The problem with the world, cried the title character in the 1981 film My Dinner with André, is electric blankets. They are symbolic of the artificiality so rampant today, he said. Whatever happened to quilts and good old-fashioned body heat?
I kept thinking about electric blankets after a green publicity folder landed on my desk. "Dunlop Announces the Impossible," the cover proclaimed. "Clubs that reduce slice, add distance and actually improve your swing." Sure, I thought, and when you hit the ball out of bounds, the clubs hurl themselves away in disgust. But Dunlop thinks enough of these new John Jacobs System golf clubs to produce twice as many 11-club sets—at a list price of $749 per—as it does of all its other clubs combined, and I'm willing to defer to the guys in market research on this one. No, my problem with the Jacobs clubs is philosophical. To me, they seem a way of cheating.
I'm not speaking from an ivory tee box. They'll be wearing leg warmers in Haiti before I break 80. But I feel hopeful that I can become a competent golfer, knowing I am the same age (23) as Calvin Peete was when he first picked up a club, and I have a 15-year head start on him. My lefthanded father learned to play golf righthanded at 24 and had a five handicap. He tried to school his 8-year-old southpaw as he had been schooled. The grand experiment—and his patience—lasted two holes, at which point he ordered me to use the back side of my right-handed clubs.
Despite that dubious start, I know I could play better golf if I spent enough time beating balls. Alas, it is an imperfect world, says Jacobs, 58, a former captain of the British Ryder Cup team, who is the designer of the new clubs. "It would be great if everybody had four hours a day and the weekend to play," he says, the British understatement lurking in his voice. Jacobs is one of the most respected golf teachers in the world. He passed my test the minute we met.
"What is your handicap?" he asked.
"Fifteen," I lied. It's really 20.
"You slice your drives, you pull your short shots and your best club is a six-iron," he announced.
I fought back the impulse to shout, "Wrong, wrong, wrong!" Actually my best club is a five-iron, but Jacobs knew my swing without seeing it, which indicates that most of us duffers make the same errors. Jacobs redesigned the golf club to correct those errors. A slice is caused by imparting sidespin to the ball, the result of an outside-in swing. Fairway woods and medium irons—the duffer's best clubs—are more difficult to slice because of their increased loft. Greater loft allows the club face to make contact at a lower spot on the ball, thus imparting more backspin than sidespin. Jacobs increased the loft on the woods and long irons to take advantage of this. To compensate for the higher trajectory and loss of distance, he repositioned the weight of the club higher in the face. Jacobs also made the lie of the club more upright, the lie being the angle formed by the shaft and the heel of the club head when the latter is on the ground. The greater the angle, the less chance there is of leaving the club face open at impact, which means squarer contact and less sidespin and slicing. Jacobs designed a slightly closed club face for the same reason.
There are some other, less significant changes, ranging from thinner grips (for better control) to an angled decal on the woods (to encourage the golfer to take the club back correctly). Jacobs guarantees the clubs will help, with one caveat. "We don't say we can make everybody a scratch golfer," he says. "There's no substitute for ability."
I consider improving my lie in the rough a substitute for ability—if I had any of the latter, I wouldn't be in the former difficulty. The same principle applies to the clubs. If I had a sweet swing, I wouldn't slice, and I'd rather try to improve my swing than use a gimmick, no matter how well-conceived it may be. If this makes me a purist, so be it. Of course, I don't like the designated hitter system either. Unfortunately, it has become solidly entrenched, as, I imagine, will these clubs. Most double-digit handicappers would rub cellulite removal cream on their woods and irons if they thought it would keep them from hitting the ball fat. So Dunlop will sell a lot of these clubs, and maybe some strokes will be saved. If it were up to me, I'd wrap them all up in an electric blanket and bury them beneath a sand trap.