SAN DIEGO (AP)—A photographer for a major magazine wanted to take a picture ofthe Ping-Eye 2 wedge in Phil Mickelson ’s bag, and the world’s No. 2 player hadno problem with that.
Could he take the wedge out of the bag and have Mickelson pose with it?
That’s where Lefty drew the line.
Mickelson has never backed away from controversy, and he knew his decisionto use the wedge might cause a stir. He just didn’t want this to dominate newsof his debut on the PGA Tour, even though it has done just that.
Golf gets its first taste of network coverage on Saturday in the FarmersInsurance Open at Torrey Pines, and this was not how the PGA Tour would havedrawn it up. First of all, Tiger Woods is not playing for the second straightyear. That much was fairly certain when Woods announced Dec. 11 an indefinitebreak while he deals with the fallout from his extramarital affairs.
Mickelson would be a compelling story, though, especially coming off astrong finish last year and hope this might be his best year yet. Instead, talkhas shifted to words like “square grooves” and “lawsuit settlement” and theworst one of all—“cheating.”
The play at Torrey Pines—D.A. Points and Ryuji Imada were tied for thelead at 11-under 133—was largely ignored Friday thanks to Scott McCarron . Hewas quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle as saying about Mickelson using thePing wedge, “It’s cheating, and I’m appalled Phil has put it in play.”
It’s a complicated issue except for the verdict: The wedges have beenapproved.
“End of story,” Mickelson said after his 67 left him only four shotsbehind.
The USGA adopted new rules this year that irons (from about 5-iron throughwedges) no longer can have square grooves, which are deeper and generate morespin. They must be replaced by V-grooves, with the idea of putting more premiumon accuracy.
But there was one catch. Ping sued the USGA 20 years ago. Under thesettlement, the USGA agreed that Ping-Eye 2 clubs would be legal as long as theywere made before April 1, 1990. That takes precedence over the new regulationfor V-grooves.
Fact: Mickelson (and at least three other players) is using a wedge with agroove pattern that no longer is allowed.
Fact: Mickelson is using a wedge that is approved by the USGA.
“Anyone using those wedges is really bending the rules,” McCarron saidFriday. Twice asked about the word “cheating,” he shifted to “bending therules,” although he made it clear he feels just as strongly.
McCarron isn’t alone. Robert Allenby is opposed to the Ping wedge for thesame reason, that while it doesn’t violate the law, it violates the intent orthe spirit of the law.
“Cheating is not the word to use,” Allenby said. “But it’s definitely anadvantage.”
Mickelson is standing his ground. He has been battling with the USGA formonths over a groove regulation he calls “ridiculous,” and he lectured USGAsenior technical director Dick Rugge on the putting green at The Barclays.Mickelson said he submitted wedges that met the new specifications and the USGAdid not approve them. But it does approve of a wedge with square grooves, allbecause of a 20-year-old lawsuit settlement.
“All my clubs are approved for play, and I take that very seriously not toviolate any rule,” Mickelson said. “It’s not my job or the job of any of theplayers to try to interpret the spirit of the rule or the intent. I understandapproved or not approved. I didn’t make this rule. I don’t agree with the rule.But I’m abiding by it.”
The PGA Tour said it was aware this debate over Ping wedges could arise thisyear—strange, because Mickelson had no idea until he read that John Daly andDean Wilson were using the wedge at the Sony Open two weeks ago. Mickelson wentto his garage and found a wedge that he first used as a freshman in college.
Remember, these clubs are 20 years old. Some players change wedges every sixweeks to keep the grooves fresh.
Mickelson said one shot Thursday with his Ping wedge released some 10 feetbeyond the hole. He believes using his regular Callaway wedge would have allowedhim to stop it quicker.
“That’s beside the point,” McCarron said. “They made this rule, we’re allabiding by it. Obviously, it makes a difference. You take a guy like PhilMickelson who does a lot of testing, he’s under contract with another companyand he plays that wedge. To me, that says it makes a lot of difference.”
This could get messy. And with the tour already missing its biggest star,this is the last thing it needs.
What irritates Mickelson is that he spent most of his interview talkingabout a wedge that might not even make a big difference.
“I don’t appreciate the governing bodies putting me or any other player inthis position, calling into question our integrity over a rule that they made, aclub that they approved,” he said. “Don’t put the blame on a player. Put theblame on the governing body.”