From the Rough

Golf without discretion

Grooves rules under intense scrutiny after catastrophic mistake

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It’s been almost two months since the new competition grooves rule claimed its first victim, a 16-year-old girl who happened to be trying qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open.

Erynne Lee became the first player to face the wrath of the USGA, after her wedges were deemed “non-conforming” under the new grooves rule. While the story was a tragic one, at least Lee wasn’t playing for her livelihood on a professional tour, where money can be the deciding factor between eating well or getting by on ramen for another week.

Sarah Brown, like Lee, had a run-in with the competition committee at a recent event, where she was subsequently sent off the course after her Ping 54-degree Tour W wedge was deemed non-conforming by a rules assistant at the Duramed Futures Tour event.

There was only problem: Brown’s wedge was conforming, thus forcing the 18-year-old to miss out on a weekly paycheck. The worst part of all? The rules official on site decide to pull her off the course, as opposed to letting her finish out her round and then making a ruling.

Golfweek’s Sean Martin broke the news in what’s become the worst story to come from the new grooves change:

Brown, 18, who was three shots off the lead entering the final round of the Duramed Futures Tour’s The International at Concord, was disqualified July 25 after a rules official determined her wedges to have nonconforming grooves.

In a statement to Golfweek, Ping said Brown’s 54-degree Tour-W wedge conforms to the U.S. Golf Association’s 2010 “conditions of competition.”

“Unfortunately, Sarah Brown was the victim of an inaccurate ruling regarding the conformity of her Ping Tour-W wedge,” Ping chairman & CEO John Solheim said. “The wedge is properly identified as conforming to the 2010 “New Groove Rule.” This has been confirmed by the USGA.

“We’re disappointed that the rules officials at the Futures Tour event took the action they did without properly investigating the situation. We’ve received an apology from the Futures Tour and more importantly, they’ll be apologizing to Sarah for the mistake.”

Any apology just doesn’t cut it in this particular situation. First and foremost, the rules official in charge of making the decision (assuming he/she is employed by the Futures Tour) should be fired. There’s no excuse for promptly disqualifying a player when you don’t have all the answers.

A quick glance at a website by the rules official didn’t bring up any information on the wedge in question. That’s when the decision was made to pull Brown from the event — thereby forcing her to leave the course when she was three-shots back of the lead heading into the final round. The worst part of all? The rules official received the tip on Brown’s wedge from an “anonymous person”.

What is this, the freaking CIA?

But as Martin noted, the story gets even better:

Brown was using a Ping Tour-W wedge with 54 degrees of loft. Some models of the wedge do not conform with the new grooves rules, but Brown’s wedge conforms because the letters ‘XG’ were stamped on the hosel (‘X’ is the Roman numeral for 10, i.e. 2010, while ‘G’ stands for ‘grooves’).

Not only did the rules official make the wrong call, he/she didn’t even bother to look up what the “XG” stood for on the wedge. I’m sorry, but that’s pathetic.

So what does Brown get for her troubles? An apology. She doesn’t get a check or compensation for the mistake, and that in the end is what’s most frustrating of all.

You not only caused a professional to miss out on a check, you also added a DQ to her tournament resume — one that could ultimately come back to bite Brown if she gets close to qualifying for the LPGA.

Would something like this ever happen on the PGA Tour? Probably not. But that doesn’t excuse it happening on any tour, let alone one that acts as a feeder for the LPGA.

The rules committees across the board need to take a serious look at this rule and figure out a universal policy for deeming wedges as conforming or non-conforming. Obviously the current system just isn’t cutting it.

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Written by Jonathan Wall

07/27/2010 at 12:43 pm

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