RosaforteFebruary 4, 2010

Familiar Story

At the heart of the first square grooves controversy, Mark Calacavecchia has a unique perspective on its revival

Mark Calcavecchia's win at the 1987 Honda Classic triggered the first square grooves controversy.

Mark Calcavecchia's win at the 1987 Honda Classic triggered the first square grooves controversy.

The shot wasn't heard round the world, but the reverberations are still being felt some two decades later.

From the right rough on the 16th hole at the TPC-Eagle Trace in Coral Springs, Fl., 26-year-old Mark Calcavecchia "gashed a shot out of the hay" with his Ping Eye 2 8-iron that landed on a peninsula green and sucked back. Calc went on to win the 1987 Honda Classic, and become the poster child for a war on square grooves and trigger a trial that Karsten Manufacturing eventually won against the PGA Tour.

Twenty-two years later, the Eye 2 has reared its ugly clubhead, triggering "Groovegate" and a debate that continues to rage at this week's Northern Trust Open. Calcavecchia is nowhere in sight, but his presence was felt as Scott McCarron and Phil Mickelson hugged it out after lawsuits were threatened, the tour's commissioner was huddling with a Solheim in hopes of finding an accord (Tim Finchem and John Solheim replacing Deane Beman and Karsten Solheim); and just for old time's sake, Fred Couples was contemplating throwing the same Eye 2 in his bag that he used around the same time Calcavecchia was causing such an uproar.

Len Decof, the attorney who represented Karsten, was getting calls. All we need in this flashback is Austin Powers as the narrator, or Calcavecchia coming back at age 49 to remind us that nothing's really changed.

"I caused the whole groove controversy," Calcavecchia said from his West Coast home in Phoenix earlier this week. "Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus went crazy and that was the whole start of it. Now [the equipment companies] go through millions of dollars in retooling [irons for tour players], they grandfather in the grooves that [caused the controversy] in the first place."

Calcavecchia opened the season at the Sony Open with an Eye 2 sand wedge and L wedge that Ping made for him with legal grooves. He swapped out one of his old Beryllium L wedges made in 1987 for the Bob Hope, but the greens were overly receptive at Torrey Pines so he switched back. Both times he missed the cut. "The greens were already soft. The last thing you needed was too much juice," Calcavecchia said. "You don't want a boatload of spin. Believe me, if I didn't use the new grooves, I would have been sucking back balls 50 feet at Torrey Pines."

Disgusted with his play, Calcavecchia decided to skip the Northern Trust Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Had he played, he would have used the approved wedges -- and not because of the accusations that players exercising the Eye 2 loophole were "cheating," or at the very least, not living up to the spirit of the rules.

The Eye 2, once his trusty weapon, was hard to figure.

"You'd get hellacious juice on one shot," Calcavecchia said. "You'd jam the next one because you don't want to be 10 feet short again."

Calcavecchia knew Mickelson was just being Mickelson, trying to prove a point more than he was gaining a competitive advantage.

"That's Phil," Calcavecchia said. "No, he's not cheating. He's going along with the rule, whoever made the rule. I don't think it's cheating. On the other hand, it's a stupid rule. You're still allowed to use the juiciest, squarest grooves ever made, which makes no sense to me."

At the same time he could relate to what Mickelson was going through before "proving his point" and taking the Eye2 out of his Callaway bag.

"People looked at me like I was straight cheating," Calcavecchia said. "They made me the bad guy."