Florida Man Dumps Irons for Hybrids and Rekindles Interest in Life


Scott Armatti is a forty-six-year-old special-education teacher at a high school in central Florida; he also coaches the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams, and is the football team’s offensive coordinator. He took up golf two years ago, and, like all golfers, he finds the game alternately intoxicating and exasperating. During an especially annoying session at the range, he realized that the only club he was hitting decently was his 5-hybrid (part of a Cleveland Mashie game-improvement set). “When I returned home,” he told me recently, “I ran a Google search for ‘play golf with only hybrids.'” That search turned up a Golf Digest article of mine from 2012, called My Hybrid Advantage, in which I explained why I’d gotten rid of my irons. On eBay, he found a 34-degree X9 Extreme MOI hybrid—the equivalent of an 8-iron—and ordered it:


He told me, “I unwrapped the cellophane at the range, placed the club next to the ball, and immediately had the best swing thought you can ever have: That is juicy—I’m going to crush that little white sucker.” He liked the club so much that he ordered three more from the same series. “Currently, my bag contains my four X9 hybrids, an old Orlimar 3-wood, a driver, a 56-degree sand wedge, and a putter,” he said. “I’ve been playing for a couple of weeks with just these eight clubs. Yesterday, I played a local course with my son, who was home from college for the weekend, and shot 91 from the middle tees. I wasn’t hitting the driver particularly well, and I missed three gimme putts, but I hit most greens from inside 130 yards (and just missed from 130-160), and I really enjoyed playing golf the entire day.


Armatti grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “My best friend, Gary, and his entire family were big golfers,” he told me. “Gary always tried to get me to play, but I never wanted to ask my parents for clubs, because I was saving my ‘big ask’ for ski equipment. Gary and I were like brothers for most of our lives. He lives in Ft. Meyers now, about three hours away, and two years ago we got to play golf together for the first time.”


Last summer, during a vacation in Michigan, Armatti also got to play with his cousin Cory, on the home course of Northern Michigan State University. “Cory had to rent clubs that day,” Armatti said, “and he didn’t know until we got to the first green that he had been given a junior putter.”


Let’s all try that next.


Shouldn’t You Change the Way You Mark Your Ball?


Some people, when they’re having trouble with their golf game, take a lesson or even sign up for golf school, but others make a slight change in the way they mark their golf ball while also switching to a different color of Sharpie, the official ball-marking pen of the world of golf. At any rate, that’s what I did recently. And—who knows?—maybe my new ball-identification strategy will add thirty or forty yards to my tee shots. In the photo above, the ball on the left is marked with my old, discredited pattern and color, and the ball on the right is marked with my new. I made the change because Rick had suddenly begun marking his ball almost exactly the way I was accustomed to marking mine. Or maybe he’d always marked his ball that way and I’d only just noticed. Either way, I was ready for a change, and I was happy to have an excuse to order an entire box of red Sharpies:


When most golfers mark their ball, they don’t mark it enough, in my opinion. Whatever technique you use, you should make sure you can identify your ball without touching it, no matter how it’s lying on the ground. I use eight widely spaced dots, and even when my ball is in the rough I can almost always see at least a couple of them. Too many players check their ball by picking it up, then putting it back down in an obviously better lie. Who do they think they are? Tom Brady?

Free Golf Balls! (For My Friends and Me)


At a rich-guy club several years ago, I stopped by the golf shop to buy Pro V1s, and when the assistant behind the counter told me how much they were I said, “Oh, no, just a sleeve,” but—ha-ha!—the joke was on me. I bought them anyway, because I didn’t want some kid to think I couldn’t afford fifteen dollars apiece for golf balls. During my round, though, I played away from trouble, and I never went for anything in two. And when I got home I moved three slightly beaten-up Pro V1s from my shag bag to my golf bag, because by doing that, I figured, I was cutting my average cost in half.


Recently, my friends and I have been using significantly less expensive balls, called Vice Pro. They were sent to us by Vice Golf, a German company, whose founders are shown in the photo above.


