Nike’s announcement that it’s getting out of the golf club business was nothing new to me. Six of the clubs in my bag—a 16-degree Sumo Squared driver and six Sumo Squared hybrids—are clubs that Nike stopped selling years ago:
Two of those six clubs are among the greatest ever made. The most magical is the highest-lofted club in the group, the 34-degree 7-hybrid. I bought mine at the urging of my friend Tony, and, as he promised, I hit it longer, higher, straighter, and more consistently well than my 7-iron, which I’d had custom-fitted in Arizona a couple of years before. Not long after that, Tony and I played a round with a visiting friend of his, and we used our magical clubs on a 150-yard par 3. We both hit high draws to within six feet of the hole, and the friend said, “Gee, you guys could play on the LPGA Tour.” He meant to be devastating, but I’ve adopted his remark as a swing thought. And I carry four other Sumo Squared hybrids, too, even though they all go pretty much the same distance.
The other magical club in my bag the 16-degree driver, which Nike called the Sweet 16 and I call Baby Driver. I carry a regular driver, too, but Baby Driver is indispensable in certain critical situations: long par 3s, short par 4s, and tight holes of all lengths on which a hooked or sliced drive would be lethal. It’s basically a strongish 4-wood, but with a head that’s too big to slide under a teed ball—a consideration for those of us who occasionally make less than perfect contact. I sometimes hit it from the fairway, too.
I once asked a Nike rep whether the company didn’t have a few old Sumo Squared clubs stashed away somewhere, maybe in a storeroom or on a shelf in a closet or under a table in the employee cafeteria. I was thinking that I’d offer to buy the lot, to keep on hand as spares, but he said Nike hadn’t saved anything—not even a few heads. He also claimed, preposterously, that the company had never sold a 34-degree hybrid—denying the existence of one of the greatest golf clubs of all time! No wonder they’re calling it quits.
My wife got glasses in second grade. On the first day she wore them to school, she looked out the window of her classroom and shouted, “I can see inside that truck!” and a boy sitting next to her, deeply impressed, asked, “Did they give you X ray vision?”
All she had meant was that the vehicles on the street in front of the school no longer looked like fuzzy moving blobs—but that was still a big deal. I had a similar experience when I got my own first glasses, in fifth grade, and discovered that trees had individually discernible leaves.
My father used to say that he liked playing golf in his trifocals because on every shot he could choose from among three balls. For most golfers, though, glasses are problematic. I’m so nearsighted that I have trouble finding my glasses if I’m not wearing them, and until recently that meant that I was out of luck when it came to playing golf in the kinds of cool-looking sunglasses that tour players wear upside down on the back of their hat. But not anymore. A couple of years ago, Rob Tavakoli, an optician and vice president at SportRX, sent me a pair of Nike glasses with photochromic lenses designed specifically for golf. Here I am wearing them while getting a lesson from David Leadbetter:
Tavakoli also sent me a pair of Oakley sunglasses with lenses optimized for playing golf in low light. Putting them on makes a darkening golf course look brighter, for reasons I don’t exactly understand:
I immediately moved both pairs into my golf bag. Here’s Tavakoli himself:
Two of Tavakoli’s specialties are sport-specific glasses and sport-specific glasses for people with strong prescriptions, like me. (SportRX employs a technician who specializes in high corrections—a rarity for companies that sell sports glasses, because getting everything right can be complicated and time-consuming.) Tavakoli is a useful person to consult in such matters, because he really, really, really loves glasses. When he was 12, he fudged an eye test so that his ophthalmologist would write him a prescription he didn’t need, and when he was 17 he developed an obsession with sunglasses which he retains to this day, two decades later.
Last month, Tavakoli sent me sent me a third pair of golf-optimized sunglasses, and told me that they take advantage of two recent innovations from the optical engineers at Oakley. They’re just like the ones in the photos above and below, but with black frames.
