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Was Mickelson Cheating

Hi Frank,

It is early in the season but I have heard comments by sportscasters that according to the scores so
far this year, it appears that the groove rule is having no affect. You also hear many sportscasters reporting over and over of the effects of the  new groove rule. I was wondering what you might have to say about this and also what you think of the “controversy” regarding several PGA pros using the old Ping irons that are grandfathered in thus avoiding the new USGA groove rules.

Best Regards,

– Kenny, NY.


To answer your question about the effect the new groove rule has had on scoring or otherwise on the PGA Tour, let me say it is too early to tell. I have been following this issue for 2 years and you can read my opinion about this groove rule change.

There are many golf writers, announcers and others checking how performance on Tour will be affected by the new “Condition of Competition”. This question is one that must eventually be answered, if for no other reason than to justify the disruption the new groove rule change has had on the industry, the 35 million golfers – who have not contributed to the perceived problem – and the game itself.

There is some confusion about the implementation of the rule itself. It has been reported that the R&A measurements and those of USGA don’t seem to be in sync and that Ernie Els had to have a new set of clubs hand delivered to him at the Sony event after he believed his clubs conformed based on a ruling by the R&A but was then contradicted by a USGA measurement.

There will always be teething problems with hastily adopted standards and procedures. This one is especially problematic and embarrassing because of the confusion it has caused leading to slanderous comments about cheating.

Phil Mickelson did not cheat by using square grooves in his Ping Eye 2 wedge as Scott McCarron has suggested. These clubs have been grandfathered forever, no matter what changes are made to rules on grooves. The reason for this is that after a disagreement and the initial phases of a lawsuit on how to make the groove measurement, Ping agreed to conform with the USGA’s interpretation if the USGA would grandfather those Ping Eye 2 clubs made between 1985 and March 1990. The R&A did not grandfather these clubs.

The real question is, does Phil have any measureable advantage over his fellow competitors because of his equipment? The answer is no. These Ping Eye 2 clubs have square grooves which minutely violate the existing specification. The differences in performance between his clubs and others is so small, and the number of times he is in a position where it may help are so few that his clubs are not a factor. His skill is what is going to make the difference

We mortals are still allowed to use the old groove configuration (which has been in effect since 1984) until 2024, even though clubs with these grooves will not be manufactured after December 31, 2010. From a marketing perspective, I don’t know how many golfers will buy any piece of equipment which is advertised or well known as having a potentially detrimental effect on their game. I think the villains in this play are not the actors but the confused playwrights.

Let’s hope it will iron itself out and that the change will eventually be justified.

Kenny, you and many others will be kept informed about this groovy issue.

– Frank

Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email