Grooves dispute escalates on Tour

Phil Mickelson is one of many players using old Ping Eye 2 wedges.

SAN DIEGO – The top two golfers in the world have been accused of cheating. One (Tiger Woods) in clubs. Now one (Phil Mickelson) with clubs.

How’s golf doing?

The former involves Woods’ sex scandal. The latter involves something you might call Groovesgate.

Scott McCarron, a member of the PGA Tour’s 16-man Player Advisory Council, set off a firestorm when he told The San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday this about several Tour players using old Ping Eye 2 wedges: “It’s cheating, and I’m appalled Phil (Mickelson) has put it in play.”

The C-word and Mickelson in the same sentence. That resonated at the Farmers Insurance Open on Friday at Torrey Pines.

After the second round, McCarron didn’t back off his emphatic objection to players using square-grooved Eye 2 irons made in 1984-90, grandfathered in on the USGA approved list as a result of a lawsuit settlement. The only softening came in the form of semantics.

“I didn’t say Phil is cheating,” McCarron said. “I say anyone using (Eye 2s) is cheating.”

Same thing.

Some players are using the old Eye 2s because their square grooves can spin the ball better from certain lies. They appeal to some Tour players because the USGA this year has a new guideline requiring touring professionals to use smaller, lower-spinning grooves.

“I think it’s a ridiculous rule,” Mickelson said, “but whoever wants to play them can because they’re approved.”

He’s right about that. Much of life is lived in the gray area, but golf has been abiding by black and white for decades.

When asked how he felt about being accused of cheating after he shot a second-round 65 for 137, four shots off the midway lead, Mickelson said: “I think what (McCarron is) saying is the rule is a terrible rule, and I agree. I’m just as upset. The difference is, I’ve been talking with Dick Rugge of the USGA and the commissioner (Tim Finchem) and explaining this behind closed doors, how ridiculous all this is. I don’t agree with the way (McCarron) carried on about it, but that’s his choice.”

According to the Darrell Survey, eight players have used at least one Ping Eye 2 club here: Hunter Mahan, Mark Calcavecchia, Chris Riley, Ted Purdy, Chris Couch, Brad Adamonis, Garrett Willis and Mickelson. John Daly, one of two players to use Eye 2 wedges two weeks ago at the Sony Open, wasn’t on the list. Last week, seven players used them at the Bob Hope Classic.

“Pretty soon, there will be 144,” McCarron said.

The central question: Can the PGA Tour, USGA and Ping get together and close the loophole?

The answer appears to be maybe. But then maybe simply means anything is possible, not necessarily probable.

Ping CEO John Solheim told Golfweek’s James Achenbach, “They (PGA Tour) do have an out to that, where they can go through several procedures and prove they have a need. It’s not an easy thing to do, by any means. I think there is no way they could meet the protocol.”

The Tour on Friday night issued a statement that read in part, “We do have the ability to make a local rule which would not allow the clubs. There’s been no decision at this time.”

Doesn’t sound like the same page to me.

McCarron said he will talk further about the subject at a PAC meeting next week at the Northern Trust Open near Los Angeles. He said he doesn’t think Eye 2 approval will last the year. He said he talked with Ping reps about his feelings and asked whether they could talk with Solheim.

In the meantime, McCarron and Mickelson disagree on whether players should follow the spirit of the grooves rule.

McCarron: “Most guys feel the same way (as me). This is something most players find appalling. Anyone using them is bending the rules. I don’t think using them is in the spirit of the rules. It doesn’t look good.”

Mickelson: “It’s not up to me or any other player to interpret what the interpretation of the rule is or the spirit of the rule. ... Myself or any other player is allowed to play those clubs because they’re approved. End of story.”

Mickelson used a 64-degree Eye 2 the first two rounds here and said he will again on the weekend. He said “there’s a very good chance” he’ll switch to his Callaway 64-degree wedge sometime, but not because “I feel I’ve been doing something wrong.” He said there’s not much difference in the performance of those two clubs.

Mickelson is upset with the USGA because some Callaway clubs that he called conforming were not approved. But the square-grooved Eye 2s are allowed.

“This whole groove thing has turned into a debacle,” Mickelson said. “I understand guys are upset about this rule. I’m upset about this rule. I think we need to take it out on the governing bodies, the ones who are making these rules and carrying out these rules. That’s where we need to focus our discontent.

“To call out a player I don’t think is correct, because we’re just abiding by the rules. ... I don’t appreciate governing bodies putting me or any other player in this position, calling into question our integrity over a rule they made and a club they approved.”

Welcome to Golfweek.com's comments section.
Please review the posting guidlines here: Golfweek.com Community Guidelines.
All accounts must be verified using Disqus email verification