The groove rule has claimed its first serious casualty.
After winning a playoff for the one qualifying spot into the U.S. Women's Open at the sectional qualifier May 27 at Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum, Wash., Erynne Lee, a 16-year-old junior star from Silverdale, Wash., has been disqualified for using wedges with non-conforming grooves.
"It's unfortunate, but I don't know what else we could have done," said Jeff Hall, managing director of rules and competitions for the USGA. "We feel we did a good job of communicating to players in all our championships the requirements as it related to grooves."
The problem started when, according to Scott Crouthamel, senior director of rules and competition for the Washington State Golf Association, one of Lee's fellow competitors told officials she believed Lee was spinning the ball too much and wanted the grooves checked for conformance. After Lee won the playoff with a par on the second extra hole, the clubs in question -- two Ping wedges -- were then sent to the USGA in Far Hills, N.J. for inspection where it was deemed today that they, indeed, did not meet the groove requirements, therefore leading to Lee's disqualification and allowing Christine Wong of Richmond, British Columbia, to earn a spot in the Women's Open field.
Although the ruling didn't come until a week after the qualifier, there was a reason. Lee was playing in the AJGA's Thunderbird International Junior event that ended on Memorial Day and used her clubs (legal in that event). The wedges were sent to the USGA the following day and arrived on Wednesday.
"it's really unfortunate," said Crouthamel. "She had bought the wedges and had been told they were conforming. She knew the rule was in effect. She just thought her clubs conformed." Crouthamel added that the association sent an e-mail out to players before the event reminding them that the new grooves were required and said he received some calls from players who were unaware of that fact or somewhat confused on the matter. A couple of players withdrew from the Tumble Creek qualifier because they did not have conforming wedges and could not locate ones in time. One other qualifier, notified on the first tee by the starter that the groove rule was in effect, asked to have her wedges checked. Two were not on the conforming list, leaving the player with just 12 clubs and nothing with more loft than a pitching wedge.
While all are unfortunate situations, Lee's disqualification brings to the fore the fairness of the groove rule on those who do not play golf for a living. At last week's Senior PGA Championship, Doug Perry, a club pro from Fort Collins, Colo., got in the field as a last-minute alternate only to discover his wedges did not conform to the new rules. Luckily for Perry, the pro shop had some conforming-groove wedges available and he purchased them.
Not everyone in a sectional U.S. Open qualifier is going to be as lucky as Perry. However, to Hall's point, the groove requirements are listed clearly on the application form and it is every contestant's responsibility to read the requirements. Those forms were due months ago, giving players ample opportunity to obtain clubs that conformed. Further, in the case of Lee, the Washington State Golf Association e-mailed the competitors in the Women's Open qualifier informing them of the groove requirements.
While regrettable, Lee's disqualification points out yet again that players are responsible for knowing the rules, whether it be signing a scorecard, knowing there are 14 clubs in the bag or what grooves are acceptable. Hopefully her unfortunate experience will keep others from enduring the same fate.
-- E. Michael Johnson