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More Help than a Guy Needs
Walter Bingham
February 24, 1997
Monster wedges, juiced balls and trick tees diminish golf's old pleasures
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February 24, 1997

More Help Than A Guy Needs

Monster wedges, juiced balls and trick tees diminish golf's old pleasures

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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 guilty.

If anyone wants to buy an Alien wedge, hardly used, see me.

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