Wedge rift DQs Lee from Women’s Open
Erynne Lee won’t be playing in the U.S. Women’s Open, after all.
The U.S. Golf Association ruled June 3 that two of Lee’s wedges do not conform with the grooves regulations that took effect this year. That means that Lee, 16, of Silverdale, Wash., who used the disputed wedges while winning a playoff May 26 at a qualifier near Seattle, has been disqualified.
Christine Wong of Richmond, British Columbia, earns the spot for the July 8-11 tournament at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club.
Lee is the first apparent casualty under the regulations that went into effect Jan. 1, but will not challenge the decision. She entered the qualifier under the impression she was playing conforming wedges because they were new.
“I’m disappointed with this whole predicament that I put myself into,” Lee said. “... Overall it’s just a life lesson learned.”
Wong, who did not play with Lee until the two-hole playoff, said: “It’s surprising. I guess it was just meant to be.”
Lee is No. 21 in the Golfweek Junior Rankings and has committed to attend UCLA in the fall of 2011. Wong, who was No. 100 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, recently completed her freshman year at San Diego State.
The clubs in question were Ping Tour-W wedges of 56 and 60 degrees. They had been sent earlier this week to the USGA in Far Hills, N.J., for inspection. Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and competitions, delivered the verdict.
“We have determined that the clubs do not conform to 2010 groove specifications,” Hall said. “Therefore she is disqualified.”
For skeptics of the way in which the new grooves rule was implemented – 2010 for tour-level play, 2014 for elite amateur competition, 2024 for everything else – the nightmare appeared to be coming true.
The USGA maintains a conforming list of wedges, but keeping the list up-to-date has proved to be difficult. Furthermore, manufacturers easily can take older-model irons and wedges and cut 2010 grooves, which are smaller in volume and produce less spin, into the faces.
The official application for the U.S. Women’s Open made it clear: New grooves are required for sectional qualifying and the championship.
In addition, those playing in the qualifier at Tumble Creek Club near Seattle were sent e-mails in advance advising competitors of the groove rule, according to Scott Crouthamel, senior director of rules and competition for the Washington State Golf Association.
“They sent links to look at what clubs are conforming,” Wong said. “Even when you registered on the registration paper, it says you have to have conforming clubs. It’s kind of weird how people would still play with non-conforming clubs.”
Regardless, there seems to be widespread confusion about which wedges conform to 2010 groove specifications and which ones do not.
Upon receiving Crouthamel’s e-mail, Lee visited the USGA database but failed to notice her wedges were non-conforming.
“When I got the wedges, because they were new wedges compared to my old one, I just thought they were conforming, so I just overlooked them when I was checking online,” she said.
The new grooves for 2010 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.
An air of controversy hung over the disqualification. Speaking with Golfweek after the qualifier, Crouthamel said, “I decided before the qualifier that I would check the clubs of whoever qualified to make sure they were conforming.”
No other qualifying sites appeared to follow this procedure, and the USGA’s Hall called it “unusual.”
“It’s a little strange to have an audit of the clubs,” Hall said. “This is certainly not the message we would have communicated. We conducted a couple of live meetings, both with the Internet and teleconferences, to discuss any situations that might come up.”
Those meetings included USGA personnel and officials from the state and regional golf associations that were running the qualifying events.
“If one player might say something about another player, we wanted to be prepared,” Hall said.
According to Crouthamel, one fellow competitor mentioned to tournament officials that Lee seemed to produce an unusual amount of spin on one of her short wedge shots from the rough.
“But that was it,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of complaints or anything like that.”
On Thursday, that story had changed somewhat.
“They (the wedges) were questioned by a fellow competitor,” Crouthamel said, declining to identify the player. “We were obligated to check them out.”
Yet the timing of that process struck Wong as peculiar.
“It was really surprising how they did it last-minute, once they found out who actually won,” Wong said. “You would think they would check it before the tournament.”
– Julie Williams contributed