Just nine words and a shrug of exasperation from golfing legend Tom Watson has served as a timely warning to Padraig Harrington that he's in danger of putting one of the most impeccable reputations in sport at risk.
As the universally popular Irishman agonised over his decision whether or not to put the controversial ‘Ping-Eye 2' wedge in his bag for today's first round of the Northern Trust Open, Watson, 60, offered the most damning indictment yet of those who take advantage of a legal loophole in the new rules governing clubface grooves.
Watson's media briefing in Dubai, where he plays this week's Omega Desert Classic on a sponsor's invite, was exceptional.
In contrast with many of his peers in golf, the eight times Major Champion speaks without fear or favour.
For example, he verbally bludgeoned Tiger Woods for failing “to carry himself (on the golf course) with the same stature as golf's other great players, like Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnold (Palmer), Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson” because of his “language and club-throwing”.
“You can grant (leeway) to a young person that's not been out here for a while but I think he needs to clean up his act there and show respect for the game that the people before him have shown.”
As for Tiger's astonishing extra-curricular activities, Watson said: “He has to take ownership of what he's done. He must get his personal life in order.
“When he comes back, he has to show some humility to the public — if I were him, I'd first do an interview with somebody before going to a tournament. I'd say ‘you know what, I screwed up. And I admit it. And I'm going to try and change. I want my wife and family back. I have to earn her trust back’.
“If he wants that to happen, that's what he's going to have to do,” Watson continued.
“It's going to be interesting to see how he handles his return to public life. I wish him the best. He's messed up. He knows it. The world knows it. You know, he's going to have to take ownership of that.”
As for Harrington, Mickelson and the thorny issue of Tour players using 20 year old Ping-Eye 2 wedges to get around the new rules prohibiting ‘box grooves', Watson, the vanquished hero of the Turnberry Open last July, agreed wholeheartedly with Lee Westwood's assertion it's against ‘the spirit of the game.'
“Exactly,” he said emphatically. “I couldn't put it any better.”
Then, throwing up his arms and eyebrows in unison, Watson cut to the heart of the matter with his next nine words. “Why would they want to do that?” he exclaimed. “Come on!”
After all, Mickelson and Harrington probably are the two best wedge players in golf. “Yep, it doesn't make any sense to me,” he added. “It doesn't make any sense at all.
“I don't think it looks good for
players to use it (the loophole) to be honest with you. I just don't think it's the right thing to do.”
On foot of an out-of court settlement between Ping and the USGA in the early 90s, all ‘Eye 2' clubs manufactured by the company before April 1, 1990 are exempt from any measures taken in the States to limit the depth, shape and sharpness of grooves on club faces.
New measures to limit the depth and sharpness of clubface grooves have been introduced worldwide by the R&A and USGA to reduce the amount of spin (and therefore control) generated when hitting balls out of the rough.
PGA Tour players' committee member Scott McCarron has publicly apologised to Mickelson for his ludicrous suggestion in a newspaper interview that his fellow-Californian was “cheating” when he decided to take two Ping-Eye 2 wedges out of his garage and use them at Torrey Pines last weekend.
Mickelson and, for that matter, Harrington are legally entitled to use the rule-busting clubs. However, the integrity of golf is also at stake.