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Golf Tidbits: Not so groovy time for the PGA Tour

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The United States Golf Association announced last year that square or U grooves would be illegal at the start of the 2010 season.

PING created clubs over 20 years ago with such grooves and there was a lawsuit that long ago ruled these clubs were legal.

At the start of the 2010 season, all players had to switch to the now- conforming V grooves, but the PING clubs, specifically their wedges, and their square grooves were grand-fathered in and legal.

According to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, four of 218 players over the first four tournaments used the old wedges. Most notable among them was Phil Mickelson.

Obviously, the game is more than a single club, and Mickelson didn't seem to have a huge advantage with one questionable club in his bag.

With plenty of people clamoring that this loop-hole needs to be closed, Mickelson had an old PING wedge in his bag last week and it helped him to a 19th-place finish at the Farmers Insurance Open.

That club did lead to a tete-a-tete between Mickelson and Scott McCarron, that started with McCarron saying that using the old clubs is akin to cheating. People might poo-poo the fact that it was McCarron calling Mickelson out as opposed to a bigger name such as Vijay Singh or Retief Goosen.

However, McCarron is entering his 15th year on the PGA Tour, is a three-time winner on tour and, maybe most importantly, a member of the Player Advisory Council.

Since the McCarron-Mickelson firestorm erupted last Friday, comments have come from all sides and all over the world.

Mickelson said after his round last Friday, "It's a terrible rule; to change something that has this kind of loophole is nuts. But it's not up to me or any other player to interpret what the interpretation of the rule is or the spirit of the rule."

Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington said he would be 'naive' not to test the old clubs out. World No. 9 Rory McIlroy stated, "He'd prefer other ways to make golf more difficult rather than tampering with club design."

McCarron apologized to Mickelson on Tuesday and Mickelson accepted. There was also a players meeting Tuesday at this week's Northern Trust Open at which several items were discussed with Finchem and the players in attendance.

Earlier this week, another golf writer asked a very obvious question, how did the suits at the PGA Tour not see this happening?

It isn't like this lawsuit between the USGA and PING came about last week, it was settled in PING's favor in 1990.

Finchem made some lengthy comments on the situation on Wednesday.

"The USGA tried to ban U-grooves, but they went at it by changing the rules as it relates to the edge of the U-groove. That was challenged in court by Karsten Manufacturing [which manufactures PING clubs] and subsequently led to a settlement, and that settlement still is in force today, which impacts things like the current rule," he explained.

"In addition, the PGA Tour a couple years later passed a rule to eliminate U- grooves. That was challenged by Karsten Manufacturing and led to a settlement, and that settlement did not include necessarily a ban on U-grooves, it just said if we make a rule that differs from the USGA in any instance, we have to go through a certain process."

That all explains the premise for where we are today as far as the history of grooves on the PGA Tour over the last 20 or so years.

"Manufacturers continued to generate their technical capability to build a better and better club generally, and with respect to grooves, continued to escalate the capability from a manufacturing standpoint to create a sharper groove, a sharper edge on the groove, which led to an ever-increasing spin generation available to players," Finchem continued. "Five or six years ago, the USGA set out on a course to pull that spin rate back. That led to the current rule."

For their part, the leaders at PING understand this issue could drag on and they are willing to discuss options.

"I'm willing to discuss a workable solution to this matter that would benefit the game and respect the role innovation has played over the long history of golf," said PING chairman and CEO John Solheim.

The debate over whether players should or shouldn't use the old PING wedges will go on until the USGA, the PGA Tour and PING/Karsten Manufacturing come to some sort of agreement.

For his part, Mickelson is trying to defuse the controversy by removing the clubs from his bag this week, but at the same time recognizes the gravity of the situation.

"This week I won't be playing that wedge. My point has been made. I won't play it. But if these governing bodies cannot get together to fix this loophole, if players stop using this wedge, which would stop the pressing of the issue, then I will re-look at it and put the wedge back in play. But I hope that players continue to play the wedge. I hope that the governing bodies get forced into changing their rule-making process," said Mickelson. "If there's no pressure amongst these organizations to make changes, I will immediately put the club back in play."

PAVIN'S TABS ASSISTANT CAPTAINS

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin named his assistant captains on Wednesday. He selected Davis Love III, Jeff Sluman, Paul Goydos and former Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman as his assistants.

Two of those picks (Love/Lehman) are solid, and while the choice of Sluman isn't terrible, the selection of Goydos is a head-scratcher.

Lehman and Love combined to compete on nine Ryder Cup teams and combined for a 14-15-7 career record. They were teammates three times

Sluman, the 1988 PGA Champion, is a six-time winner on the PGA Tour and served as Jack Nicklaus' assistant for the 2003 Presidents Cup. He is a respected veteran, but he never played on either a Ryder or Presidents Cup team.

Goydos is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, but also never played on a national. Maybe he is along to be the comic relief in the team room.

MINI-TIDBITS

- I read another great line earlier this week. Ben Crane, who won last week's Farmer's Insurance Open, is known as very slow golfer. Alan Shipnuck said in his Hot/Not column, "Too bad the dude takes an hour and a half to watch '60 Minutes.'"

- You didn't think I could go an entire column without mentioning Tiger Woods did you? The subject of when Tiger will return is still up for debate. I'd say in two weeks at the WGC-Accenture Match Play is a nice spot. That is where he started his 2009 season and he could get anywhere from one to six rounds of golf in. Will that happen? Only Tiger knows.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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