The Single Most Important Ingredient of High-performance Sports Drinks

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I have an article in the current issue of National Geographic about the sense of taste. While I was researching it, Michael Tordoff, a scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, handed me a plastic medicine cup containing a clear liquid and asked me to drink it. It tasted like water. Tordoff said, “You didn’t taste much of anything, but this is something that rats and mice prefer to almost everything else we have ever, ever tested.”

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Tordoff said, “You didn’t taste much of anything, but this is something that rats and mice prefer to almost everything else we have ever, ever tested.” The liquid contained maltodextrin, a kind of starch. If an athlete takes a mouthful of maltodextrin solution and immediately spits it out, he said, the athlete will perform better, despite having tasted and ingested nothing, or next to nothing. “I don’t have a good explanation,” he continued. “There’s something very special about starch that we don’t understand.”

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Some sports drinks contain maltodextrin, but that’s not the ingredient I mean. The ingredient I mean is mildly yucky taste. In foods and beverages that are supposed to be good for you, deliciousness is usually a liability, because people tend to believe that if something tastes good it can’t possibly be beneficial. Several years ago, Mattson, a food-and-development firm in California, was hired by a physician who wanted to develop a supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin, which some people believe relieve the symptoms of arthritis.

Barb Stuckey—who is Mattson’s chief innovation officer and the author of a good book called Taste—told me, “We talked him out of a bar and into a beverage, because in a beverage you can control the calorie count better.”

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They found that “citrus” was better than “berry” at disguising the tastes they were trying to disguise, and that giving the beverage a slightly silky mouthfeel reinforced the idea that it was coating sore joints. But they didn’t make it taste too good. The model there, Stuckey told me, was the popular energy drink Red Bull—which, she said, was purposely given “just the right amount of bad.”

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The photo below is of some other things I tasted when I was at Mattson. They wouldn’t work in a sports drink: they tasted too good.

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Two Good Accessories for Wet-weather Golfers

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The golf team of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro played in a big golf tournament last month (and came in third). Shortly afterward, I spoke with Bob Christina, an assistant coach. “Monday was a 36-hole day, and it rained,” he told me. “You’ve got your umbrella, you’ve got a heavy bag with all this stuff in it, you’ve got everything, and by the time you get through that second 18 you’re having trouble standing up. So we picked up three pushcarts, and the guys loved them.”

There’s still a prejudice against pushcarts in this country, especially among younger players, despite my ongoing campaign to shame all golfers into using them all the time. Still, as Christina says, pushcarts are awesome in the rain, even if you aren’t short enough to take advantage of the umbrella holder that comes with most of the modern ones.

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Recently, I acquired two accessories that make wet-weather pushcart golf even easier. Both are made by Big Max Golf, an Austrian company, which made my current ride, a super-compact “push trolley” called a Big Max Blade +. The first accessory is called the I-Dry Rainsystem:

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It covers the entire bag, and has a transparent hood that fits over the tops of your golf clubs. The hood opens and closes easily—sort of like, I guess, a breadbox. There are only two drawbacks: it’s expensive (eighty dollars or so, at various places online), and it’s made specifically for Big Max trolleys. In fact, even to use it on mine I had to replace the cart’s existing bag-holding “wings” with two included replacement pieces, which the hood snaps into.

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A more economical choice—and one that works on anybody’s pushcart—is the Big Max Rain Safe. You strap it to your golf bag like a miniature parachute:

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 Then you forget about it until it starts to rain, when you unfurl it:

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It’s not as substantial as the I-Dry, but it weighs next to nothing, and it doesn’t get in the way, and you can keep it strapped to your bag even when the sun is shining.

Florida Man Dumps Irons for Hybrids and Rekindles Interest in Life

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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:

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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Let’s all try that next.

