‘Mistake’ DQ costs Brown shot at win

Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown’s chance for her first professional victory ended in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

Brown, 18, who was three shots off the lead entering the final round of the Duramed Futures Tour’s The International at Concord, was disqualified July 25 after a rules official determined her wedges to have nonconforming grooves.

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Ping Tour-W wedge

In a statement to Golfweek, Ping said Brown’s 54-degree Tour-W wedge conforms to the U.S. Golf Association’s 2010 “conditions of competition.”

“Unfortunately, Sarah Brown was the victim of an inaccurate ruling regarding the conformity of her Ping Tour-W wedge,” Ping chairman & CEO John Solheim said. “The wedge is properly identified as conforming to the 2010 “New Groove Rule.” This has been confirmed by the USGA.

“We’re disappointed that the rules officials at the Futures Tour event took the action they did without properly investigating the situation. We’ve received an apology from the Futures Tour and more importantly, they’ll be apologizing to Sarah for the mistake."

David Higdon, the LPGA's chief communications officer said, “We ultimately made a mistake in the disqualification. (Duramed Futures Tour CEO) Zayra Calderon has called Sarah and apologized. We will work over the next couple days to determine where the miscommunication happened, and make sure it never happens again.”

An anonymous person informed a rules official earlier in the round that Brown may be using wedges with nonconforming grooves. The official, whose identity could not be obtained by Golfweek, consulted the U.S. Golf Association’s Web site before determining the wedges were nonconforming. Instead of allowing Brown to complete her round as the matter was further investigated, the official removed her from the golf course.

Brown was using a Ping Tour-W wedge with 54 degrees of loft. Some models of the wedge do not conform with the new grooves rules, but Brown’s wedge conforms because the letters ‘XG’ were stamped on the hosel (‘X’ is the Roman numeral for 10, i.e. 2010, while ‘G’ stands for ‘grooves’).

“There’s nothing that can be done to rectify the situation,” said Sarah Brown’s father, Keith. “It’s not that (the rules official) made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. It was the arrogance to say, ‘I’m pulling her off the course.’ I said, ‘Let her finish the round and check with the USGA.’ ”

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Sarah Brown at the 2009 AJGA Annika Invitational.

Brown was 2 over par for the final round when she was disqualified, and 3 under par for the tournament. Former U.S. Girls’ Junior champ Jenny Shin won the tournament with an 11-under 205. With a solid back nine – the easier side at Beaver Meadow Golf Course, according to Keith Brown – Sarah Brown could have collected the best finish of her professional career.

Brown, 18, a rookie on the Futures Tour, was an AJGA first-team All-American in 2009. She’d made four of seven cuts before The International, with a best finish of T-21. Brown has earned $2,921 and ranks 106th in earnings.

The new grooves are smaller and have rounded edges; the old grooves are larger, with sharper edges. The new groove specifications were adopted to prevent players from obtaining optimal spin from the rough. According to the USGA, the new grooves do not affect spin from the fairway.

Players in professional events have been mandated to use clubs with the new grooves since Jan. 1, 2010.

This isn’t the first incident surrounding Ping wedges and the new grooves. Erynne Lee, a 17-year-old amateur from Silverdale, Wash., was disqualified from U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifying because two of her wedges did not conform.

Lee was allowed to complete her round, eventually winning a playoff over Christine Wong, but was disqualified after the round. Wong took Lee’s place at Oakmont. Lee’s non-conforming wedges were Ping Tour-W wedges of 56 and 60 degrees.

Then there was the flap over the Ping Eye 2 wedge earlier this year on the PGA Tour. Ping wedges made before April 1, 1990, are approved for competition because of a 1990 settlement from a Ping lawsuit against the USGA. Phil Mickelson was among the players to use the wedges in competition earlier this year. At the Farmers Insurance Open in late January at Torrey Pines, fellow Tour player Scott McCarron said Mickelson was cheating for using the club.

Ping eventually waived its rights that prevented the Tour from prohibiting the use of Ping Eye 2 irons and wedges that do not meet the 2010 condition of competition from being used at PGA Tour events.

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