Club -- he is the two-time defending champion -- he didn't want an asterisk affixed because he used a Ping wedge.
At its crux, it's ridiculous for golf to have a set of rules for professionals and another for amateurs, which became the case Jan. 1. It's called "bifurcation." But consider the major headaches we could still see down the road.
The British Open won't allow the use of old Ping wedges, because the governing body that runs it, the R&A, didn't sign the agreement grandfathering in the clubs. Augusta National runs the Masters, not the USGA or the R&A or the PGA Tour. It can ban the clubs if it wants, though messages left with a club spokesman Wednesday were not immediately returned. The USGA runs the U.S. Open, so it must adhere to the Ping grandfather clause. The PGA or America runs the PGA Championship, and it has the autonomy to ban the clubs if it wants.
Small wonder that Finchem was rooting hard, if not publicly lobbying, for Solheim to abandon the lawsuit agreement for the greater good.
"If he and the USGA sat down tomorrow and said we'll take that language out, then we are free," Finchem said. "They would change their condition and we would have no problem.
"That would be the cleanest, easiest way. I'll just say publicly -- what's that old phrase about Macy's window? It would be a great solution in a short period of time. Not to say there aren't any other solutions."
Just none that are as simple, expedient or good.