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Storage Problem Solved: What to do With Golf Gloves

My club’s clubhouse isn’t much of a clubhouse. The men’s locker room has a few lockers, but they’re tiny and their only real function is to let guests know that what they otherwise might think was just an old storeroom is actually the men’s locker room. Back in the era before Internet pornography, there were four old guys at my club who played together all the time and kept a falling-apart copy of Playboy in one of the lockers, and nowadays the Sunday Morning Group keeps hard liquor locked up in two of them, but that’s about it. Like pretty much everybody else, I store my golf stuff in the trunk of my car (plus the backseat, the floor in front of the backseat, and the floor in front of the front passenger seat).

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To keep my golf gloves organized and easily within reach (both regular and rain), I use their Velcro closures to stick them to the carpet-like lining on the inside of the trunk lid—like this:

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The reason I don’t keep golf stuff in the front passenger seat, too, is that that’s where the dog’s car seat goes:

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Free Golf Balls! (For My Friends and Me)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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Has Anyone Else Had This Problem With Their Rangefinder?

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Last June, I bought a Bushnell Tour Z6 laser rangefinder. It’s not as good at picking up distant targets as my ancient Bushnell PinSeeker 1500 was, but it’s small enough to fit in a pocket, and the battery lasts a long time, and I like it. (I had made myself believe that the PinSeeker was broken, but as soon as the Z6 arrived I discovered that it still worked fine. So I sold it to Kevin for $48 and a ball-marker.)
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My only beef about the Z6 is that the eyepiece, which keeps sunlight off the lens while you’re using it and is the thing you turn to adjust the focus, looks solid but is actually a cheap, floppy rubber tube that’s held in place by nothing but some kind of not-very-strong glue. Here’s the eyepiece:

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Mine came almost all the way off one of the first times I used it, but I pushed it back on and tried to be careful with it. At some point during a round today, though, it disappeared. Here’s what my Z6 looks like now. You can see a tiny, booger-like remnant of the old glue, over on the lower right:

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Has this happened to anyone else?  I didn’t handle it roughly, a lesson I learned with my first rangefinder. I just used it while playing golf. And — Hey, Bushnell! — what am I supposed to do now? Is my rangefinder still waterproof? Can the eyepiece be replaced? Should I try to trick Kevin into selling me back my PinSeeker?

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.)

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“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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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:

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

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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:

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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.”

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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.

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“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.”

Uh-oh: What’s That White Stuff on My Golf Course?

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There wasn’t much snow to begin with, and most of what there was had melted by Saturday, but Gary, our terrific superintendent, closed the course temporarily, because it was so cold that the remaining snow and the frost were unlikely to go away before dark. That didn’t affect me directly, because I’m traveling without my clubs for a little over a week, on a reporting assignment that’s only tangentially related to golf. It didn’t affect Hacker (real name), either, because he had decided that, paradoxically, playing golf for three consecutive days with a broken finger had made the finger worse, not better. Still— and I think I speak for everyone—I am opposed to any form of weather that causes golf to be suspended. And then, on Monday, Gary closed our course for the season.20141114_085655

Before our mini-storm hit, I had an opportunity to test two new pieces of equipment. Both are from eBags, one of a select group of companies for which I am an unpaid shill. The first item is the eBags Crew Cooler II:

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It was designed as carry-on luggage for pilots and flight attendants, but it’s perfectly suited to golf. It has an insulated cold compartment with a removable—and replaceable—waterproof liner, for beer and ice; it has a zippered top insulated compartment for stuff that doesn’t have to be kept super cold, like sandwiches and Snickers bars; and it has lots of other useful features, including two mesh pouches, on the sides, for beverage bottles. It also has a slot on the back that lets you slide the whole thing onto a roller bag so that you can make it do double duty as a carry-on bag when you fly somewhere nice to play golf:

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I attached mine to my pushcart by tightening the shoulder strap around my golf bag:

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By doing that, I solved an age-old alcohol-transport problem, which Matt Manco, a reader in Louisiana, once addressed from the other direction, using his Sun Mountain Micro-Cart:

