Golf notes: How Phil got his grooves back

It began last week in San Diego when Scott McCarron argued that the four players in the field at Torrey Pines who were using the Ping Eye2 wedges – specifically Phil Mickelson -- were skirting the new USGA rule that requires professional players to use equipment with “V” grooves. But Ping wedges with square grooves that were made before April 1, 1990, are approved for competition because of a 1990 settlement from a Ping law suit against the USGA. That meant the wedge used by Mickelson was approved for the tournament.

McCarron blasted Mickelson anyway, said he was cheating and caused a firestorm that raged for week.

Steve Stricker, who is not playing the Ping wedge, defended those who are using the club.

“They’re not doing anything wrong by using those clubs,” Stricker said. “They’re still playing by the rules and right now, I guess the issue is that most of the players don’t think the rules are quite right.”

The loophole is starting to trickle down to others. Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington has a Ping Eye2 with him this week for Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club, but wasn’t sure if he would use it.

“I’m preparing myself for all eventualities,” Harrington said. “It would be naïve not to.”

Calmer heads prevailed on Tuesday night, when nearly 50 players met with Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. The result was McCarron going on the Golf Channel and making a public apology to Mickelson. The two men were seen shaking hands and talking after the meeting.

Mickelson said Wednesday he would not use the controversial club again, now that he has proven his point about the loophole.

The net result may be a boon for used equipment sellers. The Ping Eye2 wedges, which haven’t been manufactured for 20 years, were readily available on the online auction site eBay for as little as $45. One is even advertised as having “square grooves, like Mickelson.”

“We have enough going on in our sport right now where we don’t need any more attention to something like this,” Stricker said.

Now the players can turn their attention to the Northern Trust Open, which has drawn the best field of the young PGA season. Four of the top eight ranked players in the world and seven of the top 10 on the money list will compete. Mickelson is the two-time defending champion.

Augusta native Charles Howell III might be a name to watch at Riviera. He won the event in 2007 (beating Mickelson) and was runner-up in 2003. Howell comes into the tournament having finished no worse than 26th in three events, including a tie for fifth at the Sony Open in Hawaii and a tie for ninth at Torrey Pines.

Miscellaneous

Former University of Georgia All-American Kevin Kisner tied for seventh and Duluth’s Scott Dunlap tied for ninth in the Nationwide Tour’s season opener in New Zealand. ... Thanks largely to its innovative ball-fitting program, Covington-based Bridgestone Golf announced at last week’s PGA Merchandise Show that it had made a 3-percent increase in the golf ball market in 2009 to solidify its No. 2 standing behind Titleist. The company has 26 teams that travel throughout the country and have conducted more than 50,000 ball-fitting sessions during the last three years. ... Bentwater Golf Club in Acworth will become completely private on March 1 and become the 24th private club in the Canongate Golf Club family. ... Four Georgia courses were named to the Golf World’s 100 Best Golf Shops list: East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth and Reynolds Plantation–Oconee in Greensboro.

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