Regardless of the sport, there are always going to be rules. And there are always going to be people who find a way to bend them, or use them to their advantage. Golf is no different.
But as Phil Mickelson prepares to put a "grandfathered" Ping wedge into his bag, he's neither bending nor breaking the rules. In fact, he's not even violating the spirit of the rule. There are plenty of reasons why.
First, we have to think of what "spirit" the USGA's rule was intended to create. By all accounts, the ruling body decided that restricting grooves would lower spin rates for shots played out of rough and wet grass. For years, the keepers of the rulebook have been troubled by these young bucks hitting it a mile, embarrassing their 100-year-old courses, and generally rendering their beloved game obsolete. If any of that were true, this would be a different argument. But that's another column.
Today we're talking grooves, and I swore to myself I wouldn't utter a single "groovy" cliché. So as we know, the grooves have been effectively softened so that those young bucks will once again fear the rough. This in turn will force them make sure they hit it straighter off the tee, which in turn makes them hit it shorter. And thus, by turning back the technological clock on wedges, they're protecting the integrity of the game. Let's set aside just how roundabout that is, because remember, this isn't a column about the groove rule. I'm a few months too late for that.
Anyway, the new grooves aren't as effective as the old grooves, but there are these special grooves, in a legal settlement 20 years ago, got the USGA's blessing. They are in PING Eye2s, and the legal battle between PING and the USGA is that of legend to those who remember it. PING was forced to change their grooves, but all their existing clubs were grandfathered in, and they've been legal ever since. PING utilized square grooves, which have a similar effect on the ball out of wet and heavy rough as the now outlawed U-grooves of 2009. So if you're keeping score: PING Eye2 square grooves legally impart a lot of spin; large grooves do so illegally. Similar result, different shape grooves. I'd try to figure out the USGA's thinking, but again, this isn't a column about the groove rule.
So here we are, in week four of the PGA Tour's inaugural NG (new groove) era. We've heard a few comments during the broadcasts - OK, that's a lie, it's about all they've been talking about - and it's been hard to tell exactly who is getting screwed by the new rule. In fact, no one is, because everyone's playing by the same rules. They can use conforming new grooves (which are what manufacturers are racing to build), as well as those on PING Eye 2s.
Therein lies the argument. Let's say the PGA Tour put out a big bucket of conforming wedges. You'd have lots of new Vokeys of all lofts and lies and grinds. You would find Clevelands, and Callaway Jaws, and might even come cross an Alien. You'd certainly see some PING Eye2s. So as everyone gets to pick and choose their weapon of choice for the week, they can have any of them. And yes, anyone can use any of them.
Mickelson's not the only one. According to AP, Dean Wilson is playing one, and Hunter Mahan's caddie dug one up at Torrey Pines. John Daly started the trend a few weeks ago. They're not breaking the spin rule, they decided they want to play the PING Eye2s. Just as much as the guy who decided not to use the Alien — just how funny would it be to see Mickelson pop an Alien headcover off as he headed into a bunker — Mickelson and the rest are deciding not to use a 2010 wedge. But they're also giving up 20 years worth of technology. Sure, the advances made on wedges are nothing like those made in drivers and golf balls, but that's still two decades worth of progress they're giving up in order to keep the grooves they're comfortable with.
Let's ask if we're surprised that Phil is investing his time and energy to analyze his clubs so closely. This is the guy who once decided to carry two drivers - one to draw and one to fade. Few would argue that a draw- or fade-biased club would be outside the spirit of the rules, but when you start to put them in the bag together it seems to diminish the part of the game where you have to work the ball with your swing, not with technology. But again, I don't recall much outcry when he cruised to a double-digit victory leading into the Masters, and then captured a green jacket. While that decision seemed brilliant, his choice to leave the driver out of the bag at the U.S. Open (coincidentally at Torrey Pines) was a complete flop. But either way, these are examples of constructing your golf bag to fit your needs on any given week.
Finally, let's be honest about Phil's motives here. Sure, by gaming a 64° PING Eye2, he's adding a specialty club that might be used a few times during the week. But there's got to be more to it. There's a bit of Eddie Haskell to Mickelson. There's more than the "aww shucks, thanks for the piece of wonderful pie, Mrs. Cleaver" persona that makes him such a fan favorite and media darling. The truth is, Mickelson is ticked off by this rules shift, and his personality isn't one to publicly blast the powers that be. Instead, he'll use the needle to deliver his message, and this move (and all the publicity that surrounds it), is exactly the attention that foes of the rule have wanted.
If you want to to limit speeding on the highways, you stop people from driving too fast. You don't ban cars that are capable of breaking the speed limit. And you certainly don't carve out an exemption for a certain model car and then never pull over someone driving one. Therein lies the problem with the USGA rule. But I swear, I swear, this wasn't a column about the groove rule. Just don't get mad when Phil or Long John waves as they speed past you in their 1989 roadster. Afterall, there's an entire lot of them, just grab the keys.
Photo Credits: © Unknown.