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Grooves rule surfaces at college golf event

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The USGA rule requiring golfers to use V-shaped grooves is old news on the pro circuit – it has been implemented since 2010 – but a college player received a rude reminder Monday when he made his 2014 debut.

The rule that bans non-conforming U-groove wedges went into effect Jan. 1 at the elite amateur level, but according to the NCAA hard card, it applies only during the postseason. It is optional at regular-season events, which is what caused a bit of a stir in college golf circles Monday at the Sea Best Invitational.

Here’s what happened: Jacksonville junior Brett McKinnon was playing the opening stretch at TPC Sawgrass when one of his fellow playing competitors, Tennessee’s Oliver Goss – a finalist at last year’s U.S. Amateur – noticed that an old wedge in McKinnon’s bag was non-conforming.

Initially, everyone involved believed that it was a breach of USGA rules and that McKinnon would be subjected to a two-stroke penalty for every hole that the club was in the bag (in this case, two holes or four strokes). 

McKinnon was not penalized, however, because the grooves rule – optional during regular-season events – was not applied as one of the tournament’s local rules. So, he shot an opening-round 82 and was allowed to continue in the 54-hole event, which served as the 2014 opener for several teams.

“He was surprised,” Jacksonville coach Mike Blackburn said by phone. “He replaced his other two wedges a year or so ago and he doesn’t practice a lot with his 52 (degree). It was one of those things that slipped between the cracks and he didn’t replace it.” 

Fortunately, at this event, the oversight didn’t result in penalty strokes or disqualification.