Written by Michael VanDerLaan
When Karsten Solheim, former aerospace engineer and founder of the Ping golf company, first introduced Ping Eye 2 irons to the market, they quickly became the best selling set of golf irons of all time. All these years later, golfers around the world find themselves wondering why are Ping Eye 2 irons illegal when they were so amazing?
A few years after their invention, they were considered potentially an unfair advantage. It took many years of court cases involving Ping, the USGA, the R&A, and the PGA Tour in order to come to a conclusion on the matter in 1990s, and the topics of the case were revisited again in 2010.
The controversy and how the Ping clubs did - or didn’t - fit into the new rules centered around the shape of the grooves (V-shaped, U-shaped, or square-grooved) and whether or not the grooves on Ping Eye 2 clubs made between 1984 and 1990 had grooves that added an unfair ability to spin the ball.
We’ll explore this topic in-depth, but basically the decision was made that the Ping Eye 2 clubs would be grandfathered into the groove rules in 1990, and then in 2010 the case was revisited and put to bed as it was conceded by Ping to take the clubs out of play for high-level professional tournaments, but allow the clubs to remain grandfathered in until 2024 for all other play governed by the USGA. The clubs have remained non-conforming according to the R&A, however, the entire time.
RELATED: The Best Iron Sets Under $500
What Are Ping Eye 2 Irons?
Ping Eye 2 irons are some of the most iconic clubs in the golfing world. They were manufactured throughout the 80s and early 1990s with some small changes and evolutions in between, and quickly became an essential piece of equipment for golfers everywhere. They are regarded as the first popular club to combine all of the engineering “tricks” to improve forgiveness into a single club, and they sold like hot cakes and produced many wins at the professional level, gaining appeal despite being widely regarded as ugly or even comical due to the unorthodox aesthetic at the time. What's more, they were the first iron to use modern casting techniques to ensure that every iron was built the same!
You have likely seen a set of Ping Eye 2 irons, either set in the corner of someone's garage gathering rust or at a secondhand sports store selling for $8 a club. You would never even know that they were one of the most popular irons of all time!
What Makes Ping Eye 2 Irons Illegal?
Ping Eye 2 Irons made between 1984 and 1990 are illegal in top-level professional play because the grooves are non-conforming. As of 1990, only V-shaped grooves are conforming and the Ping Eye 2 grooves were heavily suspected of providing dramatically more spin, although 3rd party tests have indicated that the effect was likely not very significant, and maybe only relevant in very specific conditions of rough.
Are All Ping Eye 2 Irons Illegal?
No. There are Ping Eye 2 irons that have conforming grooves still in circulation. Only from 1984 to 1990 were the clubs made with U-shaped grooves.
Furthermore, even the U-shaped Ping Eye 2 grooves are still legal under general USGA play until 2024, and only banned by top-level USGA and professional tour events.
All 1984-1990 Ping Eye 2 irons are non-conforming according to the R&A, however.
To see a detailed breakdown of how all of Ping’s old clubs do or do not fit into current USGA and R&A groove rules, click here.
What Does It Mean When Irons Are Illegal?
It means that one of the governing bodies like the USGA, the R&A, or another local tournament committee or professional tour administration has deemed that the club does not fit within certain parameters specified by the rules of the governing body. This is done to put a limit on some modifications to equipment that would provide an unfair advantage. Some clubs are manufactured as intentionally non-conforming for recreational golfers, some were conforming but are no longer due to rules changes, and other clubs can become non-conforming (or “illegal”) through wear-and-tear or after being altered intentionally or unintentionally.
Can Illegal Ping Eye 2 Irons Be Used For Recreational Play?
Yes. There are no rules governing recreational play other than what the participants choose to enforce. Many people still play and have fun with Ping Eye 2 clubs because they are some of the best performing and most well made golf clubs of all time. The issue with the grooves is pretty insignificant for a non-elite player and probably could never be noticed or make much difference.
RELATED: How To Clean Golf Clubs
What Is The Penalty For Using Illegal Ping Eye 2 Irons In Competitive Play?
The penalty for making a stroke with a non-conforming club in a USGA-sanctioned event is disqualification.
If a non-conforming club is in the bag, but the player does not use it, then there is no penalty, but that club still counts towards the 14-club limit that a player can carry.
For more details, consult USGA rule 4.1.
What Makes Ping Eye 2 Irons So Good?
The Ping Eye 2 irons became the best-selling irons of all time not because of one feature, but because it was the first club to really combine several innovative features and essentially create an entire new category of golf club - the perimeter weighted, oversize, high offset “game improvement” iron.
One of the more underrated aspects of the Eye 2 irons was that the combination of features made them a great club choice for both men and women to enjoy!