The company has just started selling in the United States, and it’s eager to receive the tsunami-like marketing boost that follows any association with the Sunday Morning Group. Vice is the official ball of the German Golf Association, and Vice Pro won a gold rating in Golf Digest’s 2015 Hot List, and Titleist has endorsed the design, in a way, by suing the company (and several others) for copying the Pro V1’s patented dimple pattern.


One of the many lawyers in SMG worked for Callaway during its (successful) lawsuit against Titleist over something similar, and the lawsuit took forever so I know from experience that we won’t have to send our balls back to Germany anytime soon. And that’s a good thing because everybody seems to like them—and not only because the ones we got have our (unpatented) logo on them. (Vice offers several personalization options.)


Vice balls are sold only online. The ones we got were a great price (free); they’re more expensive if have to pay for them ($35 a dozen for the top-of-the-line Pro balls), but they’re still cheaper than the competition, and they’re even cheaper if you’re willing to order more than one dozen at a time. (If you buy five or more, the price drops to $25 a dozen.) The shipping cost ($7) is the same no matter how many you order—a further incentive to stock up. Tim has already re-ordered, and as soon as we’ve got some cash in our slush fund we’ll think about adding the Vice logo to our Jägermeister sweatshirts or our Famous Smoke Shop hats.


Pi Day: How Long is “One More Roll”?


When a ball stops on the rim of the cup, golfers and TV announcers often say that it needed “one more roll” or “one more rotation.” But they’re wrong, and Pi Day—which celebrates the discovery of the mathematical ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference, and is celebrated for obvious reasons today, on 3/14—is the ideal time to explain why. A golf ball, to be legal, has to be at least 1.68 inches in diameter. That means that its circumference—the length of “one more roll”—is at least 3.14 times 1.68, or 5.28 inches. And that length is eerily similar to one that was in the news earlier this month. Coincidence?

Golf-gear Innovations From a U. S. Marine

Mike Shelley spent five years in the United States Marine Corps. Among the pieces of equipment that he and his buddies found indispensable were slender lengths of nylon kernmantle rope, known popularly as 550 cord, paracord, or parachute cord. (That’s Shelley on the left in the photo below.)


“I was in a special operations unit,” he told me recently. “We’d carry a compass in one pocket, a knife in another pocket, fire starters in another pocket, whatever. And to keep all that stuff from getting lost we had our combat utility uniforms retrofitted so that every pocket had a little loop sewn inside it. You’d tie a length of parachute cord to your gear and another to the loop in a pocket, and that way you would know that, when you jumped from a helicopter into the ocean in the middle of the night, your gear couldn’t fall out and sink to the bottom.”


Shelley entered an MBA program when he got out of the Marines, and in 2010, as a class project, he founded an online company called SGT KNOTS. “I bought five spools of parachute cord, and I tried to think of everything I could possibly make from it, to put it out there and see what would sell,” he said. “I was really only trying to teach myself about e-commerce, but about three days after I launched SGT KNOTS a catalog company that supplies police departments all over the country contacted me and said they wanted to start buying parachute-cord survival bracelets, 500, 1,000 at a time. So there I was, in my basement, sitting on my couch, making these things as fast as I could for three weeks straight.”


He rapidly expanded his manufacturing capability, in part by connecting with an inmate work program at a county jail in New Hampshire. Today, SGT KNOTS sells not just a large variety of finished items but also spools of paracord and other raw materials, which are popular with people who make stuff to sell from card tables at flea markets and gun shows.


