The top rules official at the U.S. Golf Association calls the conflict "convoluted."
We golfing civilians might call it crazy.
Grasping the nuances of the new grooves rule that was enacted on the professional tours six weeks ago was hard enough for many, but the lack of consistency regarding how the changes are being applied makes it even more confounding.
Sure, most understand by now that the primary result of the new grooves rule is that golf balls don't spin as much. Our heads, however, are spinning like turboprops as the subplots have gradually become evident.
Adding another arched brow to the mix, officials with the USGA and Royal & Ancient said Friday that a handful of their final-stage qualifiers will be played with completely contradictory rules as it relates to the use of controversial Ping Eye 2 clubs in the U.S. and British open championships.
Indeed, a professional could qualify for the British Open, where the 20-year-old Eye 2 clubs are banned, via surviving the qualifier in Texas, where the use of the clubs will be permitted. Equally screwy is the mirror-image provision that will ban those playing in overseas sectionals for the U.S. Open from using the club in qualifying, but if they advance, they can use Eye 2s at Pebble Beach in June.
Got it? Didn't think so.
The background: The USGA must allow players to use the Eye 2 clubs in perpetuity because of a 17-year-old legal compromise signed with the manufacturer, but the R&A was not a party to that agreement. So, at the U.S. Open, players are free to use the Pings, but not at the British Open.
The rules at certain qualifiers for both tournaments, however, are another issue altogether. Final-stage qualifiers for the U.S. Open held overseas will be staged under R&A rules, meaning the Pings are out. The British Open qualifier staged in Texas on May 24 will be held under USGA regulations.
"It all depends on where you're playing," said Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions. "So, if you are within the USGA jurisdiction and playing in the U.S. or Mexico, that [Ping Eye 2] club, even if the grooves condition has been adopted, can be used.
"Even if the British Open is having a qualifier in the United States, that club can be used, and vice-versa. If we're having a U.S. Open qualifier in London, in that instance, we'd be under R&A rules, which would not allow it [the old Pings].
"I know this is a convoluted thing that nobody likes, but that's the answer to it."
Last year, the USGA held a pair of sectional qualifiers outside the States, in England and Japan. The British Open qualifier this year in the U.S. is set for May 24 in Plano, Tex.
Even major organizations that had the chance to clear up the confusing mess opted not to.
This week, the folks at Augusta National, who have full authority to ban the controversial Ping Eye 2 clubs that a handful of PGA Tour players have used in live play in 2010, elected to allow the clubs for use in April. Thus, the winner of the Masters could theoretically have a Ping club in his bag that can be construed as non-conforming, if not for the grandfather clause agreement signed by the USGA in 1990.
The LPGA green-lighted them for play, too. Didn't have to, but like Augusta National, the women's tour also elected to toe the line with the USGA folks, even thought the latter doesn't like the Ping exemption in the least.
Rest assured, if the PGA Tour and USGA could ban the clubs, both entities would do it in a heartbeat since the wedges create 20 percent more backspin than the V-grooves on redesigned 2010 clubs. That's why some have characterized using the Eye 2s clubs as cheating, though they have been given backdoor approval.
To wit, here’s your 2010 major-championship scorecard relating to square-groove use:
Masters – Elected to allow use of the Ping clubs, though they had the unilateral authority to ban them.
U.S. Open – The USGA runs the Open and signed an agreement in 1990 with Ping to forever allow the company's square-groove clubs made that year and earlier, so the organization has no choice but to allow them for play.
British Open – The Eye 2 clubs are illegal under R&A rules for the tournament proper, but those playing in the event’s U.S. qualifier in Texas are free to use them. At the four other International Final Qualifying events for the British, players can’t use the old Pings.
PGA Championship – Has the authority to ban the Ping clubs, but hasn’t clarified its position.