RELATED: List Of Ping Irons By Year
There were several precursors to the Ping Eye 2 and it took almost a decade of iterations for Solheim to come up with the Ping Eye design and then refine it to the Ping Eye 2. Solheim viewed the golf club head as a tennis racquet and wanted to recreate the forgiveness and perimeter-weighted feel of a tennis racket in the form of a golf iron.
Because of this perimeter weighting, the sweet spot is effectively maximized, with an almost “trampoline” effect possible when hitting the center of the face. The first perimeter weighted clubs are also what made it possible for manufacturers to lower the loft of the golf club, which makes it easier to present more of the sweet spot to the ball at impact while maintaining high launch conditions.
Perimeter weighting of the Ping Eye 2’s and their descendents and imitators benefitted from less deflection than blade irons. On off-center hits, the club face will twist open (toe hit) or closed (heel hit) and deflect the face off-line to a certain degree through impact, but this weighting provides more stability and forgiveness on off-center hits.
Easy To Launch
The final advantage of the perimeter weighting is that there is more mass concentrated at the bottom of the club face, which produces higher launch conditions. This led to engineers lowering the lofts in order to give more distance, because these new irons could still launch the ball high even with a delofted club face, producing maximum distance. Compared to today’s game improvement clubs, however, the Ping Eye 2’s are considered to be very “traditional” or “weak” lofts.
All of these factors combined to produce the most coveted thing for a golfer - an increase in consistency without a decrease in distance. This has been an age-old trade off in golf, and Karsten Solheim broke the equation and allowed expert and amateur golfers alike to rake in the benefits of both for the first time.
Why are Ping Eye 2 so popular?
Ping Eye 2 irons were originally popular because they were the first club on the market to combine several tweaks and innovations and essentially invent the “super game improvement” category of club. The clubs were so well-built that they have lasted for generations, and were so well-engineered that they can still perform remarkably well against clubs that are 30 years younger and feature the same basic innovations (perimeter weighting, offset, etc.) that super game improvement club makers are using today.
RELATED: Titleist 620 CB Irons Review
What year did they stop making Ping Eye 2?
The last Ping Eye 2’s were made in 1990. They were replaced by the Ping Eye2+ after an eight year run beginning in 1982.
Is Ping Eye 2 beryllium copper?
The BeCu Ping Eye 2’s were the ones that actually started all of the controversy. While none of the regulations cite any difference, it was the BeCu models that gained the reputation amongst TOUR pros for really adding a lot of spin and caused the calls for the clubs to be banned.
RELATED: How To Choose Golf Irons
Did Tiger Woods use Ping Eye 2 irons?
Tiger Woods used Ping Eye 2 irons throughout the latter part of his amateur career, including the 1991, 1992, and 1993 US Junior Amateur Championships and the 1994, 1995, and 1996 US Amateur Championships.
What Do The Dots On PING Eye 2 Mean?
The dots on the Ping Eye 2 mean the same thing that they do on all other Ping irons. The company has a proprietary fitting system that uses color-codes to fit players into lie angles. The color corresponds to a lie angle measurement, and the intent is for players to use their static fitting chart to choose their clubs in lieu of a formal dynamic fitting.
Final Thoughts On Ping Eye 2 Irons
Ping is widely known as one of the best golf brands in the game today. The Ping Eye 2 irons are certainly legendary, and have been super successful at the highest levels, but that isn’t exactly why you saw TOUR pros continuing to use them 20-25 years after they came out.
Despite their success, they came under fire because of a groove adjustment that was originally intended to keep their grooves from chewing up balata balls too quickly. That changed the taper of the grooves and, depending how it was measured, technically made the grooves too close together - by about the thickness of a dollar bill.
This resulted in decades-long court wranglings that involved Ping Eye 2 clubs being grandfathered into the conforming list from 1990 until 2010 when it was agreed to take them out of play for high level competitions immediately, and from all competitions starting in 2024.
The bottom line is that Ping Eye 2 clubs made from 1984-1990 had grooves that were very slightly different, but professional players took notice and started to try to use it to their advantage, resulting an attempt to ban them that was blocked for 20 years by Ping’s court proceedings and subsequent rulings. John Daly, Phil Mickelson, and Fred Couples were amongst the stars who continued to use a Ping Eye 2 wedge long after the sets were considered obsolete, much to the chagrin of some of their fellow competitors.
As of 2010 they are no longer legal for high-level competitive tournaments (USGA, PGA, NCAA, etc.), and as of 2024 they will no longer be legal for any play overseen by the USGA. They have been non-conforming for the R&A since 1996. Irons like the Titleist T300, Mizuno MP-15, and Taylormade M4 are the modern comparison to the once great Ping Eye 2 iron, offering players forgiveness, feel, and distance all in one package.
RELATED: Lazrus Golf Irons Review
But if your play isn’t sanctioned by one of these governing bodies, and you have a set of Ping Eye 2’s, feel free to enjoy them as long as they last while playing with your buddies at a local course or in a charity outing, etc. - they’re absolutely great golf clubs, even to this day!