My first purchase from SGT KNOTS was a package of three paracord zipper pulls. I attached one to the zipper on my golf bag’s waterproof pocket, which is where I keep my wallet and my phone while I’m playing golf:


And I used the others to replace two frayed zipper pulls on my favorite golf-trip suitcase:


My SGT KNOTS pulls are easy to spot and grab, and the ones on my suitcase are clearly visible from all the way across an airport luggage carousel. Warning: SGT KNOTS zipper pulls aren’t cheap, and the metal clasp on each one is big — too big to fit through the eye of the metal pull on the zipper in the fly of your jeans (for example). Here’s one of my SGT KNOTS zipper pulls next to a chintzy one that it replaced:


But for the right applications they’re worth the investment, and in an emergency you could unknot the cord on one and use it to garrote an annoying match-play opponent (say), or replace a broken lace a golf shoe, or do a little impromptu fishing in a water hazard:

Shelley himself took up golf a couple of years ago. (That’s him on the right in the photo below.) “I never thought about these zipper pulls for golf bags,” he told me, “but I’m always looking for new ideas. I could make a custom zipper pull for a golfer, so that the colors would match the bag, and I could put a different loop on the end. I think my StretchFit Elastic Laces, which are made from bungee cord, are fantastic for golf shoes. They hug your foot, and you can adjust how much they hug.”


I can think of other golf applications—like, how about a cord to attach your putter headcover to your golf bag, so that you don’t have to keep retrieving it from the lost-and-found? (A Marine would call that a “dummy cord.” Good name.) Or a paracord monkey fist for the beer opener you keep in your golf bag—useful for breaking up ice? You may have ideas of your own. If so, let Shelley know. If we ask nicely, he might make stuff just for us.


“We used so much paracord in the Marines that we would joke about it,” Shelley said. “Like, if you can’t fix it with duct tape or parachute cord, it can’t be fixed.”

Change Your Own Grips and Win a New Driver!


Two days before my friends and I left for Scotland and Ireland, last spring, I decided to replace the grips on all my golf clubs, both as a gesture of respect to the great courses we’d be visiting and as a way of avoiding work. A few weeks before, I’d bought thirteen Lamkin Crossline Full Cord grips and a bunch of gripping supplies, all from Golfsmith.

lamkin crossline

Changing your own grips is pretty easy, and if you get stuck there are lots of helpful instructional videos on YouTube, including the one at the bottom of this post. I changed my grips in my basement. You’ll notice that before I began I cleared a clean work space:


I did my driver last. I placed it in my bench vise, to hold it steady, and used a rubber vise clamp (also sold by Golfsmith) to protect the shaft. I tightened the vise, and then, to make sure the club was extra secure, I gave the vise one more turn—and when I did that the shaft cracked longitudinally.
One of the great things about modern drivers is that if you crack a shaft you can easily replace it all by yourself. But when I went to the golf shop at my club to buy a new one I discovered that this year’s Callaway driver shafts (which is what the shop had in stock) don’t fit last year’s Callaway drivers (which is what I owned): the little locking attachment thingy is different.
That made me furious but also glad, because it meant that, because we were leaving the country the next day, I had no alternative but to buy a new driver.


When we got to Scotland, though, I decided that I didn’t like my new driver (I hadn’t had time to try it before we left). That night, I emailed my pro at home and asked him to order me a new shaft for my old driver, so that I could switch as soon as we got back. But then, the next day, I decided that I did like my new driver. In fact, I loved it! By then, though, the new shaft was already on a UPS truck somewhere.

So now I feel like the luckiest, smartest guy in the world, because I have one and a half brand-new drivers, and I paid for them partly with money I saved by changing my own grips.

Reader’s Trip Report: Northeastern Scotland

Fraserburgh Golf Club, Scotland, March 13, 2014.

Fraserburgh Golf Club, Scotland, March 13, 2014.

