As I write this, Two Down, my golfing buddy, has barricaded
himself in his basement and said he's not coming out. His wife
asked me to try and talk some sense into him over the phone.

"I already told my wife!" he screamed. "And I'm telling you! I'm
not giving her up! Divorce me! Disgrace me! I just don't care!"

"You're having an affair?" I asked.

"No! My Big Bertha! She means everything to me!"

This all happened after Two Down broke 100 for the first time,
this morning at our club, Ferret Acres. While he was figuring
out how many emergency presses he'd won, plus Giant Skins and
Team Junk, Two Down heard a guy on TV say the USGA is
considering banning titanium drivers like his Big Bertha, not to
mention long-shafted clubs, 60-degree lob wedges, long putters
and hot balls. It's even considering changing the 14-club rule
to 12 or 11. If all that happens, Two Down will be left with
about three ball markers and his Alien Wedge.

His face went clammy. His eyebrow started twitching. He stopped
punching the calculator. By suppertime, he had fried out. "I'm
serious!" he yelled over the phone. "I've got a ball-mark repair
tool in here, and don't think I won't use it!"

I tried to get him to listen to reason.

"Reason? All these comb-overs at the USGA in their blue blazers
are trying to ruin their own golf boom! Is that reasonable? I
mean, how constipated can one group of human beings be? These
guys with initials at the beginning of their names and Roman
numerals at the end? They're taking all the fun out of the game!"

I told Two Down that USGA president F. Morgan Taylor Jr. is
worried that these clubs are making the game too easy.

"Too easy! How long have I been a 30 handicap?"

"Since the Nixon Administration," I answered.

"Exactly! And I'm still a 30! Lemme ask you this: What was the
average American's handicap 20 years ago?"

"Sixteen point eight," I responded.

"What's it now?"

"Sixteen six."

"Ding-ding-ding! See, golf is still harder than Form 1040! All
that these clubs let me do is hit one good drive a month and
maybe make a four-footer once every summer. Is that a felony?"

I explained that the USGA is more worried about extremely long
players like Tiger Woods making historic courses like Augusta
National obsolete.

"Oh, please! What did Mark O'Meara shoot this year to win the
Masters?"

"Two seventy-nine."

"And what did Nicklaus shoot when he won in '86?"

"Two seventy-nine."

"Ding-ding-ding! The USGA isn't worried about Augusta! It's
worried about places like Merion! Those guys want to have U.S.
Opens there so they can drive their Cadillacs down from
Westchester and tell their friends how they skulled a three-iron
into the hole at 15 once!"

I mentioned that it looks as if the Royal & Ancient is going to
back the USGA in all this, out of worry that St. Andrews might
become obsolete.

"What did John Daly shoot to win there in '95?"

"Two eighty-two."

"What did Tony Lema win with there in '64?"

"Two seventy-nine."

"Ding-ding-ding! I mean, why stop here? Why not go back to the
gutta-percha and hickory shafts? Let's all wear ties and
knickers and shoot 301 to win the Open! I'm not going to take it
anymore! Do you realize millions of people have some variation
of the Big Bertha in their bag? I've already called Bill Gates!
Do you realize what kind of boycott we could stage? Tell them
all to stop sending their money to the USGA! Tell them to rip
off their USGA bag tags! Tell them to take free drops out of
lateral hazards! We'll make the USGA obsolete!"

I gave up. I told Two Down that I respected his decision and
would back him all the way, no matter how long he was stuck down
there, even if it meant the end of our regular Saturday game.

There was a long pause. "Three a side, in-flight presses and
doublebacks when you're down?" he finally asked.

"Absolutely," I said.

"I'll start the tunnel."

B/W PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [Rick Reilly]

The comb-overs at the USGA are trying to ruin the golf boom!
They're taking the fun out of the game!

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)