One of my first drivers was a beautiful specimen. Persimmon head, painted glossy black, around 260 cc, connected to a steel stiff shaft of 42-43 inches in length. Custom fitted and produced by the renown clubmaker George Izett near Philadelphia. In its day, it was a formidable weapon to attack the mature parkland courses of Philly I played on as a member of Overbrook High’s championship golf team. As a youngster, full of piss and vinegar confidence, I did pretty well with that driver, and its matching three and four woods. Hit on the sweet spot, surrounded by actual screws–hence hitting the ball “on the screws,” as we still say today–I could launch it 200 yards, and more in the winter. Yep, I did layer on three sweatshirts to play on frozen fairways at times in my teen years.
But as the years sped by and as I played less and less, my proficiency with the driver decreased, with changes in design and technology actually hurting me more than helping. So today, with 460 cc composite metal heads, regular 50 gram, 45 inch graphite shafts, and super adjustability, I still only get 200 yards, more or less, and poorer accuracy than when playing with my trusty persimmon driver. Of course I don’t play or practice nearly as much as I did in my teens, am no longer competitive, resulting in much less consistency with my driver.
Consequently, I’ll buy a new driver, based on the latest hype, having good results initially, but often followed by a downward slide leading to decent results on about half my drives. The other half? I’ll refrain from the language I have in mind on this family-oriented blog. I look at the monster head, that huge sweet spot, all those adjustments, that feather like feel (or no feel) of the club as a whole, and the only feel I feel is a little lost. It’s like that old relatively heavy, short, steel-shafted persimmon driver were still embedded in my operating memory expecting more work on my part to make it work properly. And modern drivers, with so much “forgiveness” built in, it’s as if I can more depend on the club to do the work of “putting a good swing on it” instead of my own expertise. Back in persimmon days, we hadn’t yet heard of the concept of forgiveness in golf equipment. There were no cavity-backed irons with perimeter weighting. Everybody played with blades. There were no low or high spin balls. You had one choice and you’d better know how to control it or you were in the woods…often. Of course, I’m no Luddite: today’s balls would not realistically allow me to return to persimmon, and my advanced age and questionable skills would not allow a return to blades.
Now lately, one particular driver ad has caught my eye as it’s the only one I’ve ever seen that boasts the fact that its head is much smaller than the bloated heads of modern drivers. In fact it’s only slightly larger than my Izett of old. And the length of the shaft is also shorter than what is now considered normal. About 43 inches. Their ad says to swing it like a 7-iron, from a tee or the turf, and get the same distance and better accuracy as you would with your present driver. Now I’m wary about buying any golf clubs from the internet. I like to hoist a club, inspect the feel, swing it, hit some balls into nets or on the range, if possible. But this ad does offer a 60-day money back guarantee on a 199 buck retail price. Tempting. I imagined, as the ad boys hoped I would, a panacea for my driving inconsistency. Light, short, small, swing like a 7, more easily controlled, similar distance. Tempting, indeed. They’ve captured my interest, the roots of my desires. These golf entrepreneurs/psychologists have tapped into the frustrations of yet another handicap golfer who longs for distance and accuracy with the driver. They even assert that, with practice, you can use the club for approach shots off the turf. Yes, tempting.
And I totally agree with their spiel, asking “Do you really think pros play drivers designed for amateurs? Of course they don’t. In that case, why should amateurs play drivers designed for pros?” However, I haven’t yet pulled the trigger–remember Kevin Na?–and bought the club. I guess I feel like I should be able to master the modern mega-missile, tip-toeing on the hot coals of golf hell like the rest of my golf buds. My ego sits on one shoulder chiding me to man-up and learn to hit that snake now in my bag. You know how far you can hit that thing when you connect with solid contact, it tells me. And on the other shoulder sits the iconoclast urging me to try out this rebel of versatility, an avenue that could take you back to the old days when you drove the ball with the confidence of a Palmer or Nicklaus, big hitters who were reigning supreme at that time. Hmmm. Tempting. Who to listen to, as I turn my head from one shoulder to the other?
Am heading up to Bandon for a buddy trip in June. That rad driver might be perfect up there, with all that roll on tight fescue and bentgrass fairways, the need to keep it out of the gorse, heather, impossibly deep traps, and the wild dropoffs down to desolate sands by the Pacific. Or use that two-hybrid I bought about a year ago as a driver substitute when I got to my rope’s end when my Big Dog just wouldn’t bite. It’s a good tool when the wind isn’t blowing, which, however, at Bandon, it always is…hard. Hybrids tend to balloon if launched too high. Or maybe I’ll stick with the Big Dog, keep struggling until I find a go-to swing that I can stick with at least through one entire round. I hate it when I start changing swings at mid round.
So, yes, the driver is driving me a little nuts at the intersection of the physical and mental of golf. YouTube, with its zillion theories on proper driver swing technique, is not helping either. And watching pro tournaments for driving tips is even worse. But I will work this out…or die trying. I am a golfer, after all. I don’t give up easily in the face of intense suffering, especially as a Buddhist golfer. I notice the suffering. I allow it. I acknowledge it will “arise and pass away.” And I very mindfully consider breaking the bloody club over my knee.
From my perspective Lexi Thompson was assessed a four-shot penalty at the ANA major for turning her ball a bit before replacing it exactly on her marker, which she never moved. Whoever emailed in that she moved the ball off the marker was mistaken, and should pack and move to Russia where fake news is encouraged. Not only didn’t Lexi cheat, she was cheated out of a second major victory. But she’s young and tough and talented. She’ll be back.
The price of my book, The Mindful Golfer, continues to plunge. A Buddhist perspective on golf, it’s is a hard sell, I know, but, at its current price, it’s worth a look, at least, for use as a conversational doorstop…or maybe even an entertaining read. Check it out at.
Check out the magical artistry of Dustin Johnson: