“I won’t be playing that wedge. My point has been made,” Mickelson said Wednesday on the eve of his two-time title defense at Riviera. “But if these governing bodies cannot get together to fix this loophole, if players stop using this wedge – which would stop the pressure of the issue – then I will relook at it and put the wedge back in play.”
The Ping wedge has grooves that no longer conform under a new USGA regulation, adopted by the PGA Tour. However, any Ping wedge made before April 1, 1990, is approved for play under a legal settlement from two decades ago.
Mickelson is among five players who have used the Ping wedge in competition this year.
Several players believe using the club goes against the spirit of the new grooves regulation, although Scott McCarron fueled the debate when he said of Mickelson and others, “It’s cheating.”
Mickelson hinted at legal action after saying he was “publicly slandered.” He said McCarron offered him a sincere apology on Tuesday night, which he accepted.
“We all make mistakes, and we all say things we wish we could take back,” Mickelson said. “I’ve done it a bunch in my career. And the fact that it’s also not easy to come up and face that person, look them in the eye and apologize … I appreciate him being a big enough man to do that.”
Instead, Mickelson vented his anger at the USGA and its lack of transparency in developing the new rules for grooves. He has complained that his submitted wedges that fit the guidelines, only for the USGA to reject the club for violating the intent of the new rule.
“I’ve very upset with the way the rule came about, the way one man essentially can approve or not approve a golf club based on his own personal decision, regardless of what the rule says,” Mickelson said. “This has got to change.”
The next step remains murky.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem met with players on Tuesday night and conceded that Tour officials did not realize a Ping wedge from 20 years ago would become such a big issue.
Finchem said the Ping Eye 2 wedge produces spin at about 60 percent of the rate from last year’s wedges, but about 10 percent more than wedges approved for competition this year.
“The assumption was made last year that very few, if any, players would use that club because they’re 20 years old,” Finchem said. “I think we underestimated that a little bit.”
He said the Tour could either do nothing and monitor how many players used wedges, an option that seemed unlikely because Finchem said it still raised issues over fairness in competition. Some players are going to eBay to find the clubs, as Ping stopped making them and now only can confirm through serial numbers when the wedges were made.
The other option is to work out an agreement with Ping chairman and CEO John Solheim. He said Solheim was to meet with the USGA over the next few weeks, and “I can only hope progress is made in that regard.”
Ping plays the biggest role in any solution because of its lawsuits against the USGA and PGA Tour over square grooves.
Finchem said the third option involved a complicated process in which the Tour’s independent committee on equipment tries to establish a local rule. He called that a “cumbersome process.”
Any solution could be weeks, if not months, away.
In the meantime, Mickelson said he would not use the wedge at the Northern Trust Open, even though he’s hopeful others will.
“If there’s no pressure among these organizations to make changes, I will immediately put the club back in play,” Mickelson said.