LOS ANGELES (Feb. 3, 2010) – Phil Mickelson prepped for his two-time title defense of the Northern Trust Open Tuesday with a round of golf with friends at another Los Angeles course. That night he attended a PGA Tour players meeting at Riviera Country Club.
It was a regularly scheduled event but the primary topic was the groove issue that has embroiled the Tour since last week. Mickelson was one of several players who put a Ping Eye 2 wedge in play. In his case it was to experiment with the club, but also to expose a loophole in the rules pertaining to golf clubs. That wedge is approved by the USGA and Tour despite not conforming to the current standards. In San Diego Scott McCarron called it, “cheating,” that the players who used the wedge “should be ashamed,” and that “Phil should be one of the guys stepping up and saying this is wrong.”
After being stabbed in the back last Thursday, Wednesday morning Mickelson buried the hatchet.
“Scott came up to me and sincerely apologized,” he said. “We all make mistakes and say things we wish we could take back. I’ve done it a bunch in my career. It’s also not easy to come up and face that person, look him in the eye and apologize. He did that and he was sincere. I appreciate him being a big enough man to do that.”
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said, “With respect to a particular player that used a particularly unfortunate choice of words . . . there is no justification . . . but the reaction was stronger than it could have been had we more intensely last year got in front of players with the details of this rule.”
While Mickelson was conciliatory toward McCarron, he underscored his contempt for the way the new standards have been implemented by the USGA and followed by the Tour, two of golf’s governing bodies.
“It’s killing the sport.” Mickelson said of the ambiguity he feels the USGA has allowed to exist. “It’s killing the manufacturers and the players. We don’t understand the rule and it needs to be changed.”
Finchem said that the Tour will begin to explore the process of disallowing use of the pre-1990 Ping clubs by use of a local rule. It is a cumbersome process that will not have anything resolved soon. But last week John Solheim, the president of Karsten Manufacturing, which makes Pings and came to the agreement with the bodies in the early ‘90s, said he would be open to discussion with the USGA and the Tour.
Mickelson is not using the offending wedge this week at Riviera.
“I like and respect these players,” said Mickelson, who lauded them for their show of support last year after Amy’s breast cancer announcement. “Out of respect for them I do not want to have and advantage whether it’s perceived or actual. My point has been made.”
But he also said, “If these governing bodies cannot get together to fix this loophole, if players stop using this wedge, which would stop the pressing of this issue, then I will relook at it and put the wedge back in play. I hope the governing bodies get forced into changing their rule-making process. I hope there’s more transparency among the governing bodies.”
And then he went out onto the range to warm up for his pro-am round and enjoy a sunny afternoon on a course where he’s won for the last two years.