Mickelson didnt need to pick wedge fight


Scott McCarron wants to set one thing straight. He never called PhilMickelson a cheater.

That should help keep the lawyers at bay, as if there was ever going to beany. Mickelson’s implied threat of having his legal team deal with the biggeststory in wedges since Gene Sarazen invented a club to get out of the sand wasalmost as laughable as his claims that he was slandered by his fellow golfer.

Besides, McCarron has a valid point. He never called Mickelson a cheater.

What he said was that Mickelson cheated.

The semantics of that can be argued all the way up the Pacific Coast as thePGA Tour gets underway in earnest in uncertain times made even more uncertain bythe absence of the game’s biggest star. The stop this week is at the storiedRiviera Country Club, where Lefty would be a big story no matter what he had inhis bag.

Mickelson is the two-time defending champion, and the only player who caneven attempt to fill the huge void the tour faces with Tiger Woods not around.McCarron is a journeyman who barely cracked the top 100 money winners last yearand is recognizable only because he wields a putter almost as tall as he is.

In more civil times they might have changed shoes on the same locker roombench without more than a cursory nod. Now they’re pitted against each other ina battle that neither can win.

At issue are some 20-year-old wedges that would still be gathering dust insomeone’s garage had the USGA not taken it upon itself to try and put some skillback in the game by making it harder for players to control the ball from placesthey shouldn’t be hitting it, notably the rough.

The bigger issue, though, may be the integrity of the sport itself. This is,after all, supposed to be a gentleman’s game filled with people of honor whowant only to do the right thing.

Mickelson, though, seems to want to do only what’s right for him.

To that end, Mickelson has declared he has every right to play Ping-Eye 2wedges which were grandfathered in by a lawsuit from new rules designed to limitspin off the clubface. He’s not alone, as a handful of players have scroungedaround to find the old wedges and stick them in their bags.

To McCarron and others, though, the black and white that Mickelson sees is avery gray area indeed. They believe anyone playing the old clubs is, at the veryleast, violating the spirit of the rules of golf by gaining an unfair advantageover those who don’t have the old wedges.

“I am still appalled by the fact that any player would make the choice toput this controversial wedge in play,” McCarron said Monday.

A lot of other people are probably appalled that McCarron plays with aputter as long as a broomstick, something that no one in golf would haveconsidered proper until it came into vogue in recent years. The big putter helpsa player control small muscle and calms nerves, which has probably allowedMcCarron to keep his spot on tour all these years.

And every player who has ever asked for a questionable drop has tried to usethe rules to his advantage. Woods himself once had spectators in Phoenix move ahuge boulder in front of his ball, saying it was a loose impediment.

But this is about grooves, and it’s more complicated than just that. Therewas speculation that Mickelson, who argued last year with the USGA over the newlimitations on grooves, was more concerned with sending a message to the USGAthan he was with spinning the ball at Torrey Pines.

Whatever the case, Mickelson clearly didn’t expect to be blasted by a fellowpro for doing so, and certainly didn’t expect to be labeled as a cheater.Predictably, the tour came out on behalf of its biggest remaining star bybasically saying it was a bad thing to say bad things about fellow players.

The big question now is to see how far Mickelson will take this. Was he justtrying to make a point to the USGA or does he really think better grooves willhelp him vault to No. 1 in the world in Woods’ absence?

His main sponsor, Callaway Golf, surely can’t be too happy Mickelson isplaying a competing company’s lob wedge, especially since Callaway is spending alot of money for an ad campaign featuring Mickelson on the Super Bowl pregametelecast. Hard to convince duffers to play their wedges when Mickelson himselfisn’t.

The irony is that Mickelson is one of the great wedge players ever. He canplay shots other players can only dream of, regardless of the size of hisgrooves.

He didn’t have to pick this fight, but for some reason he did.

Now he has to deal with the consequences.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Writeto him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org