No matter how you feel about Nike golf clubs, it was disheartening to learn that the company shut down its clubmaking operation and sad to hear that so many hardworking folks would lose their jobs.
The news also was upsetting on a personal level. I'm going to miss Nike. It created the perfect golf club.
The year was 2007, and the club was officially deemed a "driver," but it was no run-of-the-mill big stick -- it was first square-headed driver in world history. Nike called it the "SasQuatch Sumo2," which a group of Oregon-based marketing executives hoped you would read as "Sumo Squared." To me, it's always been "the Sasquatch," no capital Q. The driver was an offspring of Nike's original Sasquatch line, which debuted in 2005 and was played at that time, quite successfully, by Tiger Woods.
I took a winding road to this magnificent club. In 2005, I was five years removed from undergraduate studies and disenchanted with my job in medical sales. I wanted desperately to write about sports, so I turned in the keys to my company car and enrolled in a journalism graduate program in Evanston, Ill. One year later, degree in hand, I lived in a shabby apartment one block from Wrigley Field and cobbled rent money through a series of part-time and freelance jobs, including one gig at a startup golf magazine. I wrote stories, traveled here and there, and spent most weekends sipping cold beverages at Cubs games. Who needs a company car?
Every January in Orlando, the industry stages an annual event called the PGA Merchandise Show, where the golf biz gathers to show off new products on a cavernous convention-center floor. The week kicks off with a "Demo Day" at a mammoth, circular driving range where press and select invitees tee up the newest clubs. In January 2007, my magazine offered to fly me from icy Chicago to Orlando to make some contacts and hit all the newest models. Less than two years earlier I was peddling arthritis medication out of the trunk of a Ford Taurus. I eagerly accepted the assignment.
Each of the major clubmakers had a spot on the range, as they still do today, and that's where I had my first Sasquatch sighting. A bogey golfer, I found the square crown so outrageous, I forgot most of my swing flaws. Staring down at that matte-black clubhead, I thought, "Ridiculous! Just take a swing and see what happens." The ball rocketed off the face (occasionally), with a sharp and distinct sound (more on that shortly), and flew straight and true (sometimes*). A square head! What a concept! What would come next? Trapezoids? Maybe an octagon? What about sticking a flying saucer on the end of a shaft? Anything seemed possible.
(*It's impossible to quantify whether this club was really that much better than my current driver. Clubmakers sell us on belief as much as anything. But I was convinced this driver was at least a slight upgrade, and that's all it took. I was hooked.)
Here's the thing about the Sasquatch: Its gaudy, black-and-highlighter-yellow paintjob and goofy square head are jarring. But its true trademark is the sound it emits after impact. Golf has been around for several centuries, and nothing in the game's history has produced a racket quite like the 'squatch. It’s like bashing a rock with an empty soup can, like slamming a stone with a mailbox, like cracking a trash can against …
You get the idea. It's abrasive. Cacophonous. Absurd. But it didn't bother me, because I was striping it. (From time to time.)
A week or so after Demo Day, back in Chicago, my boss had a few boxes of new sticks lying around the office, leftovers from a club-testing story. She said the manufacturers didn't want them back. Would I like a set? Would I? I quickly snagged the Nike box*, which contained a full set of irons and certain square-headed driver. I still lacked adequate dental insurance, but I now owned the same brand of clubs used by Tiger Woods. (And Anthony Kim!) Things were looking up.
(*This was the first time I received free clubs as a member of the media. Like roller coasters and childhood sweethearts, you always remember your first.)
In those days I played most of my golf at a $10 parks course near Lake Michigan, just a short walk from my apartment. But in 2008 SI.com hired me to work in its satellite office in Atlanta, so I left the golf magazine. In Atlanta, I worked night and weekend shifts, and on free afternoons I'd buzz over to a nearby muni for a quick nine. Two years later, I landed an intercompany transfer to GOLF and relocated to New York City, packing my 'Squatch, and few other worldly possessions, along for the trip.
Here's one dirty and wonderful secret about working the golf beat: free golf clubs happen. The details are unimportant, and I mention it only to emphasize that for a few years I tried many new drivers, but the Sasquatch remained king.
In 2013 I was playing a round with a group of colleagues (new irons, same old driver). After watching me fan one deep into the forest, one flinty coworker quipped, "That driver is an embarrassment to the company."
After several seasons and hundreds of rounds splitting (some) fairways with the Sasquatch, my handicap had dipped from 15.5 to 15.2.* I wasn't eager to swap it out, but maybe he had a point. Perhaps it was time to make a move.
(*Look for my golf-instruction book: "How to Shave Three-Tenths Off Your Handicap in Six Years," coming to a clearance-sale rack near you.)
The next day my colleague passed me a two-year-old driver from his back-up bag, and I slowly, guiltily broke it in. Later, after another Demo Day, I received a new driver. The Sasquatch was relegated to the bench, brought in only for pinch-hitting duties, or to make coworkers chuckle.
In the ensuing three years, my handicap has crept back over 16. I hadn't thought much of the Sasquatch, certainly not in a sentimental way, until I heard the news that Nike would no longer produce clubs. Those six wonderful years came rushing back. Life is an adventure. Sometimes our clubs tag along for the ride.
Last week I dropped the Sasquatch back in the bag for a company outing out on Long Island. On the first tee I unsheathed it from its bumble bee-colored headcover to a chorus of sarcastic oohs and aaahs. I stuck a peg in the ground, took a swipe and ...
…topped it 50 yards.
For the remainder of the round, I hit my current driver, but on 18 it was time to make one final Sasquatch memory. Swoosh, tiiiiiing. The contact was pure, and the ball rocketed up the fairway. My playing partners laughed at the tinny sound that echoed off the clubface and I chuckled along with them. Deep down, though, I felt a tinge of sadness.
It didn't quite sound the same.