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Square Groove Drama – Phil Mickelson Accused of Cheating!

Photo: Denis Poroy

As most golf fans are aware, on Jan 1, 2010 a new condition of competition went into effect on the PGA Tour that mandated a change in the shape and volume of grooves on clubs having more than 25 degrees of loft. This new groove rule has caused outrage and much discussion for several months now. The golf club manufacturers have spent millions of dollars re-tooling their equipment to make the new grooves and meet the demand by their staff professionals to test and adopt the new clubs.

The biggest opponent of the new rule on the PGA Tour has been Phil Mickelson, who has repeatedly bashed the rule changes and defended the position of the clubmakers. Last week, Golf Digest reported that Phil Mickelson was at Callaway Golf’s Carlsbad California testing center prepping a new set of irons, and experimenting with a few 20 year old Ping Eye2 wedges, which have square grooves. These wedges if manufactured now would be non-conforming, but because of a lawsuit between Ping and the USGA that was settled in 1990, any Ping Eye2 made before April 1, 1990 was grandfathered in and remains approved for play. The lawsuit takes precedence over any rule change.

Ping Eye 2 LW
Ping Eye 2 LW

Phil Mickelson isn’t the only player who has taken advantage of this loophole in the new rule. In fact, he got the idea after reading that Dean Wilson and John Daly had put the old clubs in their bags for the Sony Open in Hawaii. Since then, more players have gone back to the older wedges in search of more spin from the rough.

This week at Torrey Pines in San Diego, PGA Tour veteran Scott McCarron said using the old wedges was cheating, and he claimed he was appalled that Phil had put it into play. In a sport that is known as a gentleman’s game , accusing someone of cheating is a serious matter. However, Mickelson took the high road with his response, instead turning the blame squarely back on the USGA by saying “It’s a terrible rule. To change something that has this kind of loophole is nuts,” Mickelson said. “But it’s not up to me or any other player to interpret what the rule is or the spirit of the rule. I understand black and white. And I think that myself or any other player is allowed to play those clubs because they’re approved — end of story.”

McCarron defended his comments by explaining that he was not singling out Phil for cheating, but rather every player that put one of the old wedges into play because he through it was violating the spirit of the rule. That the USGA and PGA Tour didn’t anticipate this rub is interesting. McCarron said the issue would likely be brought up at a Players Advisory Counsil meeting next week, of which McCarron is a part of.

Mickelson made no apologies however. He said he submitted wedges to the USGA that met the new requirements, yet they were not approved. Conversely, The Eye2 wedge is approved but does not conform under the new rules. He also said testing procedures are different in the United States and overseas, adding to the frustration. “This whole groove thing has turned into a debacle,” Mickelson said. Mickelson said he wasn’t sure if he would continue to play the Ping wedge, because he didn’t find much difference in spin from that and the regulation grooves in his other Callaway wedges. “There’s a good chance I’ll switch back, but not for the reason that I feel like I’ve been doing something wrong,” Mickelson said. “I think that any player using these clubs that are approved under the rules of golf are fine.”

The PGA Tour has the ability to make a local rule which would outlaw the use of those wedges stemming from a 1993 settlement with Ping containing different conditions, but the Tour has yet to make any ruling in the matter. Phil Mickelson is currently a few shots from the lead. Scott McCarron missed the cut.

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