Golf's Moral Maze
Golf prides itself on being able to take the moral high ground more frequently than many other sports. The code of honour among players, the abhorrence of cheating and adherence to the rules endearingly sets it apart.
But the fledgling 2010 season is notable for issues bubbling up that challenge the game in its desire to remain on the correct path in its own moral maze.
Take for example the subject of the new rules on grooves in irons, and in particular wedges. Two players were able to play in Hawaii last week breaching the new regulations without breaking the rules.
John Daly and Dean Wilson were using Ping Eye 2 wedges that have the outlawed "boxed" grooves and despite the introduction of new rules banning their use there was nothing to prevent those players from legally playing with the clubs.
They exploited a loophole that stretches back to the great battle between the rules makers, the USGA, and the club manufacturer Ping. The eventual court settlement ruled that all Ping clubs made prior to 1990 would remain legal in perpetuity.
So the wedges dug out of Daly and Wilson's garages are immune from the new rules that have been brought in to make it more difficult for players to control shots with spin from thick rough.
No doubt other players are having a rummage to see whether they have any Ping wedges lying about and it's been suggested others are making Ebay raids as we speak.
Of course, this is a case of players sticking to the rules, which is what is expected of golfers. But American Tour pro Bob Estes is not impressed. "It's maybe a little bit against the spirit of the game once they passed that rule," he said.
"I didn't think they should hide behind an old rule. They should play by the same rules the other 99 per cent of us are."
By chance Estes was paired with Wilson in the final round of the Sony Open in Honolulu, but neither player broached the subject. Wilson told the Honolulu Advertiser: "Bob has not come up to me and said anything about it.
"I'd tell him what I told you. It's not a groove issue for me. It's a comfort issue. I'm not trying to gain an advantage with the grooves. The sole of the club is what I like, not the grooves."
Is there a right or wrong here? Is a rule a rule when it doesn't have to be or should its spirit take precedence?
As ever, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem wouldn't be drawn but seems pretty unconcerned about the loophole's existence. "We don't see any competitive advantage, any material advantage to a player by going back and getting a club that was made pre-1990," he said.
Clearly there's an even greater emphasis required for players to keep the newly conforming "V" shaped grooves as sharp as legally possible. Retief Goosen has found a way by using wedges with interchangeable faces.
Just two weeks into the new season he has deemed one face on a wedge to be worn out and has slid it out and replaced it with a brand new one.
Of course for us amateurs this isn't an issue for a while. There is currently a separation between the paid and unpaid sections of the game to prevent us having to bin relatively new purchases.
But this is another of the golden pillars of golf that is supposed to set it apart. The big boys are meant to play the same game with the same equipment as the rest of us.
But separation exists as the groove issue highlights and it goes further with one leading ball manufacturer producing a pro only ball that offers more spin or trajectory depending upon which one you choose.
Nothing new in the pro's getting first crack at using new technology, it happens all the time and usually the intention is for the product to then make its way into the pro shops from which we get our gear.
But these balls are different. There is no intention to go public with them and yet the manufacturer insists their development and introduction to the pro-game is nothing to do with the new groove rules.
Two players used the "spin" variety of the ball in Honolulu and six used the "trajectory" version.
Finally for now, here's another question. Is it right for professionals not deemed worthy of a place in the pre-tournament pro-am to be hit with keeping sponsors happy obligations? This is a new development on the PGA Tour this year as they seek to increase the value of sponsorship deals.
There's a danger of the same category of players, those with celebrity but not the current standing to warrant a pro-am spot, being asked to carry out this work week-in, week-out.
While there's plenty of early season enthusiasm at the moment, bet your bottom buck moans and groans will abound in the locker-room before long.
Justin Rose, always one of the best at fulfilling such obligations, said: "I think this is a much needed thing right now. What I don't 100 per cent agree with is that if you fall into that category where you are just missing the pro-am, you are going to get hit each week.
"But if that is the case, then I am still happy to do it," he added, clearly seeing something of a moral obligation."