Feb. 24, 1997
Feb. 24, 1997

Table of Contents
Feb. 24, 1997

Faces In The Crowd


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."

This is an article from the Feb. 24, 1997 issue Original Layout

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]