GrooveGate: Why Doesn't Ping Put An End to This?

Tim Finchem spoke to the players about the groove rule issue and the Ping problem today, and will talk to the media tomorrow. The short of it is there’s nothing the tour can do — for now. But Stewart Cink, the voice of reason on the tour these days, gave a pretty good indication of what is coming next:

“It appears the vast majority of players want to play with 2010 grooves,” said Stewart Cink. “The meeting was really about the course of action we can take and why can’t the commissioner just say no more Ping Eye 2 1990 wedges. There are rules against that because of this lawsuit. It doesn’t just say we have to allow Ping Eye 2 clubs. It’s very complicated and has a lot of aspects to it and that’s what we have to go through.

“The process already exists because of the ruling in the 1990s. It won’t be instantaneous. It’s laid out in the documents. It’s something where we have to get a committee involved. The committee is already in place and has been since 1994. It appears that may be the way it goes. Ping could also step up tomorrow and we could see an agreement between Ping and the [game of] golf. We don’t know right now. One thing for sure is that there is a course of action that we can take that is in the documents.”

As for Scott McCarron, he’s really sorry. And he doesn’t want to talk about it any more, except apparently when asked questions. Then he’s more than willing to talk. Interestingly, McCarron now seems to be saying the issue with the Ping Eye2 wedge is that he can’t play it:

“My issue wasn’t with Mickelson, but that Ping Eye 2s are not readily available,” said McCarron. “I’m under contract to TaylorMade. I can’t play [the Eye 2}. Other players who are under contract can’t play that wedge. They don’t have that option.”

Which is, of course, bullshit. McCarron may not be able to play it (if that’s what his contract says), but there are tons of players signed to one company — Callaway or TaylorMade — who play Vokey or Cleveland wedges. The equipment companies want the most visible clubs in the bags of pros — and that usually means the driver. Take Mike Weir, for instance, or even Tiger — both putt with Scottie Cameron products, though they have deals with TM and Nike respectively. But let’s be clear — apparently McCarron would be okay with this rule if he could play them.

As for the difference between the 2010 wedges and the 1989 versions — according to Padraig Harrington, who may or may not use one this week — the spin rate is 2,000 more rpms, which is hugely significant.

Cynically, I’d say the John Solheim is using this kerfuffle for its marketing value. Think about it this way — Phil Mickelson is paid millions annually to play Callaway clubs. He talked about how Callaway had made a softer ball to deal with the groove issue, and then went out and played a Ping wedge at his first event this year. Did anyone talk about Callaway? Nope. They talked about FIGJAM and his Ping wedge. Hell, you could be a Ping staffer and win a major and still not get the company this much attention.

Certainly he’s getting tons of press out of a 20-year-old wedge. Are they selling more decade-old wedges? No. Is the name Ping in more golf stories now than it has been in the past five years? No doubt.

As Bob Gilder points out, Karsten Solheim’s battle with the USGA over groove rules in the late 1980s took a lot out of the Ping founder:

In the late 1980s I agreed to stand with Karsten against the PGA Tour’s proposed ban on square-grooved irons. Karsten couldn’t understand how somebody could declare a club non-conforming even though it conformed to the Rules of Golf. Both sides paid a heavy price during the three-year court battle, but Karsten was pleased with the outcome of the ensuing settlement. The fight, however, wore him down emotionally and physically.

It wouldn’t be hard to fathom that the Solheim family sees this whole mess as a good way at getting back at the PGA Tour and the USGA two decades after its contentious fight over the groove rule. If the company gets some ink along the way, then no harm, no foul.

But there are some — myself included — who think Ping could take the high road on this one. They’ve proved their point, they’ve got the best on the PGA Tour fighting in the sand traps, and at this point they are probably hurting the game. They could still make their point by agreeing to a local rule that allows the PGA Tour to ban the Eye2 wedges, and look magnanimous in the process.

That’s essentially the take of aptly-named Mark Reason at the Telegraph:

Ping is equally indignant, but for different reasons. When Telegraph Sport contacted the company for assistance with this article, a representative claimed that it did not have any old Ping Eye 2 wedges. Ping then issued a statement saying that it was willing “to discuss a workable solution”.

Ping represents itself as fighting for the common golfer. John Solheim, the chief executive of Ping and son of the founder, has said: “The new groove rule harms the game.”

