SAN DIEGO – It all started with a fairly tame question to a three-time PGA Tour winner about the state of the new grooves rule in professional golf.
Instead, Scott McCarron started a controversy that has accomplished the seemingly impossible – it bumped any discussion of Tiger Woods off the front burner.
The San Francisco Chronicle this week spoke with a slew of players about the new provision, which banned the use of square grooves in irons as of Jan. 1, with the exception of a certain line of Ping clubs, which were specially permitted as a result of a lawsuit the manufacturer filed against the U.S. Golf Association 20 years ago.
The Ping grandfather clause has created quite a rift in the tour family tree.
Eight players, including Phil Mickelson, took advantage of the Ping loophole and used at least one of the clubs this week at Torrey Pines. Others, like John Daly, used the clubs earlier this season.
McCarron on Thursday told the Chronicle, "It's cheating, and I'm appalled Phil has put it in play."
Using the C-word is the strongest language a golfer can use. A day later, after his round Friday, McCarron was given a chance to throttle back his headline-grabbing verbal bomb, and he didn’t exactly mince words or backpedal much.
McCarron, who should have directed his concern at the game’s rule-makers, not non-existent rule-breakers, has a point. The Ping club would be illegal if it wasn’t for the old lawsuit. But the fact remains that the clubs are on the sport’s conforming list, and Mickelson and the other seven players are well within their rights by electing to use the wedge.
Saturday, Mickelson said he had been “publicly slandered” by McCarron and raised the specter of possible legal action.
To the casual fan, it’s a confusing rule, especially since it doesn’t even apply to amateur players. To add some clarity, here is a CBSSports.com transcript of the conversation McCarron had with reporters after his second round Friday, which was not distributed by the PGA Tour. The questions he fielded are in bold type.
The comments on Mickelson are getting a lot of …
“The comments aren’t on Mickelson, they are on anybody who uses that [Ping] wedge, that’s all, and most of the guys out here feel the same way. So it’s my opinion that anybody who is using those wedges is really bending the rules. It’s like, in my instance, using the long putter. Let’s say we’re going to ban the putter, but anyone who has been using it since 1995 can continue using it. Which would be me, so I would be the only one who would be able to use it. Do you think that would be cheating, to you think that would be fair? Probably not. So it’ s basically the same situation. Again, this is my opinion, not the tour’s stance, not anybody else’s but my opinion, and most of the guys on the PGA Tour except for the guys who are using that wedge.’’
Why can’t the tour say …
“You have to ask the tour. I don’t speak for the tour, I only speak for myself.”
What’s the PAC [Player Advisory Council] view on it?
“We haven’t gotten that far. We have a PAC meeting next week.”
The thing Mickelson said the other day … was that if the club is approved by the USGA…
“It was approved because of why, though? Because of a lawsuit, years ago. I don’t think it’s in the spirit of the rules that the USGA made this rule. They made it for a reason. Golf is kind of a gentlemen’s game and I don’ t think anybody should be using it, and I think the tour should either go back to Ping and say ‘Hey, you’re not selling any more of these clubs. It doesn’t do you any good.’ Let’s go and make a local rule [banning the wedges] each week. Or just change that rule. It’s easy.’’
Can they do a local rule? I don’t think they can change it because it’s not their lawsuit. It’s the USGA.
“I don’t know how they can do it, but I think someone needs to look at it and do it. And I think it should have been done before we started this year with the new grooves.’’
Do you think they are getting an advantage in using 20-year-old clubs?
“It’s beside the point, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. We made this rule, the USGA made this rule and we’re all abiding by it. Obviously, it makes a difference. You take a guy like Phil Mickelson, who is going to do a lot of testing, and he knows how his grooves are doing, and he’s under contract with another company and he’s going to play that wedge. So for me, that tells me that it obviously makes some difference.’’
You used a word that gets red-flagged, that begins with a C and is a pretty harsh term. If you had to do it all over again, would you do the same thing?
“Do I feel anybody who is using the wedge is cheating?”
“I still feel pretty strongly about it.”
For the casual fan who doesn’t understand the grooves controversy and all they see is the headline that says, Mickelson is using this wedge, he says ‘it’s cheating’ …
“I didn’t talk about Mickelson, I said anyone using that wedge, I feel, is bending the rules. Even though we have a rule right now, because of a lawsuit, that says that it’s okay. I don’t think in the spirit of the game that is the right thing.’’
Are the casual fans going to get the wrong impression that people are doing outrageous things on tour?
“Do you think that’s outrageous? I don’t think so. “
I don’t. But when you see a headline and you don’t follow the story and understand how nuanced it is, they are going to see that Phil’s breaking the rules or whoever it is …
“He’s not breaking the rules. It’s not in the spirit of the game the way the USGA wanted this rule to be dealt with. … Let’s put it this way, guys. We have a hole here, coming into 18. We have one guy using the Ping Eye 2 wedge from 20 years ago with square grooves. We have another guy that isn’t. So the guy that isn’t hits first and he one hops it over the back of the green. The guy with Ping Eye 2 hits it out of the rough and stops it right by the hole. Do you think that that was a fair advantage? I’m asking you. Do you? Do you think that would be an advantage?”
I am still kind of wrapped around the idea that these are the …
“I am asking you a question. Do you think that would be an advantage to the guy if he is able to stop it because of the club he is using?”
If it was the club he was using, if it was not approved …
“Both guys hit the same exact shot. Do you think that looks bad for our sport?”
I don’t have a great answer.
“I’m just asking you a question.”
(Unintelligible). It’s a good devil’s advocate question.
“It does not look good.”
You said guys might start talking about [at PAC meeting] it next week?
“I’m certainly going to bring it up and I know most of the guys on the PAC are probably going to bring it up, too.”
What would be the procedure to …?
“I actually went to Ping, a couple of guys, manufacturers, and said let’s just feel it out, see what [Ping CEO] John Solheim and the Ping guys feel. Is it something they could just drop this lawsuit, easy, just say, ‘Hey, we’re done with it, you guys go ahead, go on, and no more square grooves. An easy fix. I don’t know. I am not a lawyer and I don’t know how that would work.”