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Saturday, January 30, 2010

About That Whole Groove Thing...

It's been batted about on various blogs for the last few days - and I've commented on some of them - but since Scott McCarron's comments yesterday, I've decided to put up a post myself. Since this is an issue that affects weekend golfers as well as the pros, I think it's a suitable topic for Ruthless Golf.

I was interested to hear Tim Rosaforte on TGC today, because he agreed with what I've been saying in my comments elsewhere: I think Phil Mickelson is playing that Ping Eye2 wedge as a protest. Here's why I think so:
Late last year (it may have been as early as September; I don't remember) Phil said on TV that Callaway had submitted some wedges to the USGA that were conformed to their new rules... but the USGA had refused to approve them. He says that, as of this week, they still haven't approved them. Phil further says that while the wedges Callaway submitted are legal but aren't approved, the Ping Eye2 wedges aren't legal but they are approved. Therefore, since all that matters is whether the USGA has approved them or not, he's just playing the clubs that the USGA has allowed.
This keeps coming up in his interviews. Please note that Phil himself has said that he doesn't believe the Ping conforms, but that the issue isn't conformance, it's approval.

The USGA is the problem here. In any other sport, you can pick up a piece of equipment and know whether it's legal or not... but not in golf. If manufacturers can follow the specs set out by the USGA and still have the club rejected, then approval is a matter of opinion rather than specs. Simply put, the USGA hasn't created legitimate standards for grooves. You can define the shape and spacing of a V-groove (or a modified U-groove, as I have heard these called) in 200 words or less and have specs that anybody can look at and say, "Yes, it conforms" or "No, it doesn't conform."

Scott McCarron called it "cheating" and said that for Phil to play this wedge looks bad to the players and bad to the fans. I disagree; McCarron is just trying to make it look bad to the fans. He says this goes against the spirit of the game, but the same argument has been made against the long putter he uses. (Long putters are anchored against a player's body, and this is not allowed with any other club. In fact, the rules had to be amended to allow it. Many people argue that this is against the spirit of the game.) For Phil's part, he says he will continue to play the club, simply because all the media attention he's receiving would make it look like he had done something wrong if he took it out now.

As he says, he hasn't done anything wrong. And since the USGA says the Ping Eye2 is approved for play, without any question, there's no reason for him not to play it.

But all this infighting is just silly. The USGA should write some clear standards that don't require a grand jury for interpretation. Maybe the fact that Phil is willing to take some heat for this will give them a reason to do so, if just to stop more bad press at a time when the game doesn't need any more.

Update (3:58pm): Ryan Ballengee over at Waggle Room posted an article with more details on this ongoing war between Phil, Callaway, and the USGA. You can read it here.

Update (2/01/10, 4pm): Ryan dug even deeper into the controversy and has posted a very complete look at the problem right here, including some information you probably won't see anyplace else. Be sure to check out the comments, as he explains some of the implications there.


  1. I agree. The USGA has put everyone in a tough situation. Anytime there is room for interpretation, there are going to be disagreements. The way I see things are not always going to be the same for everyone. They need to make the rule more specific so that there really isn't a need to interpret anything. Here's the rule and that's it.

  2. Do you also think Mickelson's use of a PING wedge is symbolic? PING was the most vocal of the manufacturer's prior to this rule being implemented. (

    The new rule is quite harmful to the long term business interests of both PING and Callaway in particular.

  3. If you read this press release ( ) and attached documents from the USGA, dated August of 2008, it clearly states what is legal and what is not. It clearly states Ping Eye2 wedges can be used. It clearly gives manufacturers the specs they need.

    In short, the clubs there were currently being used did not conform. If you (a club manufacturer) thought you had a new club which may conform, let the USGA inspect first. Callaway and the others had 16 months to make the changes. They spent much of it arguing. This is not a tour thing, a USGA thing or a Scott McCarron thing. It is a Callaway thing, with Phil as their lead spokesperson. It stinks. Finchem knew all of this in August of 2008 and did not do anything in anticipation of it. Poor management.

  4. Vince, it's ironic that the very link you gave explains why there is a problem. And if what I heard is correct, then Calloway has a valid complaint against the USGA.

    I think you'll agree with me that specifications should be clear and easy to understand. For example, we know that corked or aluminum bats are illegal in pro baseball; we know what a regulation-sized football is; and we know that the 3-point line in basketball is different for college players and pros. That's important to having a fair game.

    If you scroll down the page your link goes to, you'll find another link called "Groove Measurement Procedure Outline", which takes you to

    which is a 9-page PDF called "Determination of Groove Conformance". This document describes how the USGA will verify if the grooves are legal or not. It describes the legal widths and radii and even the area inside the groove.

    What it does NOT describe is the actual shape of the groove. The page you linked to alludes to this; it shows examples of the new grooves, but the document doesn't specify anything about shapes. For example, your linked article shows that a V-groove can conform, yet V-grooves are NEVER mentioned in the conformance documentation. In fact, the word "shape" is NEVER used in the document, and the word "profile" is only used in a general way. This may have been the USGA's way of allowing the manufacturers some leeway in their designs... but it also means the USGA hasn't set a spec for that.

    If there is no spec, you can't be "non-conforming", can you?

    My understanding is that Calloway submitted a groove design with a contoured bottom; I heard someone call it a W-groove. Although that may not have been an exact description, it indicates that the bottom had a bulge of some sort. However, I have to repeat that THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO SPECS FOR THE SHAPE OF THE GROOVE in the testing documentation. If Calloway submitted a design that otherwise meets the specs, then they have a valid complaint and the blame falls on the USGA for not making clear specs. If this is true, the USGA made an arbitrary decision based on... what? How do we know what they allowed Cleveland or Nike or Adams to do?

    Yes, Vince, this is a USGA problem. And, to some extent, a media problem for not fully explaining the nature of the Calloway/USGA argument. If I hadn't been listening at the right time today, I wouldn't have heard about the groove shape being the source of the argument at all.