The first innovation is a technology called Prizm, which Oakley introduced in ski goggles a couple of years ago and in prescription glasses about a year ago. “When Prizm first came out,” Tavakoli told me, “I got emotional every time I tried to talk about it. Oakley has figured out, for each sport, which colors of light need to be highlighted and which need to be muted. So for golf you get this extra contrast, this extra pop, but at the same time the lenses are taking out glare and brightness. To me, it’s almost like they put a computer chip in the glasses.” The level of specificity is remarkable: for baseball, Oakley makes different lenses for infielders and outfielders. Ditto for people who fish in shallow water and people who fish in deep water. Here’s a video explanation:
The second innovation built into my new sunglasses is something Oakley calls True Digital Edge. In the past, making tour-style wraparound sunglasses with more than minimal prescriptions was optically impossible. The reason is that as you increase the correction in a dramatically curved lens you also increase both the amount of distortion and the thickness at the edge. Oakley has solved both those difficulties by, in effect, modifying curved lenses so that they trick your brain into ignoring signals from the periphery. (Your brain is already good at ignoring things, since the images it receives from your eyes arrive upside down and missing a big part of the middle.) My new sunglasses are an Oakley model called Flak 2.0 XL, in the setup that SportRX recommends specifically for golf—the same glasses you see on players like Adam Scott:
The difference between my glasses and Scott’s (other than the color of the frames) is visible only if you look very closely at the lenses:
“Those groove lines,” Tavakoli told me, “are basically tricking your eyes and your brain into thinking that the lens is smaller and the frame is bigger—and the result is that you have unbelievable clarity, considering how much wraparound there is and how strong your prescription is. Combine that with Prizm and you’ve got, like, the newest, badassest thing you can get for golf.”
People inevitably say, Hey, why don’t you just get contact lenses or have LASIK? But not everyone likes contacts, and not everyone can wear contacts, and not everyone is a good candidate for LASIK. I first got contacts when I was in high school, in the early 1970s. (That was way back in the hard-lens era. My girlfriend decided to try on one of them one night, and getting it back out of her eye was tough because she was running around the house screaming.) Then I had soft lenses for maybe ten years. But for a dozen reasons — including how miserable I was during allergy season and while I was operating my table saw — I decided I like glasses better, even though that makes me less interesting to my granddaughter, who is two and a half years old and enjoys “drinking tiny waters” from her mother’s contact case.
Maybe you like glasses better, too. If so, you can get in touch with Tavakoli or one of the other opticians at SportRX, by going here.
If you did any slow-dancing in the early 1970s, you recognize the fabric that modern golf shirts are made of: leftover prom dresses. But that’s not the most troubling thing about golf clothes nowadays. The most troubling thing is the pockets in the pants. I’ve got two pairs of Nike Dri-FIT golf pants, and, generally speaking, I like them fine. But the pockets are ridiculous. The seams are so feeble that golf tees and green-repair tools push right through them after not that many rounds, forcing me to do something I’m even worse at than chipping: sewing.
The pockets in golf pants should be extra-strong, not extra-weak. They probably ought to be deeper than normal, too. And they shouldn’t be made of the fabric that the pockets in my Under Armour golf pants are made of—which feels like felted clothes-dryer lint, and snags my rain gloves like Velcro. And they shouldn’t contain mini-pockets, like the pockets in my Vineyard Vines shorts:
I don’t understand why pants still have these things—or, for that matter, why they ever did. Someone told me once that their purpose is “to hold your keys so they don’t poke a hole in your big pocket,” but that can’t be true, because they’re too small to hold more than a couple of keys, and if you ever did manage to cram your keys into one you’d never get them out again. Besides, there’s no reason to keep your keys in your pocket while you’re playing golf. Put them in your golf bag instead.
Those annoying mini-pockets serve no purpose other than to become impacted with golf stuff. Here’s the same mini-pocket with a green-repair tool hopelessly stuck in it:
You would need monkey fingers to get that thing out of there before it was your turn to putt. The only solution is to cut the mini-pockets right out of your pants, like this:
At the PGA Golf Merchandise Show a few years ago, I stopped at the booths of several glasses manufacturers and asked about golf sunglasses for guys who have serious trouble finding their glasses if they’re not wearing their glasses, as I do. The responses were depressing. One woman showed me a pair that looked less like the wraparounds you see on tour players than like something you might wear while welding. Here’s my prescription: The stronger a prescription, the harder it is to make it work without distortion in a lens that has a pronounced curve, she said, and her suggested solution was to switch to contacts and wear non-prescription sunglasses over those. I gave up, and bought a pair of distance-only glasses in my regular frames but with gray lenses. When my daughter, who was in her mid-twenties, saw them, she said, “No!”
