Mickelson Gets Into the Groove

Digging 20-year-old wedges out of the garage isn’t cheating. It’s just Phil being Phil.

Thrash TalkRegardless 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.

Phil Mickelson in the RoughFirst, 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.

Ping Eye2 Lob WedgeSo 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.

Dean WilsonMickelson’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.

13 thoughts on “Mickelson Gets Into the Groove”

  1. I disagree – on alot of fronts with this post.

    First, the car analogy. It doesn’t work in this instance because you can’t tell golfers to stop spinning the ball so much out of the rough. The only way to do it is to change the equipment they can play (grooves or ball).

    Second, the Ping’s being grandfathered in wasn’t a choice the USGA made. They tried to ban those clubs once before and a court said no. How exactly were they going to be able to ban them now given they already have protected legal status?

    And finally – spirit of the rule. I think we can all agree that the USGA’s intention here is to limit spin on shots from the rough into the green. They can’t dictate how a player swings the club, so all they can do is limit equipment. They’ve taken away the type of equipment that generates high spin from the rough except where they are legally precluded from doing so. I don’t see how using a club that the USGA would deem unconforming if they were legally allowed is in any way following the spirit of the rule.

  2. Bret, you’re assuming those old pings spin well. They’re 20 years old, and my bet is that a modern conforming wedge spins better than the old style.

    Time has made the PING Eye2 obsolete. It’s not like there are 100,000 of them in a hermetically sealed, climate-controlled vault somewhere.

    I find arguments about the “spirit of the rules” to be silly, personally. They are what they are. It’s a phrase people use to try to push their points on everything from the cheater lines on golf balls to being able to take a drop from a divot in the fairway.

  3. If the Ping doesn’t spin as well as a modern conforming wedge, then why are Phil and others putting them into play – out of spite?

  4. If the Ping doesn’t spin as well as a modern conforming wedge, then why are Phil and others putting them into play – out of spite?

    Yeah, cuz golfers never do anything based on superstition, misplaced beliefs, or plain old stupidity!

  5. The car analogy is meant to point out that they’re regulating the wrong thing. The rule says you can’t use certain wedges. It doesn’t say, you can’t spin the ball too much. True, everyone’s going to spin the ball differently with each club, but that also plays into the overall point. It’s a roundabout, backdoor way to accomplish their goal, which isn’t to “make wedges spin less” it’s to put a greater premium on accuracy and in turn, hopefully force the players to scale back on the bomb and gouge game they’re turning the sport into. Personally, I’m not even sure this is a concept, I just hate the way they’re going about it.

  6. Any tour player using a Ping Eye2 wedge is just plain slimy. Daly certainly doesn’t surprise me, but Mickelson, the new savior of the tour? We can get him a job in NASCAR pretty soon. Oh well, I never was a Phil fan.

    A Ping Eye2 Lob wedge is 58 degrees. If someone bent that cast club to 64 degrees, its probably fragile. I have a BeCu Ping Eye2 Lob wedge rumored to have been used by Billy Andrade back in the day. You can lose a small child in those grooves.

  7. My two cents: the “spirit of the rules” does apply here, because the USGA wants to outlaw the wedges, and the only reason they aren’t outlawed is because of a court decision. I like Phil a lot, but I think this particular move is a little slimy.

  8. If the Ping doesn’t spin as well as a modern conforming wedge, then why are Phil and others putting them into play – out of spite?

    Because Phil has a hair across his butt about the new groove rule in general. He is now demonstrating that he thinks the entire new groove approach is just dumb and he is showing it by playing the older, “grandfathered” Ping wedge, just to piss off the powers to be.

    I think it says a few things. 1) He and others think the new groove things is BS, 2) Phil and Calaway submitted new grooves which were in compliance with the new rule specifications but were later ruled to be out of compliance by the one man in charge of the PGA groove policy, in which Phil has attacked. Basically the PGA strengthed their groove rule to include Phil & Calaways latest entry. That pissed off Calaway and Phil. So he (they) have an axe to grind..and maybe rightly so.

    So, it is all about “demonstrations” right now. Try and show the PGA that they screwed up with the new groove rule. Players are choosing to play old Ping wedges which were grandfathered in, when the old Ping square groove lawsuit was setteled.

    Phil was very candid about his feelings in the Golf World article, maybe Nov or Dec 09. He was particularly livid that one man in the PGA has all of this power to turn back grooves and change the rules as it fits the PGA (re: Phils’ Calaway grooves which meet the spec but were somehow now out of compliance.)

    So, I think he and others who are playing this old wedge are doing so under protest. As mentioned in another article today..A 20-year old wedge is probably pretty dull by now and a new, conforming wedge might likely play better. But a handful of the pros are using the old Ping wedge to protest the entire groovey event.

  9. Phil’s use of the Ping wedge to slip thru the new rules is slimy. Those wedges spin more than the new ones and he’s getting by on a technicality.

  10. Not impressed by Mr Mickelson here.

    The whole ethos of the game is damaged when players bend the rules to suit – and that basically is what he is doing. Yes, it may be within the letter of the law but my goodness it is so afr outwith the spirit of the game. You cannot call him a cheat [to protect your bank balance if for no other reason] but he has dropped like a stone in my estimation.

    Very poor show and it really demonstrates that unfortunately a number of leading pro golfers have no real feeling for what golf is actually all about.

    Yours from the Home of Golf !


  11. Golf is golf, the hard part is in the players head. U groove this, square groove that, I want to see compitition, I don’t care what grooves they use. They still need to choose the right clug, swing the club, work the ball, read the green. Let’s face it the PGA needs to make some news they just picked a silly way to do it. I think I will break out my old PingEye2 and see how far my score drops this weekend.

    UPDATE: Used my PingEye2 6 times in last weekends round, skulled the ball twice, missed the green 3 other times, and hit the green once. I will be switching back to my y-groove Taylormade next round.

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