Published February 04, 2010
LOS ANGELES – Phil gets it. It took a while, but the penny's dropped.
He's got bigger fish to fry.
Golf's always been a lawyer's sport but never more so than in the past week.
No, it's been Phil Mickelson's use of a 20-year-old Ping wedge, which is legal but which many players believe goes against the spirit of a new rule reducing how much spin a club can impart on a ball, and thereby how much control a professional can have on his shot.
Let's get this clear: Mickelson wasn't really trying to get an unfair advantage in San Diego by putting the pre-1990 Ping Eye 2 -- which because of an old legal settment is the only club exempt from the new rules -- in his bag.
Mickelson was making a political statement.
Sort of like Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their black gloved fists in Mexico City. Except, of course, it's nothing like that given Mickelson's rebellion is on behalf of golf club manufacturer, Callaway, a wealthy corporation that pays him many millions of dollars.
Mickelson was voicing his displeasure over the hardline attitude of the United States Golf Association in arbitrarily deciding which clubs a professional can play.
Fair enough. A lot of people agree with him that the USGA -- "a bunch of pompous asses," one player calls the game's governing body -- shouldn't be a law unto itself.
Though judging by the mood on the range at Riviera on Wednesday, not many of his fellow professionals agree with using the club -- which five players have so far put in their bags -- because they believe it gives an unfair advantage.
"No question that a large majority of players think it should be banned," said veteran Paul Goydos.
Mickelson, ironically, does, too. That's why he was using it, to showcase the idiotic nature of the new rules.
The back story is that Callaway sent clubs to the USGA for approval which met the governing body's specifications but were rejected. Mickelson, whether acting on Callaway's behalf or just because he himself found that ludicrous, has taken it upon himself to become Che Guevera.
But his timing couldn't have been worse.
With Woods away for who knows how long, Mickelson finally has his chance to get become golf's top dog.
He's almost 40; the biological clock is ticking on his career. He's never been No. 1. He needs to be thinking about winning tournaments, not corporate activism.
And despite all the indignant recalcitrance that characterized Mickelson's news conference at Riviera on Wednesday, he admitted he had no business letting himself get drawn into a sideshow.
"I'm playing too well to get sidetracked here," he said, "I've got a unique opportunity and I want to take advantage of it without other distractions."
But with his next breath, Mickelson threatened to reignite the issue if "transparency" isn't introduced to the rule making process in golf.
He will not play the Northern Trust Los Angeles Open -- where he is two-time defending champion -- this week with the offending wedge in his bag, but that's not to say he won't include it again.
And he's encouraging other players to become activists, too, and put the Ping Eye 2 in their bags.
"This week I won't be playing that wedge," he said, "My point has been made.
"Out of respect for my (fellow) players ... I don't want to have an advantage again, perceived or actual. But if these governing bodies can not get together to fix this loophole, if players stop using this wedge, which would stop pressing the issue, then I will relook at it and put the wedge back in play.
"I hope that the governing bodies get forced into changing their rule-making process (so) there's more transparency.
"It was a ridiculous rule change and even worse timing. It's cost manufacturers millions of dollars and it continues to cost them money as we now have to hire people to scan, document and store data of every groove of every single club. It was unnecessary. It was an attempt (by the USGA) to show power."
Mickelson was particularly critical of the USGA's senior technical guru Dick Rugge.
"The arbitrary judgment of one man can take a conforming club and rule it nonconforming based on his emotion," Mickelson charged.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, a lawyer to his core, spent 20 minutes discussing the groove issue Wednesday without managing to say much at all. If lawyer-speak is an art form, this guy's Michelangelo.
He muttered something about a resolution being a "cumbersome process" but essentially is hoping Ping, the Arizona-based manufacturer, and the USGA to get together and shake hands, which would allow the Tour to ban the old wedges.
Why can't he just do it himself? He is, after all, the commish. Old Bud Selig would've acted by now, though of course it would've been in the wrong direction.
"I want to make clear that I can't tell (the players) what to do as commissioner. I can't direct them," he told me.
Why not, I asked? Are you not the boss?
He laughed and then made a funny. And Tim Finchem doesn't make many funnys.
"I don't want to be blamed for all the problems that the lawyers cause us!"
Said like a true lawyer.