Seth Low, a reader and, not incidentally, a member of the Sunday Morning Group, recently returned from a winter trip to Aberdeen, Scotland. It wasn’t a golf trip, but he hung around for a few extra days and played several courses I like a lot—among them Fraserburgh, shown above. Excerpts from his report:

The non-business portion of my trip started in St. Andrews. I did some local scouting at the Keys Bar, where I ran into Dave, an American expat who has lived in St. Andrews, on and off, for twenty-seven years. He caddies during the golf season and, as far as I could tell, hangs out at the Keys in the off season. 

seth low keys bar

The next day, I took a train to Carnoustie, half an hour to the north. Perhaps because of the time of year, or perhaps because of the weather, I went out solo, no one in front of me or behind me. I muscled an ugly 4-iron into the wind, and then had my first go at hitting from a “winter mat.” Apparently, these are standard in Scotland. I am not a good golfer, but I can generally get the ball headed in the right direction. However, I could not master the mat. My reward for a good drive was inevitably a sculled iron.

seth low winter mat

I found myself hoping I would miss the fairway, to be spared the mat, and when my ball landed close to the rough I kicked it in. It was interesting to find myself in this alternate golf reality, and I spent a good deal of time wondering what it said about me as a golfer (and as a person) that I was more comfortable playing from what most people think of a bad lie.

Fourth green, Carnoustie. The white stuff on the ground (not the ball) is hail.

Fourth green, Carnoustie. The white stuff on the ground (not the ball) is hail.

Next, I headed north, to Fraserburgh, and, once again, went out on my own. I was the beneficiary of a new employee, who told me that mats were unnecessary, despite signs saying otherwise. The course wanders through the shoreline dunes and is truly spectacular.

Fraserburgh Golf Club, thirteenth hole.

Fraserburgh Golf Club, thirteenth hole.

To navigate among the dunes, I had to follow the signs carefully, which wasn’t always easy. If wondered if they were in Doric, a dialect spoken by folks in the area, but it turned out that they had just been beaten up by a long and windy winter.

seth low doric sign

On my last day in Scotland, I headed west from Fraserburgh, at the recommendation of this blog, to play Cullen Golf Club. [Editor’s note: No one who asks me for a Scottish golf recommendation will escape being told about Cullen.] The clubhouse was empty, so I wandered around until a member came in and showed me some clubs I could use. I managed to assemble an almost-full set, consisting of a couple of Wilsons, a couple of irons of an unrecognizable brand, and a Fazer Contender 404 driver:

seth low golf bag

Cullen’s fairways weave across each other, and there is a complex set of bells and “yielding” protocols that the locals know. The course is complicated by a right-of-way that allows walkers to get from the ridge above the course to the beach below. All in all, it was a somewhat hectic scene, and I was happy to be joined by Graeme, a local member, who was out for a Sunday round. Like many in the area, he worked on a fishing boat before getting a job in the oil-and-gas industry. Now he is a cook on an oil rig, where he works two weeks on, two weeks off, four weeks on, four weeks off—leaving plenty of time for golf. I came away with what I hope will be a new addition to my golf lexicon: “hitting into the skink.” I am not sure what it means, but I like the way it sounds.

The first hole, second tee, fifteenth green, sixteenth tee, seventeenth green, and eighteenth hole at Cullen.

The first hole, second tee, fifteenth green, sixteenth tee, seventeenth green, and eighteenth hole at Cullen.

A Golfer’s Dream House, at a Very Deep Discount

IMG_0861Edwin Watts Golf Shops filed for bankruptcy last year, and the company was later bought by Worldwide Golf Enterprises, which operates a number of similar chains, among them Golf Mart and Golfers’ Warehouse. Worldwide will keep the Edwin Watts brand, but it’s closing a number of the old stores outright. I saw one of those in Orlando over the weekend. (I was in the area on a Golf Digest assignment.) Most of the decent golf stuff had sold already—there weren’t many gloves left between ladies’ extra-small and men’s extra large, for example—but some of the other merchandise was intriguing.


