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.