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Grooves and Grammar

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On Wednesday in Los Angeles, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem made a plea for common sense, asking players to forgo the use of legal-but-nonconforming Ping Eye 2 wedges until the circuit can play legal catch up.

Following one of the most contentious Tour weeks on record many players who attended Tuesday’s players meeting would have settled for a little civility. But in hindsight it seems what the circuit could really use is a grammar lesson.

Even before Groovegate, grammar was a handicap to the modern professional.

How’d you play today?

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson will try to shake off the groove controversy at Riviera. (Getty Images)
'Good.' That would be well.

How’d you hit it?

'Bad.' No, you hit it badly, you non-ball-striking trunk slammer.

Of course, the grammatical crisis reached a crescendo last week when Scott McCarron likened Phil Mickelson’s use of a 20-year-old Ping Eye 2 to cheating. McCarron offered a clarification, of sorts.

“I didn’t say Phil was cheating,” he told a group of reporters adjacent Torrey Pines’ ninth green last Friday. “I said anyone using (a Ping Eye 2) is cheating.”

McCarron, one of the Tour’s brightest and most enjoyable interviews, did little to  help his cause and simply besmirched the other four or five players giving 1990s-era technology a try.

He further clarified in a statement this week that he didn’t call Mickelson a “cheater,” which only pointed out a complete misunderstanding of the verb/noun relationship. Either way, McCarron used the one word in golf that doesn’t wash off and the rest, as they say, is ugly history.

“I didn't care for his words, with using those two words so closely together, cheating and Phil Mickelson. We have enough going on in our sport right now where we don't need any more attention to something like this,” Steve Stricker said.

Mickelson countered last Friday with a less offensive gaffe of his own, claiming he was “publically slandered” by McCarron’s comments. Which begs the question: can one be privately slandered?

And finally the Tour weighed in with a release that used the same word, promulgated, twice in its attempt at damage control. We’re not sure promulgated violates any grammar rules, but it certainly did little to clarify a situation in dire need of a little black and white.

On Wednesday Finchem offered a rare mea culpa, saying the circuit wasn’t prepared for the fallout the grandfathered implement caused.

“The assumption was made last year that very few, if any, players would use that club because they're 20 years old,” Finchem said.

Never mind, of course, that he had a letter from Ping CEO John Solheim on his desk nearly two years earlier warning about exactly that possibility. Nostradamus didn’t have that kind of vision.

But then finger pointing is of little use now. All that matters is that a game that once held itself above all others has now been linked, however incorrectly, to cheating. More than 6.2 million times, according to a simple Google search Wednesday afternoon.

The Tour has a few options. Ignore the issue, hope Solheim has a moment of altruistic clarity and lets the Tour, and U.S. Golf Association, off the hook – both fool’s bets considering the current climate – or let it all ride on a committee of five, a protocol written into the original agreement.

“If the Policy Board were to say, we would like to do X, do you think this is in the best interest of the PGA Tour,” Finchem said. “I think the chances are reasonably good, perhaps more than reasonably good, that that committee would say yes.”

Despite Finchem’s optimism, it’s worth noting the Tour’s record in the court room is below the Mendoza Line, at best. The truth is that if it wasn’t for Doug Barron the circuit would still be on the legal schneid.

But then it seems legal wrangling and poor word choice are why Finchem arrived in L.A. dealing with more broken China than a Massachusetts Democrat.

Maybe reason and simplicity are better options than bombastic statements and saber rattling. On Wednesday Mickelson did his part, telling the assembled scribes he didn’t plan on using the old Ping wedge at this week’s Northern Trust Open.

“My point has been made,” said Mickelson, who met with McCarron in L.A. and accepted his apology.

Without Mickelson leading the way and providing a measure of cover it seems likely many players will avoid the scrutiny that has come with Ping Eye 2 usage, but Lefty’s support was not unconditional.

He warned that if a resolution is not reached soon the bent 64-degree Ping Eye 2 could easily find its way back into his bag.

“I'd need to give them a reasonable amount of time to get things done. They're not the fastest organizations,” Mickelson said. “But I'm hoping that that stuff gets accomplished.”

You have to respect the message, if not the grammar.