Northern Trust OpenFebruary 2, 2010

Holding Pattern

Even as the grooves debate has struck a more civil tone, the issue is far from over

Mickelson said he's taking the wedge in question out of his bag this week at Riviera.

Mickelson said he's taking the wedge in question out of his bag this week at Riviera.

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Although the name-calling and player accusations appear to have subsided, the day after Tim Finchem addressed players to discuss the groove situation as it relates to the Ping Eye 2 wedges still brought plenty of discussion, with both the commissioner and Phil Mickelson addressing the media at Riviera Country Club.

Finchem, who said that during his tenure as commissioner "I have been extremely frustrated five times. Three of them had to do with grooves," clearly would like the situation resolved and acknowledged having had a conversation with Ping Chairman and CEO John A. Solheim. He also indicated the tour could have done a better job up front in possibly preventing such an uproar.

Addressing Scott McCarron's characterization of those using the Eye 2 club as "cheating," Finchem said there "was no justification for certain language being used." He declined to say whether McCarron would be disciplined for his remarks, but did say the reaction might have been lessened "had we more intensely last year got in front of players with the details of this rule." The commissioner also said, "I think on the part of both the USGA and the PGA Tour, we did not anticipate a wide range of usage of the Ping Eye 2 as we evaluated that rule."

As to where the tour goes from here, Finchem said there were three options. First, maintain the status quo, something he deemed, "not a credible option" long-term. Second, Solheim could intervene by agreeing to rewrite the clause in the settlement with the USGA and PGA Tour regarding the grandfathering of Ping Eye 2 grooves. "Obviously if he were to take that step, it would be a terrific gesture on his part to deal with an issue that is troublesome," said Finchem.

The third option is more complex. As part of the settlement, a special equipment committee was established in 1994, consisting of five members independent from the PGA Tour or equipment manufacturers. The board currently is headed by Gordon F. Brunner, the retired chief technology officer of Proctor & Gamble, and includes Samuel Skinner, a former White House Chief of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, Donald B. Rice, former secretary of the U.S. Air Force and Douglas McCorkindale, retired chairman of Gannett. A fifth opening is currently unoccupied.

The purpose of the committee is to consider whether a special rule relating to balls or equipment is necessary for PGA Tour competitions. The committee would not recommend such a rule unless, based on the results of its investigation, specific criteria are satisfied. Among the requirements: the committee concludes the equipment under consideration "significantly affects the nature of the game" at the PGA Tour level; the current USGA Rules of Golf are not adequate to address their concerns; the legitimate interests of tour players, manufacturers and others have been considered; the recommendation is considered to be the most reasonable means of addressing the problem; and a majority of the committee is in favor of the recommendation.

Although that seems like a substantial burden for the committee to overcome, Finchem feels differently. "I think the chances are reasonably good, perhaps more than reasonably good, that the committee would say yes," said Finchem, who added the committee had never been used since its inception.

Solheim, however, had a different take. "PGA Tour Commissioner Finchem and I had a brief discussion [Tuesday afternoon] and he shared his belief that the 1993 settlement agreement allowed his organization to utilize the protocol to consider a special rule that would ban Ping Eye 2 irons and wedges," Solheim said. "While we strongly disagree with their interpretation of the agreement, we agreed further dialogue on the topic was healthy. We hope to speak again in the next week or so. I've also been in contact with the USGA and expect to meet with them as well."

Mickelson, meanwhile, fresh off a dinner Tuesday night with former president George W. Bush (who also dined with Finchem and McCarron over the course of two separate dinners), was eager for a resolution to the situation, but also sought more significant change in equipment regulation as a whole.

"This rule-making process needs to be changed," said Mickelson, repeating a stance he has often taken during the run-up to the implementation of the groove statute. "I hope players continue to use the wedge. I hope the governing bodies get forced into changing their rule-making process. I hope there's more transparency amongst the governing body. I hope all this stuff gets changed."

Also changing is Mickelson's bag this week. "I respect these players out here," said Mickelson, who accepted an apology from McCarron earlier in the week. "And out of respect for them, I do not want to have an advantage over anybody, whether it is perceived or actual. So this week I won't be playing [the Ping Eye 2] wedge. My point has been made. But if the governing bodies cannot get together to fix this loophole … then I will re-look at it and put the wedge back in play."

To date, 218 different players have teed it up in the year's first four events and only five -- Mickelson, John Daly, Dean Wilson, Tim Herron and Hunter Mahan -- had used the pre-1990 Eye 2 wedge.

Mickelson, meanwhile, is not alone in abandoning plans to use the Ping Eye 2 wedge this week. Padraig Harrington, who had practiced with one at Riviera, said, "As of now, it's out. It's not a performance issue. It does give more spin on certain shots. I go back and forth on this every 10 minutes it seems. I can live with ... giving up an advantage."

The question is, will others follow suit. And if not, is there anything the PGA Tour can do about it? Stay tuned.