ORLANDO, Fla. ' It should come as no surprise that Ping Chairman and CEO John Solheim doesn’t believe Phil Mickelson’s a cheater.
Of course, he doesn’t believe Mickelson’s violating the spirit of the Rules of Golf, either, by using Ping Eye 2 wedges with square grooves.
But Solheim isn’t surprised grooves are becoming such a divisive issue within the PGA Tour family.
He remembers the painful division within his own family after Ping settled its lawsuit over square grooves with the U.S. Golf Association and later the PGA Tour.
“It affected my relationship with my dad,” Solheim told GolfChannel.com during Friday’s PGA Merchandise Show. “He wasn’t happy with me settling the lawsuit. It was more for me to settle it with my dad than it was with the USGA. That was the harder part of getting the agreement.”
Karsten Solheim, John's father, introduced square grooves to his Ping Eye 2 irons in 1984. The USGA would later ban those grooves.
Twenty years ago, John spearheaded the negotiation that led to Ping settling out of court. That settlement’s at the heart of the debate raging within the PGA Tour ranks over whether Mickelson’s use of Ping Eye 2 irons with square grooves violates the spirit of the Rules of Golf. Though square-groove design violates new rules in effect this year, the out-of-court settlement makes Ping Eye 2 irons manufactured before March 31, 1990, approved for play. The square grooves in those clubs are grandfathered into the rules.
John said his father wanted to keep fighting the USGA and PGA Tour until a legal victory was won.
“He was pretty tough,” John said. “A lot of why he was so tough is that they were leaving engineering principles totally behind. That just ripped his guts out.”
Today's debate conjurs memories of old wounds.