The dawn of my golfing debauchery was my last birthday, when my
wife gave me a metal driver with a bright golden head the size
of a cantaloupe. "Will turn your 200-yard drives into 250," said
an advertisement that came in the box. "Whiplike shaft action."
And, of course, that old saw "Greater sweet spot."
I tested the club with my two golfing buddies that very day. For
six holes the results were inconclusive. Two of my drives failed
to get airborne, two more sliced violently--"banana balls," my
friends called them--and two of the holes were par-3s. But on
the 7th I caught one just right, and my ball soared majestically
in the air, landing dangerously close to a creek I had
previously reached only in two. I was ecstatic; my friends were
awed. While I can't say the new club lowered my score
dramatically, it did create some magical moments: I reached a
par-5 in two. I nearly drove the green on a short par-4. My
friends started to call me Tiger, and I began to win our matches
more often than before.
Step 2 in my moral downslide took place after the arrival of a
mail-order catalog advertising a variety of items such as Swiss
Army knives, CD players and pocket flashlights. Thumbing through
the pages I came upon a picture of a sleeve of golf balls called
the Desperado. The accompanying text called the Desperado a
"bandit ball," admitted that it didn't conform to USGA
specifications and guaranteed that it would travel 10 to 15
yards farther than the ball I was using. Wow! The illegality of
the ball bothered me not a whit. My friends and I are very rules
lenient. We play lift, clean and place even if it hasn't rained
in a month. Should a ball come to rest beneath a bush or even in
the pines, we allow a drop of a full club length. Under
conditions that tolerant, why should any of us care what name is
printed on the cover of a golf ball? I couldn't wait to marry my
golden-headed driver to a Desperado.
But there was more. On the very next page of the catalog was an
ad for a bright orange plastic tee shaped like a goblet split
down the middle, top to bottom. Hooks and slices, the ad copy
pointed out, occur when the club face creates spin on the ball,
but if a golfer used this tee, the driver would be hitting
plastic, not the ball, eliminating spin. No hooks, no
slices--hence, more distance. Each tee, the copy said, would
last for several rounds.
I immediately ordered a dozen balls and a dozen tees. I began
driving the ball even farther--smack into that creek one
day--and thanks to my plastic tee, I rarely sliced. My scores,
generally in the high 80s on our rinky-dink course, were several
strokes lower, and I was beating my friends regularly.
By this time I was like a drunken sailor. I bought an Alien
wedge guaranteed to get me out of any bunker. Greg Norman's
Secret, a plastic brace with a Velcro strap to keep the wrist at
the proper angle through the swing--mine! And, of course, I had
to get the SmartGrip beeper with electronic sensors that
signaled when I swung improperly, which was most of the time.
I'm not sure exactly when I realized that although my scores
were lower, I wasn't having as much fun as I used to. My friends
weren't wee Scots--as in "Play it as it lies, laddie"--nor were
they using hickory shafts, but neither were they walking golf
advertisements as I had become. I may have won three of four of
our skins games, but was it me or my illegal ball, the plastic
tee or the Alien? I had once taken great pride in my ability to
play out of a bunker; now the Alien wedge did it for me. As my
friends and I drove home, it seemed there were more silences
among us, less camaraderie.
So one day I junked every one of the gadgets, saving only the
golden driver as any considerate husband would. I'm back to
slicing, and I don't necessarily outdrive my friends now, but
our skins games are competitive again. When I hit a good shot,
it's all mine, and I no longer leave the field of battle feeling
If anyone wants to buy an Alien wedge, hardly used, see me.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF WONG [Drawing of two men watching gadget-laden man address golf ball]