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February 05, 2010

Daily Flogging: USGA's Rugge responds to Mickelson

Posted at 10:50 AM by Gary Van Sickle | Categories: Grooves, PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson, Ping, USGA

A day without a grooves story would be like a day without sunshine. Thankfully, somebody in the newspaper business finally got around to checking out the other side of the story. So a tip of the golf visor to Garry Smits of The Florida Times-Union, who got USGA senior technical director Dick Rugge to say a few words after several days of listening to Phil Mickelson's agenda.

Rugge's message to Smits is that the USGA sets equipment standards to protect the game, not "kill it" as Mickelson claimed earlier in the week.

"The USGA does a lot to improve the game," Rugge said Thursday. "As far as someone accusing us of killing the sport, I'm not going to get into a response to Phil Mickelson on that. He's entitled to his own opinion."

The USGA produced data that showed the U-groove irons had become too easy to hit out of rough. Skilled players not only got the ball out cleanly in most cases, but they were still able to control distance and spin the ball. The USGA mandated a switch to shallower V-shaped grooves, which cost equipment manufacturers millions.

At least half a dozen players have put 20-year-old Ping Eye2 irons into play. (Northern Trust Open update: Padraig Harrington did not put Pings into play Thursday but Fred Couples did.) They have the old U-grooves but conform to the rules thanks to a legal settlement between Ping and the USGA. Mickelson was critical of the ruling while using a Ping wedge last week and is also upset because Callaway clubs submitted with conforming grooves were not approved. Mickelson complained that one man (Rugge, although he didn't name him) has too much power over the rules.

Rugge took issue with Mickelson's "one man" comment in his talk with Smits.

"I have a staff of 16 people, including six engineers with Ph.D.s," Rugge said. "We get about 2,500 clubs submitted to us every year, and we approve about 80 percent of them as conforming. And the 20 percent have an appeal process. They can go to the USGA executive committee, so there's 15 more people involved. We can't please everyone, but I think we do the best we can."

As for the Ping Eye2 clubs, Rugge said they are conforming clubs and he has no problem with players using them.

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