Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Super-Size Me?

I am not an impulse buyer.

More than once, I have half-joked that just about the only purchases I make that aren’t subject to either comparison shopping or “let me go home and sleep on it for a night” are the half-gallons of milk I pick up at the local market. (And only because I’ve done my comparison shopping already, so, no need now.)

During the trips I’ve made to my favorite driving range this month, I’ve kept an eye on a little grove of golf clubs near the cashier’s window. The clubs’ grip ends are stuck into a wooden box with appropriate-sized holes drilled in it. Their club-head ends reach eagerly toward the people handing over bucks in exchange for buckets of practice golf balls. Their price tags flap in the breeze.

Over the course of the last year, since the first day I dragged my new bag full of discount golf clubs to that driving range, set myself up as far as geographically possible from any other human, certainly including the gentleman who ran the joint, and attempted to make the club face meet the ball, I have undergone an relatively minor-league transformation. I have gone from zero to something.

I began with no discernible long-distance hitting ability. Through a summer of self-diagnosis (and three actual formal lessons with a Golf Pro), I acquired the capacity to actually strike golf balls on purpose. I do sometimes hit a hot grounder to shortstop, but for the most part the missiles go up and out. It’s now rare that I can’t at least keep the ball inside the foul lines.

I can now reliably hit a golf ball from one end zone to, and over, the far end zone. Conveniently, that driving range of mine features a bunker which Google Maps tells me is 100 meters from my favorite tee. It’s a fine way to judge that at least I can get that far. There’s another bunker 150 meters out, and I’ve hit that one on occasion, though certainly not with consistency.

The cut-rate driver that I acquired at what I’ve come to call the Annual Mad Scramble For Loot golf equipment sale seemed to me, at the time, a formidable instrument. The club head was nicely threatening-looking, I thought, at least if you were a golf ball – probably because I’d only ever owned a putter and a scrubby little iron, so it was the only club head in my bag that didn’t look like it could double as a butter knife. But I took a few swings with this thing and it made a satisfying noise: mostly “thwack”, with a nice aftertaste of “pang”. Unless I made incomplete contact, in which case the whole range heard more of a “tunk”, followed by two gentle hissings. One hiss was made by the ball cutting the tops off the nearby blades of grass. The other came from betwixt my teeth; a four-letter word with the last two letters similarly excised.

This morning, I paid my standard pittance and collected my golf ball bucket from the driving range general manager, who today smiled and said, “ah! One of my regulars.” Yep, I’m your five-bucks-every-third-day guy. I set my bag down at my usual faraway tee. Stretched a bit. Tried to hit proper iron shots off an artificial turf mat. (That nearly never works; you can’t make a divot. The iron bounces off the deck and the ball goes bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy for about three car lengths.) Tried to tee off using my hybrid, which did work, to the tune of a hundred yards and a splat of bunker sand, or ninety yards and a slow roll. Nothing unexpected, at least given my current swing.

A little while later, it was my driver, a number-one wood. I have a number-five wood, too, which has, to my eye, a really steep club face angle. No matter what I do, that five sends golf balls more Up than Out. The number-one makes that nice noise, and gets me usually to between 120 and 150 yards. I’m no PGA tour candidate, but when the ball comes to rest, I can’t read its “Calloway” logo, so I’m okay.

Today, though, I got thinking about that little grotto of clubs for sale by the cashier window.

One driver, right in the middle of the group of a dozen or so clubs, looked a bit like a crime boss amidst his minions. It reminded me very strongly of the drivers that Christy Kerr and Keegan Bradley had wielded as they teed off during televised tournaments I’ve watched recently. Which is to say, at first glance the club head looked like it was the size of my head.

This thing was Chewbacca to my number-one driver’s Lassie.

When baseball players choose bats, they have to choose based on criteria that do not include size. Hockey players, and tennis players as well. There are rules. You can’t use a tennis racket that is twice the diameter of your opponent’s; you can’t change the content or the dimensions of your Louisville Slugger; and you can’t even have a hockey stick that is excessively curved, never mind of a different size.

Golfers, apparently, have options.

But in my professional life, I have come to know that a more expensive trumpet won’t make a rank amateur sound like Satchmo. (For that matter, if you buy a bigger trumpet, it’s a marching baritone horn.) So why was I looking longingly at this club? If you have a more menacing-looking driver and you swing badly, the ball still goes astray. A mis-hit is a mis-hit is a mis-hit. Conversely, I would hate to be forced to ascribe a sudden improvement in my game to the addition of different equipment. Somewhere in my psyche, like anyone else’s, there is the need to take at least a little credit. I made this!

I tried to get the owner of the range to let me take that beast out for a test drive. He was reticent, but at least I wasn’t just coming in off the street for the first time. So he put up a slight sales pitch – “that’s a good used club, especially the shaft … pretty new … for seventy-five bucks, a decent deal. No sense paying what you could pay for it new, probably three or four hundred dollars.”

Having done my comparison shopping, my Internet and sporting-goods store homework, and my protracted reconnaissance, I knew all that.

I guess I gave him just enough of a sense that I was genuinely interested in buying it that he relented. He masking-taped the underside of the club, accepted my credit card as collateral (“you break it, you buy it”, after all), and gave me another bucket of projectiles. At his recommendation, I went to find a taller tee to hit off of (“the club face is big enough that if you hit off your usual tee, you’ll hit over the top,” he said). As I set up, I tried to look nonchalant, as if I had done just as much hitting with this size club as had the fella at a nearby tee. Don’t know whether I succeeded, but at least I tried not to think too hard about my swing. Set feet, check shoulders, head down, hit through …

BANG.

Up and over that first bunker … and the second one.

I don’t have one of those high-tech rangefinding devices that get sneakily advertised during the Golf Channel’s “tips from a pro” shows, but I got the idea.

Without a serious set of lessons from a pro, and presumably without pumping a little iron to boot, I’ll never be one of those guys who looks at a par-five 500-yard seventeenth hole and thinks, “eagle.” But my goodness, that was a nice sound to make with a strip of metal and a pair of upper arms.

And then another one. Not quite so much distance as a result of that sound, but comparable.

I was set up on a driving mat that was all the way over on the right-hand end of the row of mats, and so there was no one for my right-handed self to see ahead of me. I could hear the gentleman behind me, though. It sounded as if he was making more than decent contact when he swung … but after every single drive, he took somebody’s name in vain. Or at least made very, very unsatisfied grunts and blowing-out-of-breath sounds. Maybe I was wrong; for all I knew, those irritated noises might have been reacting to shot after shot after shot after shot that looked more like a lacrosse ground ball than any kind of golf shot.

Forty-nine or so of my own swings later, only a couple of which posed a threat to the dandelions, I decided to wander back to the cashier window and make a purchase. But I paused briefly, ostensibly to re-tie my shoes, but really to get a look at the man with the equally-threatening-looking driver and the dim view of his own work.

One of the four shots I watched (I tie slow) cut some grass, but the other three went BANG, up, out, and gone.

So maybe at some point I’ll be be jaded about hitting from one end zone over the far end zone and well into the next guy’s football field, or maybe get frustrated about not being able to do so consistently. But for the moment …

Hee hee hee hee hee.

I wonder if Teddy Roosevelt was a golfer?

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May 18, 2013 - Posted by | golf, sports, technology | , , , ,

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