[I have a picture of this, but I’m not going to show it to you.]
All that was before I talked with Rob Tavakoli, who is a licensed optician and a marketing guy at SportRX, which sells specialized glasses for all kinds of athletic activities. Takavoli is like a golf nut but about glasses; he told me that he’s been obsessed with sunglasses since he was seventeen, or slightly less than half his life, and that when he was twelve he fudged an eye test so that his ophthalmologist would write him a prescription he didn’t need. Two of Tavakoli’s specialties are sports-specific glasses and sports-specific glasses for people with strong prescriptions, like me. (SportRX employs a technician who specializes in high corrections—a rarity for companies that sell sports glasses, because getting everything right can be complicated and time-consuming.) Thanks to Tavakoli, I now have two pairs, one by Nike and one by Oakley. Both have lenses that are meant for golf—especially for ball-tracking and green-reading—and both are “photochromic,” which means that they lighten and darken in response to changes in ambient sunlight levels. The Nike glasses, whose frames are called Mercurial 6.0, have lenses with a rose copper tint, which becomes quite dark in bright sunlight: The Oakley glasses, whose frames are called Jupiter Squared, have lenses with a lighter, amber-brown tint, and are meant especially for times when sunlight levels are low: early morning, late afternoon, and in the rain—although they darken considerably in bright conditions. (Gray lenses are not good for golf, but they’re good for fishing.) There are other possible frame choices for people like me, and there are many, many additional choices for people whose prescriptions are less daunting. I now consider both my pairs to be part of my golf equipment, and I keep them in my golf bag in hard cases with zippers:An unexpected benefit of using both pairs of glasses is that they provide much better protection from the wind than my old sunglasses did, so that on that on blustery days I no longer seem to me crying over my terrible shots. I was grateful for that during my recent buddies trip to Scotland and Ireland, where the wind blows almost all the time, and it’s also a useful feature here at home, where, at the moment, clouds of pollen explode from the pine trees every time someone shanks one into the boughs. And an unexpected benefit of the darker lenses is that match-play opponents have no idea I’m giving them the evil eye while they’re trying to putt. Here I am in my Nike glasses on a sunny day at Machrihanish last month:If you have a current prescription, you can order glasses optimized for particular activities directly from the SportRX website, with telephone or online help if you need it. (The website has a helpful “Search by RX” utility, which identifies frames that will work with your prescription—although if your prescription is high enough you will need to call.) One thing you have to do before ordering glasses with corrective lenses is to measure your “pupillary distance,” or the space from eye to eye, but that’s easy to do if you have a ruler, a mirror, and a camera or phone:My personal glasses collection is extensive: progressives, bifocals, reading glasses, computer glasses, backup distance glasses, ancient sunglasses just for driving—plus my two new pairs of golf glasses, which are my favorites and which I would wear all the time if I thought I could get away with it.
In recognition of my services as an unpaid shill for their products, True Linkswear sent me a pair of their newest golf shoes, which are shown in the photo above and will be available to the world at large on November 4. I subjected them to the severest shoe test I know: wearing them in front of my wife. She said, “Those are nice.” (Her No. 1 golf-related footwear rule is “no saddle shoes on overweight middle-aged men.” Her No. 2 rule is “no red laces.”) I then took them for a test walk with the dog. They passed.
I now own five pairs of True golf shoes. I also still own three or four pairs of non-True golf shoes, which I wear occasionally so that I can use them up and get rid of them without feeling guilty about throwing them away. On Wednesday, the course was so muddy that I wore an old pair of Nike shoes, which I used to love, and halfway through the round I noticed that the sole of one of them was starting to come loose: Out they went as soon as I got home.