Solheim was concerned that the rule would force millions of amateurs to buy new clubs and reduce the trade-in value of their old ones. He has a point, but Ping’s history of litigation reduces his credibility. It should not be up to big business to dictate the laws of the game. If Ping had not taken action 20 years ago over the banning of grooves, then we would not now be in this mess as the club would not be in play.

Founding father Karsten Solheim was a brilliant man and did wonders for ordinary golfers like me, but he damaged golf forever when he went down the legal route. His son could show his love of golf by agreeing to the banning of the old Ping Eye 2 for the pros.

We have proved how much extra spin they produce. Solheim could end it all with a ‘waive’ of his magic wedge.

For his part, Solheim is said to be open to a “workable solution.” Would that take an apology on the part of Tim Finchem — who wasn’t in charge when the court case happened — or would Ping want cash to allow a local rule to be put in place banning its wedges? Truthfully, Solheim should issue a press release saying he’ll accept whatever the tour wants — and thank them. After all, he’s already got his payout — publicity that millions couldn’t have bought.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert

    Your blog section is a joke. Why don’t you get some people that are going to write on an ongoing basis? Most are months old; it makes your whole site look dated.

    I’d be happy to offer regular thoughts from a golfer’s perspective—Me?–Private Club member, 4 handicap, currently a marketing consultant, have worked in the golf business in the past.

    Just a thought

  • Hey RT…

    It sounds like that guy who commented on most of the blogs being old is looking for a job.
    Private club member,4 handicap, marketing consultant and all around good guy……

    Here’s a suggestion dude…Why don’t you start your own blog and rant about how everyone elses blogs are outdated and how your 4 handicap wasn’t good enough to get you on the tour, but you have advice to fix everyone’s swing flaws as they are standing on the tee.

  • Hosi — I’m not hard to find. Feel free to drop me a note. I’m listening if you’ve got the skills.

  • Not to talk about the actual post or anything, but in the absence of the grown-ups at Ping and the Tour sorting this out, why can’t the players themselves just agree not to play the things? Every player I hear interviewed says they should be banned — why not just boycott them? Then, if someone starts playing them, they can more legitimately call cheat.

  • It was a sad day and turning point for golf in 1993 when the USGA, R&A with the PGA Tour settled the Ping lawsuit out of court. We all have seen and heard how the game has evolved negatively during the out of control technology advancements in equipment over the past 10 years. Most PGA Tour members wanted the USGA, R&A and PGA Tour at arm’s length to fight to control the rules of the game with the PGA Tour backstopping the USGA & R&A. Everyone in golf knew this case would have a long lasting effect by means of legal precedent. Now its significance is showing up in many ways (like longer golf courses). The Ping settlements lead to the start of the manufactures having their way in the game which caused the out of control technology boom in: club grooves, golf ball development, size of drivers and CORE of driver faces, etc., the combined sum has negatively changed the direction of the game. This legal precedent left the USGA, R&A and PGA Tour in a submissive position.

    At the time, it was a real game of chicken… to see who would blink first. The USGA, R&A, PGA Tour absolutely bailed out a week before the court date. There was huge risk for the PGA Tour given the deep pockets of Ping and the downside if a judgment went against the Tour. Leonard Decof, Ping’s attorney was ruthless and put huge fear on the Tour and players.

    I recall Dick Farris, my playing partner at the AT&T Pro-Am, and then Chairman of the PGA Tour Policy Board was furious that the Tour didn’t fight it out in court. If I recall correctly, the suit claimed damages for $100MM against the PGA Tour. If a judgment went in favour of the plaintiff (Ping) the court could award “treble damages”, a typical judgement for willful conduct. A judgment against the PGA Tour for $300MM would bankrupt the PGA Tour. In the early 90’s as it is today, 100% of PGA Tour player’s pension fund sits is in general funds in the PGA Tour. It is NOT government protected and exposed to any liability.

    Part of that settlement resulted in then Commissioner Dean Beaman being run off….Finchem then came in to run the show.

  • The irony is: the Tour and the players constantly tout golf is a game where they don’t need refreeing, and that golf is a gentlemen’s game.

    But with this groove-gate, they all seem to be looking at each other and go ‘you have to make a decision’, ‘no, you have to make the decision’, ‘well, someone should make a decision for us’.

    I recall about 80 years ago, pro golfers were not held at high esteem because the golf establishment frowned upon introducing money into the game. How right they are….

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