Hate to be Rude: ‘On the same page’

Scott McCarron apologized to Phil Mickelson on Tuesday.

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Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – After a regularly scheduled, hour-long PGA Tour players meeting Tuesday that centered on a controversial grooves issue, Scott McCarron revealed he apologized to Phil Mickelson during a 10-minute chat and said he believes the PGA Tour is headed toward changing the grandfathered rule that allows square-grooved, pre-1990 Ping Eye2 wedges within 100 days.

“We realized we’re on the same page of an issue that needs to be resolved,” McCarron said of Mickelson at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera. “I’m sorry I singled out any player.”

He did the right thing by apologizing. Last week he created a firestorm by saying the several players who have used the Ping Eye2 were “cheating” even though the old model is on the USGA approved list because of lawsuit settlement.

He’s also right in saying he thinks the Tour should have resolved the Eye2 issue before the season began.

And I’ll give him five stars for this comment: “With all that’s going on in the world, I can’t believe we’re talking about grooves and a golf club.”

McCarron, a member of the 16-man Tour Player Advisory Council, did not say why he thinks the rule will change within months, other than to add that the Tour is “starting the process and looking at options.” He said he thinks 90 percent or more of players would welcome disallowing the Eye2s.

Commissioner Tim Finchem declined comment after the meeting, but several players said Finchem would outline the Tour’s “quite a few options” Wednesday at his 10:30 a.m. (Pacific) news conference.

McCarron and other staunch objectors were heartened by the last paragraph of a Feb. 1 statement from Ping CEO John Solheim: “While I fully expect the PGA Tour to honor this agreement, I’m willing to discuss a workable solution to this matter that would benefit the game and respect the role innovation has played over the long history of golf.”

The meeting was split between Finchem’s address and a question-answer session that never got heated, several players said.

“Tim wanted to reiterate that no one was breaking any rule and that we’re looking into ways to alleviate the problem,” said former Ryder Cup player J.J. Henry.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen left the meeting feeling “everyone feels strongly (Eye2s) shouldn’t be allowed. The frustration is why we can’t resolve this right now.”

Janzen said he and other players hope Solheim will waive the rule “for the spirit of the game.”

Bob Estes, 44, a four-time winner in his 22nd season, says the point everyone is missing in the Groovesgate controversy is that not all players can use the Ping Eye2 clubs because they have contracts with other manufacturers. That unlevel playing field is his argument against their use.

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Bob Estes

“At some point we have to do what’s right,” he said. “I wonder if it ever crossed Phil Mickelson’s mind (and the minds of other Eye2 users) that some players can’t use the (Eye2s) because of contracts.”

After the Tuesday players’ meeting, McCarron made the same point about contracts. The flip side to that is no one forced any players to sign contracts that don’t allow some leeway on equipment use.

But something about the grooves issue delights Estes – the USGA-mandated switch from square to smaller, lower-spinning grooves in effect this year.

“I’ve been waiting for 20 years for other guys to adjust to V grooves,” Estes said. “At least something has brought integrity back (and put more premium on) playing from the fairway.”

Since he already had is golf czar cap on, he weighed in on another oft-debated topic in Tour circles: World ranking points. Estes is hardly amused that some players have shot up the rankings list based on success on lesser tours such as the Nationwide Tour and European Challenge Tour. Michael Sim and Edoardo Molinari are two mentioned.

By Estes’ research, Molinari got 12 points for winning something called the 2009 Kazakhstan Open while those tying for fifth at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open on the Tour got 8.19 apiece.

“Borat finished third,” he said of Kazakhstan.

• Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington has tested a Ping Eye2 lob wedge this week at Riviera but said he’s unsure whether he will use it in competition. “It could be 10 minutes before my tee time and (I might) not know what I’m going to do this week,” he said.

His field studies showed the square grooves would make a “significant difference” for some players but not all. He said shots out of rough got 200 rpms more spin, but there was no noticeable difference from fairway.

Harrington got some Eye2 wedges from friends after selling many of his old clubs, including seven old Eye2s, for charity before Christmas.

“It’s amazing. You kept those clubs for ... 20 years (and get rid of them), and sure enough you need them next week,” Harrington said.

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Anthony Kim with Jay Leno and Jessica Alba.

Only in L.A.: Anthony Kim appeared on the Jay Leno Show on Monday night and had a putting contest with fellow guest Jessica Alba, siren/actress.

“I beat her,” the professional golfer told me on, appropriately, the putting green at Riviera. “I’m pretty proud of that.”

Kim was asked if Alba is more attractive in person than on screen. He smiled and stated the obvious, “Yeah, she’s pretty good-looking.”

Kim, II: He took a step back in 2009 after winning twice the previous year. Not knowing where the tee ball was going is one reason.

“I’ve never had to hit so many irons off tees just because I was scared of hitting it in the water or out of bounds,” Kim said.

Poor decisions on and off the course were another. “I felt like every move I made in 2009 wasn’t the right one.”

One change for 2010 is a new caddie. He switched from Eric Larson to former college teammate/roommate Brody Flanders last fall and immediately had some success. Kim calls Flanders his best friend. “There’s a good connection,” Kim said. “There’s a good chance we’ll go long-term.”

• PGA Tour rookies Rickie Fowler and Alex Prugh tied for fifth at the Farmers Insurance Open, and fellow newcomer Matt Every was tied for fifth entering the final round before slipping to T-15.

Hence, the rookie drought continues. A rookie hasn’t won on Tour since Marc Turnesa at the 2008 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Since 1970, there have been six seasons in which a rookie did not win (2009, ’98, ’86, ’81, ’78 and ’70).

Hunch here is the streak ends in ’10. Fowler is but one reason. Tiger Woods’ absence is another.

• Jason Dufner didn’t finish better than 140th in earnings in his first three Tour seasons, but last year he rose to 33rd. Why the big climb? Experience, comfort and improved driving and putting, Dufner told me.

“I’ve improved inside 100 yards,” he said. “Limiting bogeys is the biggest thing out here.”

Fantasy tip of the week: Rory Sabbatini. He has three top 10s at Riviera in the past four years, including victory in 2006, and tied for second in ’02.

You can thank (or pay) me later.

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