They were selling almost everything, including waste baskets and coffee makers, and I realized that a lot of the stuff would look good in my house. For example, the fitting room ($1,200) contained a bench and a full-length mirror, and would make a cool personal locker room. It was quite spacious inside, yet it wasn’t so huge that it would overwhelm, say, the piano in our living room:

IMG_0863I store my old golf clubs in old golf bags in my attic and garage, but if I had a couple of these display units ($125 each) I could keep them out in the open, where people would be able to see them:

IMG_0859For the walls, there were many choices, at a range of price points. For example, art:

IMG_0854Plus more utilitarian stuff—although I don’t mean to suggest that “useful” necessarily means “unattractive”:

IMG_0855Anyway, my problem was that I was flying home the next day, and I was already pushing the limit on carry-on luggage. I was tempted, though. Don’t you think your golf shirts would look cooler hanging on these?


We Have a Winner; Plus, Good Shoes for Winter Golf


On New Year’s Eve, I challenged readers to identify a golf course and an intriguing locker-room accessory, based on a photo similar to the one above. There were several pretty good guesses regarding the locker-room accessory, but only one (by email) that nailed the golf course, too. That golf course is D. Fairchild Wheeler, known to regulars as the Wheel, a muny owned by the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut (although it’s actually next door, in the town of Fairfield).

P1110513The winner was Dave Malloy, a reader in Trumbull (another neighboring town). He wrote: “That’s the locker room at the Wheel. Red Course is open all year. Black Course is a diamond in the rough. Oh, function. Drinks, baby! Ashtrays, too, at one point, I was told. Always loved that locker room.”

P1110371-001There are other uses, too, as the photo above shows. And according to Stephen P. Roach, the head pro, regulars also treat the things as stand-up card tables—a great idea. I asked Malloy to tell me about himself and his golf. He wrote:

I am an 18-handicap hack who can lose balls impressively deep in the woods, both hooking and slicing. Fifty-two years old. Most of my golf is nine holes late Saturday or Sunday afternoon at Tashua Knolls, in Trumbull. Three kids and a full sports schedule kill golf until late June, then sports start up again in September. Grew up in Stamford playing Hubbard Heights and Sterling Farms. Occasionally enjoy away rounds at Smith-Richardson, Longshore, Oxford Greens. Play Highlands and Pines in Dennis, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Took one lesson, and at the end of it the pro gave me a free can of tennis balls. 

As promised, a disappointing prize is on its way to him, Winter Storm Hercules be damned. Meanwhile, my friends and I have played three rounds at the Wheel in the past week, including our final round of 2013 (on New Year’s Eve) and our first round of 2014 (on New Year’s Day).

The Sunday Morning Group visits the Black Course at the Wheel, January 1, 2014.

The Sunday Morning Group plays the Black Course at the Wheel. First tee, January 1, 2014.

When we teed off on New Year’s Day, at 9:30 or so, our cars were still the only ones in the parking lot. Where was everybody else? Home fretting over their New Year’s resolutions, maybe.

IMG_0027Playing golf in bad weather is easier if you have the right equipment. Remarkably, my friend Hacker (real name) and I both received winter golf shoes for Christmas. How did our wives know? It’s like a short story by O. Henry. My new shoes are Nike Lunar Bandon IIs:

nike bandon

They look a little like ski boots, but my winter golf clothes increasingly look like ski clothes, so I shouldn’t complain. They’re not as slipper-like or as comfortable as my beloved True Linkswear shoes, but they seal up tight, and, so far, I have nothing bad to say about them. I also like to wear them when I walk the dog in the snow.

nike bottom

Santa brought Hacker’s new shoes all the way from England. They’re made by a company called Stuburt, and they also look like boots:

stubur bootHacker loves them, but when he got home on Saturday, the first day he’d worn them, he discovered that seven of the cleats had fallen out while we were playing.


Cliff Dews.

Cliff Dews.

He emailed the company to complain, and, a couple of days later, heard back from Cliff Dews, a representative of the distributor. “From your description,” Dews wrote, “I can only assume that you did not notice the label on the sole unit which explains that the studs are only hand tight during the manufacturing process and that they should be fully tightened before use.” I love England, but the only other country I can think of where they do things this way is Canada. If you’re willing to go to the trouble of printing up labels and sticking them to the soles of shoes, why not spend another ten seconds and screw the things all the way in?

stuburt boot spikesBesides, as Hacker pointed out, there had been no such labels on the bottoms of his shoes or, indeed, anywhere in the box, which had contained just “the shoes and bubble pack.” At any rate, Dews did the decent thing, “despite our instruction label not being actioned,” and promised to send Hacker a new set of studs. And that’s the end of it—or so I hope.