Six or seven members of my club now own True shoes—including our superintendent. Over the summer, I got to play a round at Quaker Ridge, in Scarsdale, New York, as the guest of the father of the husband of a friend. One of our caddies, a young woman from Germany, was wearing Trues. She said she was worried they looked dorky—and they do, generally, although they didn’t on her—but that she was going to keep wearing them anyway, because they were so comfortable.
Angela the caddie, Quaker Ridge, summer, 2012.
Comfortable shoes are going to take over the game the way spikeless shoes did. There are more choices all the time, from FootJoy, Ecco, Nike, and others. There is no reason, anymore, to own golf shoes that don’t feel good the moment you put them on, or to walk for miles over uneven ground in what are essentially wingtips. My friend Hacker (real name) has a pair of golf shoes that he says he’s been breaking in for four years. Enough!
My brother, John, and I played in my club’s member-guest tournament this past weekend. One of our five matches was against Fritz and Klinger, whose golf cart you see in the photograph above. That’s Klinger’s iPhone, in the one cup holder that isn’t holding a beer. It’s playing “Send Her My Love,” by Journey, and If you could hear the music you’d be blown away, because Fritz and Klinger have discovered that a golf cart cup holder acts like both an amplifier and a Surround Sound speaker system. Try it with your own iPhone or iPod if you don’t believe me.
Three golfers, nine drivers.
The golf bags in the photo above belong to (from left to right) me, Tim-o, and Tony. You will notice that the three of us, in addition to apparently being infatuated with obsolete Nike products, carry three drivers each. The lofts are 10.5, 13, and 16 degrees. I’ll have more to say about this club selection in a week or two. (Full disclosure: after the 9-hole stroke-play opener, on Friday—which John and I won, at 7 under—I removed my 13-degree driver, which I’d bought on eBay the week before, to make room for a second 6-hybrid.
Rob and miscellaneous member-guest stuff.
Usually, the so-called gifts you get at a member-guest are pretty crummy, but this year the ones at my club were great: a golf hat, a golf towel with a zipper pocket and a semi-mysterious Velcro strip, and a belt with a buckle that’s also a beer opener. In the photo above, Rob is wearing his belt on the outside, for easier access (although he’s got it upside down). He’s also wearing his give-’em-a-brake safety-yellow golf shirt and carrying a beer, two putters, and a portable cooler.
Jaws, lighting the putting-contest qualifier.
On Friday night, after the stag dinner, so many guys wanted to keep trying to qualify for the putting contest that Jaws drove home and brought back his big workshop lights. That’s him in the photo above, setting up one of the units. My brother and I qualified but were eliminated the next evening, in a four-hole playoff for the last three spots in the final.
Putting-contest qualifier, under the lights.
On Saturday night, after Fritz and Klinger had won the putting contest and a dozen of us had played a five-hole one-club tournament in a race with the setting sun, we held an unofficial supplemental putting contest, using glowing balls and glowing cup inserts—items about which I’ll have more to say in a week or two. The winners were Tim and Chick. Here’s what the putting green looked like in the dark:
Glowing ball, glowing hole.
There were thunderstorms in the forecast all weekend, but the rain and lightning held off until halfway through the final shoot-out, on Sunday afternoon. Here’s what the rain looked like when it was coming down:
The gutter in that photo has been clogged for ten or fifteen years, but when it’s raining no one wants to go up on a ladder to unclog it and when it isn’t raining it doesn’t overflow. During most of the rest of the weekend, though, the weather looked like this:
Chick, Rob, putting-contest qualifier.
The overall winners of the member-guest were Ray and Mike. My brother and I beat them, one-up, in our final match of the weekend, but that wasn’t enough to knock them out of first place in our flight. Here’s Ray resting during the lightning delay. (Mike was on the phone apologizing to his wife for already being several hours later than he had said he was going to be.)
Ray, resting in the clubhouse during the lightning delay.
And here’s what the shoot-out field looked like on the first tee. We determined honors by using the Sunday Morning Group’s limited-edition collection of numbered poker chips. Art and Scribby (on the right, with the white hair and the no hair) were the first to be eliminated, when they bogeyed the first hole.