If It’s Not “Illegal” Golf Equipment – Is It Really Cheating?

Phil Mickelson is called for cheating, but Phil calls it “playing smart.”

The USGA sets the standards for equipment when playing golf and one of those standards is for groove configuration on irons. Unfortunately for manufacturer, Ping, their Ping Eye 2 wedges are considered to be non-conforming. They are square or “U” shaped and don’t meet the new standards for groove configuration. Apparently, they give an extra edge to the player who uses them. This issue blew up in the face of Tour player Phil Mickelson during the recent Farmer’s Insurance Open when he was challenged and called a cheater by one of the other members of the Tour, Scott McCarron, for using the 20-year-old club.

Mickelson would have none of it, reminding McCarron that the club was grandfathered in back in 1990 as part of a legal settlement Ping had filed against the USGA. Mickelson agreed that the grooves don’t conform to today’s standards, but as long as they are not banned, he will take advantage of any edge they can give him. It’s a loophole he intends to use.

Is this cheating, or just playing smart? It’s a hard call. The Ping club does give Mickelson an advantage and the USGA does allow it. So it’s probably playing smart. If the USGA changes its standards, (they are currently taking this issue under review,) things may change. And if the club is deemed to be illegal for tour play in the future, Mickelson will certainly comply. For now, he’s playing smart.

It’s a different story for the rest of us. With new equipment being manufactured all the time, it’s sometimes hard to know what is legal or not. You may not participate in tournaments but it’s still smart to be aware of what equipment is legal for your level of play. Check with your local PGA pro at your club if your’re not sure. Every year a new putter or driver or accessory claims to give the golfer that “extra edge.” Be sure it’s legal to use.

Here’s one we’re pretty certain would not make the cut: the Poly Max Extreme Pad. It’s a peel and stick pad you discreetly place on your club head. It absorbs some of the shock to the ball which reduces ball compression and delivers more energy to send the ball flying. One pad lasts about 18 holes. We think it’s illegal, but the manufacturer sells a lot of them.

Oversized drivers are another tool designed to beat the game. Tens of thousands are sold every year. You can even buy a wedge insert that increases your backspin to keep your ball from flying off the back of the green.

Would you play with “special” equipment? legal or not? Have you ever done it?

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For more information on the USGA implementation of New Rules Regarding Grooves, click here.

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