Making Awesome Golf Stuff Even Awesomer

Waste Management Phoenix Open - Final Round

A group of professional caddies is suing the PGA Tour for requiring them to wear bibs bearing the logos of companies that pay fees to the tour but not to the caddies—and I hope they win, because it’s true, as one sportswriter said, that the tour is forcing the caddies to serve as “unpaid human billboards.” It’s a good thing they didn’t ask me to represent them in their lawsuit, though, because my own first reaction would have been “Wow! Free caddie bibs!” My friends and I not only happily wear logo-covered golf stuff that nobody pays us to wear; we even spend money of our own to add additional logos to our already-logo-covered stuff, the better to emulate Jim “5-Hour Energy-and-Web.com-plus-SunGard-Financial-among-many-other-companies” Furyk and his fellow tour members. You can read more at this blog’s official home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new. And, if you’re willing to wait a month or so, you can find complete versions of all my old posts on this site, too, by paging down until you reach them.

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The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Headcovers

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My favorite headcover was made of black plush and had the Grateful Dead’s red-white-and-blue “Steal Your Face” skull logo embroidered on it. I got to play golf with Jim Furyk once, and before we teed off his caddie, Fluff Cowan, looked into my bag and said, “So, you’re a fan of the boys, eh?”—one of my proudest moments in the game. My 5-wood eventually wore a hole through the fabric, and I had to take that headcover out of service. The huge online store on the Dead’s official website used to have lots of branded golf stuff, but not anymore.

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Headcovers must be a product of the apparently irresistible human urge to clothe inanimate objects—the same urge that gave us doilies, dust ruffles, chair skirts, and toilet seat covers. Most golfers probably assume that headcovers have an important protective function, but that seems unlikely. The purpose of a golf club is to be slung repeatedly at hard things lying on the ground, so why should you need to swaddle it just to carry it in a bag? Olden-days golfers—whose clubs were made by hand and were therefore arguably worth special handling—didn’t use them:

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So why do we? Chuck Furjanic, who is the author of  Antique Golf Collectibles: A Price and Reference Guide, told me that headcovers date from at least the early 1910s. Nevertheless, I spent a pleasant afternoon flipping through the pages of most of the golf books in my office, and couldn’t find a headcover in a photograph or illustration from earlier than 1935. Walter Hagen didn’t use them (and Henry Cotton didn’t either):

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My research indicates that Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam without headcovers, that most golfers carried their woods naked until the late thirties or early forties, and that the headcovers of yesteryear started out looking like children’s socks, then evolved into sweaters for weasels. No headcovers here:

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My first metal woods—a TaylorMade set, which I bought in 1991—came without headcovers. Their successors—a trio of Big Berthas, purchased less than a year later—came with huge ones, although they’d probably seem almost dinky today:

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Those two transactions bracketed the beginning of the modern headcover era. Today, it’s impossible to buy a wood or even a hybrid without also receiving a complicated sheath that appears to have been manufactured in the same Chinese factory that makes shoes for NBA players and props for George Lucas movies. Someone I played golf with once told me that getting rid of headcovers would speed up the game by twenty minutes a round, and I believe it. Putting a modern headcover back onto a modern driver can be as exasperating and time-consuming as putting a snowsuit onto a toddler.

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Using headcovers on irons is still for beginners only, like using a clicker to count shots or carrying tees in a bandolier. And thank goodness for that. But who knows? A lot of people didn’t think that soft spikes would catch on, either.

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Major Breakthrough: A Better Way to Watch Golf on TV

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My wife’s college roommate’s son got married recently. Before the wedding, he and his fiancée were interviewed at length for an episode of a reality show called Something Borrowed, Something New, on the television network TLC, which is to women what the Golf Channel is to men. Three years ago, during the summer before my daughter’s wedding, I inadvertently watched parts of quite a few TLC programs, because during that period the TV in our kitchen was permanently tuned to that channel. For example, I saw parts of several episodes of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, a British reality show about the weddings of gypsies and Irish travelers. From it, I learned that, in planning our daughter’s wedding, my wife and I had made many mistakes, including allowing our daughter to marry a non-gypsy and failing to rent any stretch Hummers or horse-drawn carriages:

