Grooves settlement isn’t so black-and-white
The lawsuit settlement between Ping and the PGA Tour offers clear direction in the dispute regarding square, high-spinning grooves.
It just depends on whom you ask.
For the past two weeks, Ping CEO John Solheim and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem have outlined contrasting interpretations of the 1993 settlement, a copy of which has been obtained by Golfweek.
According to USGA rules, Eye2 irons with the large-volume U-grooves manufactured before April 1, 1990, are conforming for competition. Thus, the PGA Tour is obligated to follow the rule, Solheim says. To his point, the agreement reads: “PGA Tour will not in the future adopt or attempt to adopt any separate PGA Tour rules which would prohibit the use of U-grooves (square grooves) on any golf club if such PGA Tour rule differed from a USGA rule.”
However, Finchem insists that the Tour can act to ban the clubs. To his point, the agreement reads: “PGA Tour and Karsten Manufacturing Corporation (Ping) acknowledge that the USGA is the principal rule-making body of golf. Both parties acknowledge, however, that there may be special circumstances where the PGA Tour determines a special rule is necessary for its competition. In the event of such a circumstance relating to equipment, the PGA Tour will request an independent Special Equipment Committee to consider the rule. The make-up of this independent committee and its protocol is set forth on Exhibit C hereto. The PGA Tour will not adopt any rule pursuant to any special circumstance unless the proposed rule is recommended by the independent committee after following the practice set forth in Exhibit C.”
Solheim met on Feb. 10 with USGA officials in Dallas. New USGA president Jim Hyler attended the meeting, as did attorneys from both sides. The PGA Tour and its representatives were not invited.
Solheim explained that he wanted to guarantee the continued conforming status (under USGA rules) of the Eye2 clubs with the larger-volume U-shaped grooves. This has been the company’s position all along, dating to 1993, when a settlement agreement was reached after Ping filed a lawsuit against the PGA Tour. That lawsuit resulted from the Tour’s attempt to ban Ping Eye2 clubs with square grooves.
In the 1993 settlement, the PGA Tour agreed to follow USGA rules and allow the use of the specified Eye2 clubs.
The USGA previously had been the target of a Ping lawsuit, but the two parties settled three years earlier, in 1990, with the stipulation that the old Eye2 clubs would without exception remain conforming. For its part, Ping agreed to change the dimensions of its square grooves.
Nobody thought much about it for 17 years, until John Daly, Phil Mickelson and a few other players began using old Eye2 wedges in 2010 PGA Tour events. This elicited complaints from some players, notably Scott McCarron, who said the old wedges provided a spin advantage and at the same time constituted an affront to the “spirit of the game.”
This came on the heels of a USGA “condition of competition,” endorsed by the PGA Tour for 2010, prohibiting all aggressive square grooves (except for Ping Eyes from the 1980s).
After Solheim recently reiterated his view that the PGA Tour cannot rightfully consider any action that would ban Ping Eye2 irons and wedges, Finchem responded, “I politely think he is mistaken. This is something that could end up in the hands of lawyers.”
And this is exactly what appears to be happening.