What’s In My Bag, Part Five: Awesome New Putter

Daddy LLTony bought a new putter and told me he couldn’t miss anything with it. I tried it and couldn’t miss anything with it, either. Then Tony went on a golf-free trip with his wife. I asked him if I could use his putter while he was gone (and keep it if anything happened to him on the trip). He said I could, and told me where to find the key to his garage—unnecessarily, it turned out:

Tony's wife, Teresa, tied pink yarn to the key, to make it easier for burglars to find.

Tony’s wife, Teresa, tied pink yarn to the key, to make it easier for burglars to see. Like them, I spotted it immediately.

New putters always work for a day or two, but Tony’s putter worked for the entire time he was gone, and just before he got back I bought one for myself. Meanwhile, Chic—entirely independently—went to Golfers’ Warehouse, as an alternative to throwing himself off Bad Putters’ Leap, and, after trying every putter in the store, he came home with one, too. That made three of us, and I just learned that Dan now has one as well.


The putter is the Daddy Long Legs, by TaylorMade. The company has scientific-sounding explanations for why it works so well, but, for all I know, they make that stuff up. Whatever the real reasons are, it’s by far the best putter I’ve ever owned. It comes in two sizes—one with a thirty-five-inch shaft, and one with a thirty-eight-inch shaft—and I now own both.

Tony and his Daddy Long Legs, on the way to winning the senior division of a local amateur tournament back in July.

Tony and his Daddy Long Legs, on the way to winning the senior division of the Danbury Amateur, back in July.

There’s an old guy at our club who putts with an Acushnet Bullseye, which he recently re-gripped with electrical tape and what looks like tennis-racket tape. That’s ridiculous! It’s a piece of crap! It’s been obsolete for decades!


Back in the early nineteen-nineties, I spent some time with the late Karsten Solheim, the founder of Ping and the inventor of perimeter-weighted putters and irons. Solheim took up golf in the nineteen-fifties, while he was working at General Electric. He putted poorly, but he decided, eventually, that his difficulties were primarily the fault of his equipment. Most putters of that era, including the Bullseye, had heads that were uniform in thickness, so that the weight was evenly distributed from one end to the other. “Hitting a golf ball with one of those putters is like hitting a tennis ball with a Ping-Pong paddle,” he told me. “The weight isn’t in the right places, and it twists in your hands.” In his garage, he took a small rectangular aluminum bar and attached a lead weight to either end. He then attached a shaft near the center of the aluminum bar. With this crude club, he went to the practice green, and found he didn’t have to hit a ball in exactly the right place in order to make it go straight.

Patent drawing for Karsten Solheim's original heel-and-toe-weighted putter,

Patent drawing for Karsten Solheim’s original heel-and-toe-weighted putter, 1962.

Solheim made various refinements, and hawked his putters at tour events. His big break came in 1967, when Julius Boros won the Phoenix Open with a model called the Anser.  (The name had been suggested by Karsten’s wife, Louise, with the idea that the putter would provide an “answer” to Arnold Palmer, who had been unmoved by one of her husband’s demonstrations. Solheim had to leave out the w to fit the name on the back of the putter head.) All modern putters embody his ideas about weighting, in one form or another. And the Daddy Long Legs takes those ideas to a new level.

Karsten and Louise Solheim.

Karsten and Louise Solheim and their wares, early nineteen-sixties.

Or so I assume. At any rate, I love my new putter and, no, you can’t borrow it. You can’t steal it, either, because unlike Tony I don’t keep it in my garage.

(Read Part OnePart Two, Part Three, and Part Four.)

What's In My Bag?

What’s In My Bag?