Friday, January 29, 2010

Phil Mickelson's Wedges, and Why He Needs to Ditch 'Em

No matter the rules in existence today, there is probably a way to bend around them. Phil Mickelson is doing exactly that in his first tournament of 2010, and he's getting some serious criticism for it, as he rightfully should.

Here is the deal. As you know, the USGA (and the R&A) decided that the best plan of attack to negate the rise in technology in the golf world was to scale back grooves, so this year they basically made conforming grooves 40 percent less deep, putting a premium on hitting the fairway and not be able to zip the ball back when in rough. It was a decent idea, not the best, but it is in place and golfers must follow it.

The problem with the rule was, some irons, like the Ping Eye 2 wedges (and if you have a dad that plays golf, trust me, he knows about these wedges) were accepted under a grandfathered clause set back in the early '90s. So, basically, you could use nasty wedges instead of the ones today because of an old rule that can't be changed. Legal? Yes. Legit? Not so much.

Phil Mickelson (Along with Hunter Mahan, John Daly and others) have put the Ping Eye 2 wedges in the bag this week, and a few of the PGA Tour players are absolutely up in arms about it.

Here are some of the reactions.

"It's cheating, and I'm appalled Phil has put [the grandfathered club] into play," Scott McCarron, a three-time Tour winner, told the San Francisco Chronicle."All those guys should be ashamed of themselves for doing that ... As one of our premier players, (Mickelson) should be one of the guys who steps up and says this is wrong."

"I don't like it at all, not one bit," added Rocco Mediate. "It's against the spirit of the rule."

So, a few things to hit before we dig into the spirit of the decision.

Is it "cheating" as McCarron called it? No, not really. It's legal, and the wedges are "fit for play," but they aren't really conforming. It's a very gray area in the rules, but it is what it is. Not much is going to change it, but the fact of the matter is, these wedges spin the ball better than the new wedges companies are being forced to make. Basically, it would be like a race where everyone had the same engine, but someone came with an old car that claims to have the same horsepower, but is really souped up well past what the numbers say, everyone knows it, but there isn't anything they can do about it. The fast car is going to give that driver an advantage.

Mickelson has been against the groove changes this entire time, admitting on Wednesday that he hated the rules vehemently.

"This is a big change. I think it's a ridiculous change. I think that it costs each manufacturer millions of dollars. I think it's confusing, and I don't agree with it one bit," Phil said.

Sure, it is a little ridiculous, but Phil needs to understand a few things. First, it actually helps him. For a guy that hits it as far as he does, and is so good around the greens, taking grooves down a notch just plays into his hands. Second, doing something like playing wedges that are sketchy at best makes him look even more like an asshole to his peers than they already think. Why do something that is going to create even more hatred amongst your coworkers? Just do what they're doing. Last, he was already using Callaway conforming wedges last year, so why not go back? One of the things I've heard about some of the higher lofted wedges (like a 64 degree) is that the new grooves make it almost obsolete. The ball rolls up the clubface and is just too inconsistent to rely on. If that is the case, just take it out of the bag. Hit a 60 degree. You'll look better at the end of the day.

Maybe it isn't cheating, but it sure isn't very noble. Phil might be changing his body and conforming his golf game, but he needs to remember that his perception around the golf world is what got him where he is. No reason to toss all that out the window for some wedge you used back in college.


Mike said...

Hold on a second, Shane. Have you even considered that this may be a protest move by Phil?

Phil has stated more than once (I heard him first say it on TV late last year) that he has submitted -- or rather, Callaway has submitted -- clubs with grooves that conform to the rules, but the USGA still hasn't ok'ed them. Has anybody bothered to question "the spirit of the game" in regards to that?

The whole idea of regulations is to make it clear when a piece of equipment is legal or not, and yet the powers-that-be in the golf world have set up rules that are a matter of interpretation. Otherwise, it would have been a simple question of "Do the Callaway grooves match the regs, yes or no?" That shouldn't take months to determine if the regs are clear.

That's just not right. In any other sport, the legality of equipment is cut and dried. But that's not the case with the groove regs. At least Phil can say that the club he chose to use this week is unquestionably legal. That's better than the USGA seems to be able to do.

If you're going to criticize Phil (and JD and the others using the old Pings), then you need to put the ruling bodies on the hot seat as well. If the USGA had made rules that weren't a matter of interpretation, then Phil would be playing conforming Callaways now and this wouldn't even be an issue.

Marc said...

I'm no pro so it easy for me to like the grooves rule. Fair or unfair though I think everyone in pro golf needs to realize that the game has a bit of a black eye right now and maybe should start acting a little bit more, well professional. Rocko, Phil isn't cheating and Phil (and tour) are you really going to sue for slander? Slander, REALLY? Anyway, how 'bout that Ricky Fowler kid ;)