The new groove rule is making everyone in the game look ridiculous

Phil Mickelson is using a Ping Eye2 wedge this week.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Welcome to the Farmers Insurance Open, formerly the San Diego Open, formerly the Buick Invitational, and now, by any name, the theater of the absurd.

On Thursday, an airplane buzzed Torrey Pines tugging a banner that read, "We miss you Tiger! Déjà vu Showgirls."

On Friday, an airplane soared overhead with a new banner: "We miss you too Tiger at Dreamgirls."

And a few hours later, after Phil Mickelson carded a 5-under-par 67 on the North Course — getting to 7-under for the tournament and four behind leaders Ryuji Imada and D.A. Points — things at this gorgeous seaside muni got downright silly.

That was when Mickelson was brought before the cameras to defend his use of an old Ping Eye2 wedge with square grooves. (A new, pros-only rule in 2010 bans most U-shaped grooves because they are too deep and too sharp. Ping Eye2s manufactured before April 1, 1990, are still legal.)

Scott McCarron, a fellow player who has moonlighted as a broadcaster on Golf Channel, had called Mickelson out (along with a few other players, Hunter Mahan among them) in Friday's San Francisco Chronicle:

"I think it's cheating and I'm appalled," McCarron said. "All those guys should be ashamed of themselves. As one of our premier players, [Mickelson] should be one of the guys who steps up and says this is wrong."

The world No. 2 tried to take the high road. Sort of.

"Well, I agree that the rule — it's a terrible rule, to change something that has this kind of loophole is nuts," Mickelson told Golf Channel reporter Jim Gray. "But 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. I understand black and white. And I think that myself or any other player is allowed to play those clubs because they're approved. End of story."

It takes a special issue to make all involved and even the game of golf itself look completely ridiculous. This is that issue.

Mickelson, Mahan, John Daly, Brad Adamonis and anyone else using the Ping wedges appear to hold themselves above the rules. They seem scared to adapt, and/or like smarty-pants kids who found a cool way to kind of/sort of fudge the letter of the law.

McCarron and others who have blown the whistle (Bob Estes at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Rocco Mediate at Torrey) look like narcs who ran to tell teacher.

"I don't like it at all, not one bit," Mediate said, going full schoolmarm. "It's against the spirit of the rule. We have to get rid of those clubs because they're square grooves. What else can you say?"

If these guys are so terrified to give up a competitive advantage, why don't they log onto eBay and get some ancient Ping wedges? Are they implying that the USGA and PGA Tour have become so weak and ineffectual that those organizations need goody-two-shoes players to mobilize as on-course police?

The USGA and PGA Tour look silly for allowing this situation in the first place. It's bad enough that pros and amateurs now play by different rules, but worse still that no one seems to be able to figure out what's okay and what's not. Or perhaps Mickelson is intentionally complicating the issue in his defense.

He actually uttered this phrase Friday:

"We have 'legal and conforming' grooves, and we have 'approved for play,' and I have sent in legal grooves that have not been approved, and these grooves [that he played Thursday and Friday] in my opinion are, just like Scott felt, are non-conforming grooves, but they are approved."

Got that?

The PGA Tour issued the following statement Friday:

"Leading up to the implementation, we have been aware that under the USGA Rules of Golf, the pre-1990 clubs would be allowed and that there was the potential that some players might choose to use them. We will monitor this situation as we move forward and under Tournament Regulations, we do have the ability to make a local rule which would not allow the clubs. There's been no decision made at this time."

In other words, uh, hang on until we think of something.

Mostly, though, the game of golf looks ridiculous, a sport even more provincial with rules even more laughably opaque than ever. It's not even clear the square grooves are doing much this week. SoCal is so soggy, every shot is stopping on a dime.

"I don't think there's that much difference between this club that I'm using and my other wedge," Mickelson said. "So there's a very good chance that I'll switch back, but not for the reason that I think I've been doing something wrong."

Trust us, Phil, you are, but then so are McCarron and Mediate, the USGA and the PGA Tour. At least the showgirls were right. We're all missing Woods, mired in a dumb controversy that speaks perfectly to golf's desperation in a post-Tiger world.

 

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