Cut Line Grooves Edition


Meaningful golf is being played this week at storied Riviera, although it would be hard to know that amid the din of “he said, he said” that has erupted from Groovegate.

Sport hasn’t been subjected to this kind of minutia since NASCAR introduced restrictor plates. Luckily no one on Tour has gone into the wall at Turn 3, but there has been no shortage of bodies being thrown under the metaphorical bus.

Made Cut

Phil Mickelson. OK, so he’s no Rosa Parks and considering everything else that golf is dealing with right now maybe Lefty’s powers would be better applied elsewhere, but you’ve got to respect the zeal he displayed throughout this whole confusing and sordid process.

“My point has been made,” Mickelson said Wednesday in L.A.

His “point,” of course, is that the U.S. Golf Association attempted a back-door rollback of the golf ball with a convoluted grooves rule that has cost manufacturers millions of dollars, the Tour untold style points and hacker-nation their only chance to hold a hard green from a buried lie.

As Brad Faxon told GolfWorld, “I don’t see amateurs giving up the game because they say it’s too easy.”

eBay. One player called “Cut Line” Thursday afternoon giddy with excitement saying, “I found a (Ping Eye 2) wedge on eBay for $1,000.”

Whatever the outcome of Groovegate it has been a boon for aftermarket sales of the 20-year-old club and, after ridiculously marked-up Super Bowl tickets, the primary cash cow for the online flea market.

Who knew golf’s stimulus plan depended on panicked sales of out-of-date technology?

Jerry West. A year ago Riviera had a duck-and-cover feel to it after a few members of Congress made Northern Trust public enemy No. 1 for what was deemed excessive corporate hospitality.

This year, thanks in large part to “Mr. Clutch,” who was named executive director of the L.A. stop last May, ticket sales are up at Hogan’s Alley and the Northern Trust field is the young PGA Tour season’s deepest.

Of course, not all weeks are perfect. On Tuesday Kobe Bryant passed West as the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer.

No. 10 at Riviera. Seems apropos amid the grooves debate that the 315-yard 10th hole is at center stage this week.

USGA and architecture types take note, the wee 10th played to a stout 3.8 stroke average for those attempting to drive the green and a 4.05 average for those who laid up on Thursday. Sometimes bigger really isn’t better.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

John Solheim. Interesting that the villain in all this groove ugliness – after Scott McCarron, of course – is the Ping CEO.

“If he and the USGA sat down tomorrow and said we'll take that language out, then we are free,” Finchem said. “They would change their condition and we would have no problem. That would be the cleanest, easiest way.”

Let’s be clear, Ping no longer produces the Ping Eye 2s and therefore is not cashing in on the online onslaught. And while the publicity generated by Groovegate may be a guerilla marketer’s dream there are deeper issues at play here.

An industry executive who attended the final meetings between Ping and the USGA two decades ago remembers it this way: “(Solheim’s father, Karsten) stood up there and said, in closing, ‘I feel like someone has stabbed me in the back as all I ever wanted to do was produce equipment that helped people enjoy the game.’”

It will be John Solheim’s heart, not his head or Finchem’s s thinly-veiled nudges, that will decide how much ground he wishes to give, and that’s powerful stuff.

Monday morning contenders. Pundits are paid to second guess, it’s part of the DNA. But Michael Sim’s decision to layup on the 72nd hole on Sunday at Torrey Pines has been unfairly criticized in some circles.

On Sunday the young Aussie found himself one shot behind eventual champion Ben Crane and in the middle of the final fairway about 250 yards from the hole. While some have said Sim was playing for a paycheck when he laid up, the truth is he was only playing what the conditions were giving him.

What most critics missed is that the 18th played into a cold, damp wind on Sunday, which brought Devlin’s Billabong into play, and that Sim is perhaps the best wedge player in the under-30 set. For the record, just 25 of 78 players attempted to reach the green in two shots on Sunday and just eight of those players hit the putting surface.

Was he playing for a paycheck? No more so than Zach Johnson was playing for a green jacket at the 2007 Masters. And we all know how that one turned out.

Missed Cut

Tim Finchem. On Wednesday in Los Angeles the lawyer wanted to do what lawyers do, cloud the water, while the commissioner knew there had to be some crow on the menu.

The mea culpa, as it was, was short and ambiguous: “The assumption was made last year that very few, if any, players would use that club because they're 20 years old,” Finchem said.

Perhaps the letter John Solheim sent the Tour nearly two years ago regarding the impending change to the groove rule and the outstanding agreement between Ping, the USGA and Tour got lost in the mail or the bureaucratic shuffle.

Either way the rank-and-file deserved better from a commish who is paid handsomely – $5.3 million in base pay and performance bonuses in 2008 according to a recent Sports Business Journal report – to avoid these types of embarrassing situations.

Blast McCarron for his poor choice of words or Solheim for what some say is a dogmatic policy or even Mickelson for his poorly timed political statement, but don’t forget Finchem’s role in all of this when the final grades are handed out.

Tweet of the week. Ianjamespoulter. “I don’t think I’m going to go to the superbowl [sic]. I couldn’t even tell you who is playing. The atmosphere will be great down there though.”

Hint: It’s not Arsenal and Man U.