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Something Borrowed, Something New is about wedding dresses. The episode featuring my wife’s old roommate’s son and his fiancée aired shortly before Christmas, and my wife suggested that our own son, whose name is John, and I watch it with her. John and I consented, out of loyalty to her and her old roommate, whom both of us know, but we worried that sitting through an entire TLC show might permanently harm us in some way. Luckily, we were able to protect ourselves, by viewing the episode through long cardboard tubes from two used-up rolls of Christmas wrapping paper:

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Watching through the tubes enabled us to make it all the way to the end while suffering few if any ill effects, and it occurred to me later that the same technique might be useful in other fraught television-viewing situations, such as nerve-wracking parts of important golf tournaments. If a golfer you were rooting for in one of the majors faced a critical putt on the final day, for example, you could use a tube to focus solely on the hole, potentially even helping the ball to drop. Or, during one of those web.com commercials featuring Jim Furyk and his wife, you could use a tube to focus on a blank part of the screen (after first hitting the mute button).

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In other golf news, Jed, a member of the Sunday Morning Group, became a father on December 20. Here he is with his brand-new daughter, whose name is Louisa. As you can see, she already has a healthy interest in golf:

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My granddaughter, whose name is Alice, is thirteen months older than Louisa. I don’t have a recent picture of her playing golf, but I do have one of her doing a pretty good imitation of most of the guys I play most of my rounds with:

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Two Ryder Cup Shots You Didn’t See on TV

You didn’t see them because they happened in a different Ryder Cup, the one the Sunday Morning Group held while the American tour stars were getting whupped in Scotland.

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Twenty-four guys signed up in advance, and Corey, our terrific pro, divided us into two teams, one red and one blue. The youngest guy in the field didn’t show, apparently because he had met someone interesting in a bar the night before. Corey took his place, after persuading his mother, our club’s immediate past president, to watch the golf shop for him. (The guy who didn’t show made a big mistake, in my opinion. The time to establish golf in a romantic relationship is at the beginning, before the non-playing party has had time to develop a case.)
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And after everyone had finished we had our usual lunch of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and beer, on the patio near the practice green:
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Before I get to the two shots that weren’t shown on TV, I’d like to make two general observations about the other Ryder Cup:
1. What is the source of Ryder Cup Europe’s pathological golf-course selections? In the sixties and seventies, the trans-Atlantic side of the contest was held exclusively on Open courses: Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Royal Birkdale, and Muirfield—an over-reliance on England, granted, but otherwise impeccable. Since then, the thinking has apparently been that crummy venues deserve international exposure, too. The worst is the Belfry, also in England, which has hosted the matches four times—more than any other course in history. The Belfry has just two good holes, the ninth and the eighteenth, and most matches don’t reach the eighteenth. This year’s course, at Gleneagles, was in the works when I first played golf in Scotland, in the early 1990s. At that time, the Scots had seemingly decided that the way to attract American golfers to Scotland was to hire Jack Nicklaus to build something that would remind them of Florida, cart paths included. Somebody, please, wake up the people in charge. The PGA Centenary Course, as Nicklaus’s creation is now known, isn’t even the best course at Gleneagles.
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2. There’s been lots of angry speculation about the reasons for this year’s American defeat, but no one, so far as I know, has hit on the real explanation: the extraordinarily annoying pre-shot routines of Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley. In TV broadcasts of regular tour events, producers have become adept at keeping the cameras away from those two until they’re almost ready to make a real stroke. During the Ryder Cup, though, so little actual golf is under way at any moment that they had no choice but to make us watch full sequences—all the tics and twirls and feints and bird peeks and pocket scrunches and everything else. True, we were spared Furyk’s 5-Hour Energy wardrobe, and thank goodness for that. But the other stuff was increasingly infuriating, and by Saturday afternoon (I’m guessing) so many U.S. TV watchers were mentally rooting against Furyk and Bradley that the cosmic tide irretrievably turned. Those two golfers, between them, won two points and lost four; turn those Ls to Ws, and it’s a blowout the other way.
Now, back to the other Ryder Cup. The two shots you haven’t seen were both hit by Doug, who was my partner. In each case, he went on to triple- or even quadruple-bogey the hole. But that was OK because I had him covered.