Monday 23 October 2017

Mickelson opts to drop 'legal' club

Karl MacGinty in Dubai

JUST nine words and a shrug of sheer exasperation from golf legend Tom Watson yesterday served as a timely warning to Padraig Harrington that he was in danger of putting one of the most impeccable reputations in sport at risk.

Phil Mickelson announced last night that he would not have the controversial Ping Eye 2 wedge in his bag for the defence of his Northern Trust title at Riviera Country Club this weekend and the universally popular Irishman is now believed likely to follow suit.

Pointing out that he only carried the club in San Diego last week to highlight "a ridiculous rule change made at the wrong time," Mickelson said he would not play with it for the time being out of respect for his PGA Tour colleagues.

Pending intensive efforts by the Tour to try and resolve the loophole in the new regulations covering clubface grooves, Mickelson reserved the right to put Ping Eye 2 wedges in his bag in future.

As this hugely contentious issue continued to bubble yesterday, Watson (60), the vanquished hero of last July's Open at Turnberry, offered damning indictment of any player who attempted to use this loophole to his own advantage.

Watson's media briefing in Dubai, where he plays this week's Omega Desert Classic on a sponsor's invite, was remarkable -- in contrast with the majority of his professional peers, the eight time's Major Champion speaks without fear or favour.


For example, he verbally bludgeoned Tiger Woods for failing "to carry himself (on the golf course) with the same stature as golf's other great players, like Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnold (Palmer), Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson" because of his "language and club-throwing."

"You can grant (leeway) to a young person that's not been out here for a while, but I think he needs to clean up his act there and show respect for the game that the people before him have shown."

As for Tiger's astonishing extra-curricular activities, Watson said: "He has to take ownership of what he's done. He must get his personal life in order.

"When he comes back, he has to show some humility to the public ... if I were him, I'd first do an interview with somebody before going to a tournament. I'd say 'you know what, I screwed up. And I admit it. And I'm going to try and change. I want my wife and family back. I have to earn her trust back.'

"It's going to be interesting to see how he handles his return to public life. I wish him the best. He's messed up. He knows it. The world knows it. You know, he's going to have to take ownership of that."

As for Mickelson, Harrington and the thorny issue of Tour players using 20-year-old Ping Eye 2 wedges to get around the new rules prohibiting 'box grooves', Watson agreed wholeheartedly with Lee Westwood's assertion that it's against 'the spirit of the game.'

"Exactly," he said emphatically. "I couldn't put it any better. I don't think it's the right thing to do."

Then, throwing up his arms and eyebrows in unison, Watson cut to the heart of the matter with his next nine words. "Why would they want to do that," he exclaimed. "Come on!"

Claiming the new rules "are great for me, but that doesn't make them right," Mickelson made it clear last night that he stirred this hornet's nest to make a point, not to gain an advantage over any of his friends and rivals on Tour.

Judging by Harrington's media briefing at Riviera on Tuesday, the Irishman's motivation for acquiring a 60 degree Ping Eye 2 wedge from friend and Headfort pro Brendan McGovern and bringing it to Los Angeles was different.

On foot of an out-of-court settlement between Ping and the USGA in the early 90s, all 'Eye 2' clubs manufactured by the company before April 1, 1990, are exempt from any measures taken in the States to limit the depth, shape and sharpness of grooves on club faces.

New measures to limit the depth and sharpness of clubface grooves have been introduced this year on pro tours worldwide as the R&A and USGA try to reduce the amount of spin (and therefore control) generated when hitting balls out of the rough.

The pious hope is that golf's biggest-hitters will turn down the testosterone and opt for accuracy instead.

Mickelson has accepted a "sincere" apology from Scott McCarron after his ludicrous suggestion in a newspaper interview that his fellow-Californian was cheating when he used a Ping Eye 2 wedge at Torrey Pines last weekend.

Players are legally entitled to use the rule-busting clubs, even if it threatens the integrity of golf.

In the absence of any definitive instruction the PGA Tour, Harrington said: "It could be 10 minutes before my tee time before I know what I'm going to do."

Tests Harrington performed with the club indicated a 200rpm (or 20pc) increase in spin playing short and medium shots out of light and heavy rough, yielding a "significant advantage" which, "anyone who's competitive" would loath to concede to another player.

It seems bizarre that a player who, like Mickelson, is one of the best wedge players in golf, would have such little faith in his short game skills that he'd be unwilling to compete on level terms with the vast majority of the field in LA.

Yet, given Harrington's sense of fair play, no doubt he too will take the right path today and leave that controversial club in the locker room

Northern Trust Open,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 10.0pm

Irish Independent

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