Of course, no good loophole goes unexploited. After learning that a couple of other PGA golfers had played with pre-1990 Ping wedges, Mickelson decided to do the same. He located a pre-1990 Ping wedge with square grooves, bent it from 60 to 64 degrees, and used it in this past weekend’s Farmers Insurance Open tournament. Knowing that Mickelson and several other players were using the square-grooved wedges led to McCarron’s comments about “cheating” during an interview. Predictably, Mickelson denied cheating and suggested that he had been "slandered"—possibly a veiled threat of a defamation lawsuit?
Now, it’s clear that Mickelson was not cheating, as his use of the wedge was technically within the rules. But it seems to me that his use of the wedge falls within the realm of what poker players call “angle shooting”—taking an action technically within the rules, but intended to gain an advantage not contemplated by the rules, or even contrary to the spirit of the rules. In poker, angle shooting often involves tactics related to betting or showdown intended to take advantage of inexperienced or unwary opponents.
Angle shooting isn’t limited to poker, however. It probably occurs in any sport or game. Off the top of my head, I can think of several examples:
Looking at the current wedge controversy, it seems more than a little odd that Mickelson went out of his way to find a 20 year old golf club. Since Mickelson is widely regarded as one of the best wedge players on the PGA Tour, it is unlikely he would’ve sought out this obscure square-grooved club unless he felt it gave him an advantage over the V-grooved wedges mandated by the new rules. So, Mickelson’s use of the wedge is technically permitted by the rules. But, his use of the wedge seems motivated by the intent to circumvent the spirit of the rules and gain an advantage over those who follow the rules rigidly. It's angle shooting, and it reflects poorly on Mickelson's judgment.
POSTSCRIPT: After my original post, another report came out in which McCarron denied calling Mickelson a cheater:
"I responded, 'It's cheating and I am appalled Phil has put it in play,'" McCarron stated. "I never called Phil Mickelson a cheater.Seems a pretty fine splitting of semantic hairs. If McCarron claims that using a particular wedge is "cheating," and Mickelson is using that wedge, basic logic supports the valid conclusion that McCarron thinks Mickelson is cheating.
--Reported by Jason Sobel, ESPN.com