Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Hey Phil, quit swinging your Ping Eye 2 around, it might be legal but it ain't right in front of children.

At a time when Tiger Woods has completely ruined his reputation and Golf is seeking another star to step into the breach as its new leading light, you would think that the big boys would want to do everything possible to make sure there is not a negative word said about them in the press. Which makes the decision of Phil Mickelson to jump so willingly through the bizarre loophole in the new law regarding U-groove clubs so amazing to me.

The ban on U-grooves was meant to have an impact on players scores by punishing wayward tee and approach shots which find the rough. The sharp edges provided by U-grooved clubs cut through grass caught between clubface and ball at impact, allowing players to have much greater control over shots from the rough and even impart spin on the ball too. To put the penalty back into finding the long grass, the decision was made to not allow pros to use these clubs anymore and revert back to V grooves, whose edges have shallower angles and thus do not cut through to the ball as effectively. This reduces the control the player has on the shot and leads to unpredictable flyers over the green and other such hilaritys. But as it was to be the same for all, it was going to bring an emphasis back on accurate iron play.

But a side effect of a 20 year old court ruling has kind of scuppered this brave new dawn. The Ping eye 2 wedge, which has square grooves, is not affected in this new era of V-shaped grooves because of a lawsuit Ping filed against the USGA that was settled 20 years ago, in which the USGA showing an amazing lack of foresight allowed the Ping eye 2 golf club to be sanctioned "approved for play" forever. Having started the ball rolling on the V-groove issue, someone must have realised that this was going to come and bite them on the bum.

And now it has and has sparked a debate among the golfing elite which is becoming quite venomous. And the main target of the venom is Big Phil.

One of the most effective weapons in Mickelson's armoury down the years has been his incredible deployment of the flop shot. High, towering shots, hit with almost a full swing from just off the green which may travel only ten yards forward and land almost dead on the spot. It's of no surprise then that it's the Ping Eye 2 60 degree lob wedge which Phil has begun packing. It's a crucial part of his game and clearly he wants to retain that advantage. But at what cost to his reputation?

He has stoutly defended his decision but I can't agree with his reasoning.

"The only thing that matters is are they approved for play. So I don't feel that there's any problem if I were to play those clubs or if anybody else were. All that matters is that it is OK under the rules of golf."

The thing is, if it wasn't for some daft legal case twenty years ago, presumably undertaken just for a marketing advantage, the clubs would not be legal. That they are allowed for play is down to a legal technicality, not because they have some sort of midway design that is borderline and they just scraped through. The design is illegal under the new laws of the game. If Callaway made a completely identical club to it it would be illegal. If you put any other U-groove club from 1990 in the bag it would be illegal. If you put any other club with a U groove design by Ping from any year, in any condition, it would be deemed illegal. Which means that really, the gentlemanly thing to do would be to agree not to use it.

Do I think that he's gaining an almighty advantage by using it, not really. But if he's not, then why use it. Why put yourself in that position.

Cause you're gonna get your Robert Allenbys who will be less than impressed -
"I just believe that even if they are legal, you still shouldn't be using them. Just because someone has a couple sitting in their garage somewhere or they've got them off eBay or whatever, I just don't think that's the integrity of the game. I think 'cheating' is not the right word to use, but it's definitely an advantage."

And then you'll get your Scott McCarrons who will be a tad more outspoken.

"It's cheating, and I'm appalled Phil has put it in play...all those guys should be ashamed of themselves for doing that. As one of our premier players, (Mickelson) should be one of the guys who steps up and says this is wrong."

Now Phil's response is, surprise surprise, to get all legal on it and accuse McCarron of slander, when all Scott wanted was for Phil to lead the way in saying "Hey guys, this club, it might be legal but lets not use it, right, lets be all that we can be". I think that's a little sad. Because at the end of the day, if Scott McCarron turns up with a 60 degree Taylor Made Lob Wedge from 1990 next week, he'd be breaking the laws of the game, while Phil flops away merrily. Just cause you can get away with it, doesn't mean you should do it. It ain't right Phil, think of the kids.

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