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Just above my Crew Cooler I attached another recent acquisition: an eBags Padded Pouch—the blue thing in the photo below. It contains my laser rangefinder, and I like it much better than the case that came with the rangefinder, because it’s softer (though padded!) and it doesn’t stick out as much. I used a little carabiner to attach it to the towel ring on my bag, along with (as you can see) a lot of other stuff:

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Padded Pouches come in sets of three, and they’re incredibly useful for carrying or packing smallish delicate or annoying items, like phones, cameras, chargers, cables, batteries, power cords, whatever:

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I’ve got six, and I traveled with four of them last week, including one that I filled with the CDs of the audio version of Book Three of A Game of Thrones, which I listened to as I spent a week driving through Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California.

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Beer, Bushmills, Burgers, Brats, Bonus Days

Our regular golf season is winding down. Someone in a position of authority piled up all our patio furniture on the clubhouse porch:

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As of late last week, though, we still had beer in the kegerator, plus part of one free-standing keg, so Chic (our club chairman) and Corey (our pro) decided that the Sunday Morning Group ought to hold a free-guest day, and that everybody ought to hang around until all the beer was gone. The morning was cold and overcast, but seventeen guys showed up:

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Someone remembered to bring Irish antifreeze:

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And, despite the weather, seven of us wore shorts, because after November 1 if you wear shorts you get an extra handicap stroke:

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My team didn’t win, but I got a skin for a net eagle on No. 2, and I almost made a hole-in-one on No. 12, a 185-yard par 3. On 12, I hit my secret weapon, Baby Driver, which has 16 degrees of loft and goes anywhere from about 180 yards to maybe 210. (The shortest hole I’ve ever used it on was a 134-yarder in Northern Ireland a few years ago. The wind was blowing like crazy, and I was the only one who made the green.) Here’s how close I came on Sunday—and, yes, I missed the putt:

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Howard brought lunch. He worried that he hadn’t bought enough food for seventeen guys, so after he finished playing he drove down to the grocery store and got more ground beef:

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That was great, but he also got these. C’mon, Howard. No health food.

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We don’t really clean our grill after we use it, because by the time lunch is over nobody is in the mood for housework. We do clean it before we use it again, however, by turning on the gas all the way and letting it run for a while. Here’s what we found when we lifted the lid on Sunday:

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The grill cleaned itself in no time, and the flames from the burning grease looked like something from a Burger King commercial:

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Our spatulas weren’t in the drawer in the big table in the kitchen, where they always are, so we figured they must have been stolen. (Our clubhouse is never locked, even after the course has closed for the winter, and stuff is always disappearing—including, once, a hundred cloth napkins with pictures of golf clubs and balls on them.) Then someone asked whether anyone had looked in the dishwasher—and that’s where they were. What kind of joker pulls a stunt like that?]

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We’ve had a TV in our clubhouse for several years, but no one had ever used it because the only place we have cable is in the golf shop. But Corey bought a hundred feet of coax at Staples or someplace, and ran it all the way over so that we could watch the Jets beat the Steelers while we worked on the beer:

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We lit a big fire in the fireplace, and the clubhouse stayed sort of warm as long as people kept the doors closed. Even so, it was probably colder inside than out, and everyone stayed bundled up.

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A couple of years ago, my club decided to stop giving trophies to tournament winners, because the trophies were expensive and many of the winners didn’t bother to take them home. But as soon as we’d stopped giving them out people began to complain about not having them anymore, so this year they were back, but less fancy. Here’s Addison drinking beer out of the mug he got for winning the club championship. (Fritz, the tournament chairman, said it looked bigger in the catalog.)

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Meanwhile, some of the guys were outside having a putting contest.

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The weather is supposed to turn lousy pretty soon, but not quite yet. In fact, we probably ought buy at least one more keg.

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Change Your Own Grips and Win a New Driver!

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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.

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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:

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.