Lefty Drives Home Point: Wedges are Approved

Phil Mickelson had no problem with a photographer taking a picture of his bag.

By DOUG FERGUSON
|  Saturday, Jan 30, 2010  |  Updated 11:04 AM PDT
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A photographer for a major magazine wanted to take a picture of the Ping-Eye 2 wedge in Phil Mickelson's bag, and the world's No. 2 player had no problem with that.

Could he take the wedge out of the bag and have Mickelson pose with it?

That's where Lefty drew the line.

Mickelson has never backed away from controversy, and he knew his decision to use the wedge might cause a stir. He just didn't want this to dominate news of his debut on the PGA Tour, even though it has done just that.

Golf gets its first taste of network coverage on Saturday in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, and this was not how the PGA Tour would have drawn it up. First of all, Tiger Woods is not playing for the second straight year. That much was fairly certain when Woods announced Dec. 11 an indefinite break while he deals with the fallout from his extramarital affairs.

Mickelson would be a compelling story, though, especially coming off a strong finish last year and hope this might be his best year yet. Instead, talk has shifted to words like "square grooves" and "lawsuit settlement" and the worst one of all -- "cheating."

The play at Torrey Pines -- D.A. Points and Ryuji Imada were tied for the lead at 11-under 133 -- was largely ignored Friday thanks to Scott McCarron. He was quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle as saying about Mickelson using the Ping wedge, "It's cheating, and I'm appalled Phil has put it in play."

It's a complicated issue except for the verdict: The wedges have been approved.

"End of story," Mickelson said after his 67 left him only four shots behind.

The USGA adopted new rules this year that irons (from about 5-iron through wedges) no longer can have square grooves, which are deeper and generate more spin. They must be replaced by V-grooves, with the idea of putting more premium on accuracy.

But there was one catch. Ping sued the USGA 20 years ago. Under the settlement, the USGA agreed that Ping-Eye 2 clubs would be legal as long as they were made before April 1, 1990. That takes precedence over the new regulation for V-grooves.

Fact: Mickelson (and at least three other players) is using a wedge with a groove pattern that no longer is allowed.

Fact: Mickelson is using a wedge that is approved by the USGA.

Cheating?

"Anyone using those wedges is really bending the rules," McCarron said Friday. Twice asked about the word "cheating," he shifted to "bending the rules," although he made it clear he feels just as strongly.

McCarron isn't alone. Robert Allenby is opposed to the Ping wedge for the same reason, that while it doesn't violate the law, it violates the intent or the spirit of the law.

"Cheating is not the word to use," Allenby said. "But it's definitely an advantage."

Mickelson is standing his ground. He has been battling with the USGA for months over a groove regulation he calls "ridiculous," and he lectured USGA senior technical director Dick Rugge on the putting green at The Barclays. Mickelson said he submitted wedges that met the new specifications and the USGA did not approve them. But it does approve of a wedge with square grooves, all because of a 20-year-old lawsuit settlement.

"All my clubs are approved for play, and I take that very seriously not to violate any rule," Mickelson said. "It's not my job or the job of any of the players to try to interpret the spirit of the rule or the intent. I understand approved or not approved. I didn't make this rule. I don't agree with the rule. But I'm abiding by it."

The PGA Tour said it was aware this debate over Ping wedges could arise this year -- strange, because Mickelson had no idea until he read that John Daly and Dean Wilson were using the wedge at the Sony Open two weeks ago. Mickelson went to his garage and found a wedge that he first used as a freshman in college.

Remember, these clubs are 20 years old. Some players change wedges every six weeks to keep the grooves fresh.

Mickelson said one shot Thursday with his Ping wedge released some 10 feet beyond the hole. He believes using his regular Callaway wedge would have allowed him to stop it quicker.

"That's beside the point," McCarron said. "They made this rule, we're all abiding by it. Obviously, it makes a difference. You take a guy like Phil Mickelson who does a lot of testing, he's under contract with another company and he plays that wedge. To me, that says it makes a lot of difference."

This could get messy. And with the tour already missing its biggest star, this is the last thing it needs.

What irritates Mickelson is that he spent most of his interview talking about a wedge that might not even make a big difference.

"I don't appreciate the governing bodies putting me or any other player in this position, calling into question our integrity over a rule that they made, a club that they approved," he said. "Don't put the blame on a player. Put the blame on the governing body."
 

Let us know what you think. Comment below, send us your thoughts via Twitter @nbcsandiego or add your comment to our Facebook page.

 

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