January 18, 2010

Back To The Future

Are some players violating the spirit of the new groove rule?

John Daly used Ping wedges at the Sony Open last week.

John Daly used Ping wedges at the Sony Open last week.

At the Sony Open in Hawaii, a pair of players were trying to gain an advantage by using 20-year-old box-groove wedges allowed by a 1990 legal settlement that included language claiming, "there was no competitive advantage to a user of the clubs."

Irony, anyone?

To understand how John Daly and Dean Wilson were allowed to use wedges that do not meet the current technical parameters of the so-called "groove rule" implemented this year for professional golf, you have to go back to January 1990 when the USGA and Karsten Manufacturing agreed to end their dispute over square grooves. The settlement included the following: "Inasmuch as the dispute has been strictly of a technical nature and there was no competitive advantage to a user of the clubs, it was the desire of both parties to work out a plan that would protect those many golfers who had bought the clubs. To do that, the Ping Eye2 will be treated as complying with USGA specifications."

At the time, that part of the agreement had more to do with Ping being able to sell off its remaining inventory of Ping Eye2 irons and wedges to the masses, not tour players. In fact, the PGA Tour continued to try to ban square grooves until 1993, when it too set aside its differences with the manufacturer, essentially agreeing to the same "grandfathering" of the Eye2s as the USGA.

From a competitive standpoint on the professional tours, the grandfather clause meant little as other manufacturers got up to speed on making grooves that provided plenty of grip. But when the USGA announced Aug. 5, 2008, its intention to implement a rolled-back groove for pros starting in January 2010, it reiterated that the Eye2s made before March 31, 1990, were acceptable. When the PGA Tour adopted the USGA's position as a condition of competition, that made Eye2s good for play on tour.

As word spread of players using the clubs, opinions differed. "I think it's funny," said Paul Goydos. "Not to disparage lawyers too much, but that's what happens when you have more than one lawyer in a room."

Stewart Cink, however, was not amused. "I have a problem with it," he said. "I wouldn't go up to a player and say, 'You shouldn't be using them,' but I'm not alone in thinking they shouldn't be using them. The tour can't really do anything. It has to be through peer pressure."

Those using the clubs, however, were more concerned about performance than peer pressure.

"I found out [about clubs being grandfathered], and I called Ping to check the serial numbers," said Wilson, of the 58-degree Eye2 wedge he had sitting in his garage. "I'm not so much concerned with the grooves as I am the design of the club. It helps me with my short game. I like the way that it works out of the bunker. … I grabbed that club and now things seem a little easier [out of the sand] again. I'm contemplating taking two out with me every week, and I'll practice with one -- one that I don't care if I wear out."

Daly, who used the Ping wedges last month in Australia, also checked to make sure the wedges he played as far back as the 1986 U.S. Open were OK. "Ping said the ones I have are all good to go," Daly said. "I think a lot of guys are going to switch. I know a lot of guys are buying them off eBay." Perhaps. Yet those searching for Eye2 wedges on the auction website are going to find slim pickings. At press time only 39 Eye2 wedges were up for auction, including one from a seller who clearly feels a tour player will come-a-calling. Asking price: $275. Additionally, finding 20-year-old wedges with grooves suitable for tour use can be incredibly difficult. Repairs such as a new shaft or an alteration to lie and/or loft remain OK, but players cannot have them re-grooved. That would be an advantage.