Great Balls of Fire

Someone with way too much free time once said that at any given moment, thousands of golf balls are in the air all over the planet. Now, that's a pretty weird thought and I like it. It's like the earth is the atom, and the golf balls are the electrons or neutrons or whatever they call them, that whiz around it in orbit. Whoa, dude, like totally cosmic.

Actually, the way things are going with the evolution of the golf ball, we're getting pretty close to making one that might make it out of the earth's atmosphere. It seems to me that with all the controversy over technological developments in the game, the lowly golf ball has escaped almost unnoticed. Everyone has been obsessed with shafts and clubheads and the only real restriction on the ball has been the 250-feet-per-second regulation. For years, manufacturers have been coming up with more and more cunning ways to try to convince us that they have finally laid the golden egg upon us.

It's been years since I actually had to buy golf balls (I, ahem, am paid good money by the people who make Stratas), but just the other day I showed up to play at a new golf course, only to discover that my bag, courtesy of some lowlife, kleptomaniac baggage handler, was a pellet-free zone. Feeling a little miffed, I strode belligerently into the pro shop, threw down my cash, and asked for a dozen of my favorite brand.

While the assistant pro was rummaging around under the counter, my eye fell upon the bewildering variety of ammunition currently available to confuse the average duffer. I had no idea. There were balls with titanium cores, some with titanium in the cover, a bunch of them with multiple covers, gel-filled ones, hard ones, soft ones, soft ones with a hard center, and hard ones with a soft center. My God, I've seen boxes of chocolates with less variety.

Nowadays, everyone seems to make a golf ball, even tire manufacturers. That means you can make a pitchmark on the green and a skidmark on the road, courtesy of the same company. Shoe manufacturers are getting in on the action, too, and, lo and behold, someone even invented a ball that McCord won a tournament with! This is the equivalent of David Copperfield making not only the elephant disappear, but the smell of the elephant, also.

Well, I don't know. This is all well and good, but it seems to me that golf balls just aren't what they used to be. Some of the spuds that were on the market when I was a lad made the game a real adventure. As I dust through the shelves of the locker in my head, images of the small ball come floating back. Of course, very few people in this country will remember that ball -- 1.62 inches in diameter, instead of today's 1.68 -- but, boy, it was a beauty to play with.

We used to have balls like the Penfold Ace, which came not only in numbers, but in spades, diamonds, clubs, and hearts. Its skin was so thin and sensitive that on the rare sunny days we had, you had to smother it in sunscreen before you hit it. Then there was the Dunlop Warwick -- a substandard version of the Dunlop 65, which was a popular ball among the professionals of that time -- and my personal favorite, the Spalding Dot.

When the R&A decreed back in 1990 that the 1.68-inch ball, which was always known as the "big ball," was the only one legal for competition, it effectively knocked a lot of players clean out of the game. The small ball went farther, held its line better in the breeze, and it made the hole look bigger, too. So in other words, some players suddenly found themselves short, crooked, and unable to putt. That normally doesn't help.

So we all had to change to the big ball, the first generation of which was quite a shock to our systems. Does anyone remember the Uniroyal Plus 6? It was so named because it was supposed to add six yards to your tee shots. It had hexagonal dimples and Uniroyal didn't mention that the six yards that it added would be in height, not distance. Of course, Uniroyal is also famous for tires, not balls.

Most manufacturers have the occasional skeleton in their closets. Anyone in R&D will tell you that sometimes you have to take a step or two backwards in order to get going in the right direction again. For many years, I represented a company (who shall remain nameless) whose main area of expertise was in clubmaking, but every now and then, they'd come up with a ball they wanted their staff players to use. Most of these balls were okay, but occasionally, you'd get one that fell out of the sky like a gutshot snipe.

In order to adequately describe to you the feeling of making contact with a bad egg, I have been conducting a series of top secret tests late at night in my basement. So far the closest I've come is when I hit a Beanie Baby with a slice of freshly buttered toast. Jerry Pate actually won a U.S. Open with the ball in question, which is an indication of how wonderful a player he was. I think he probably would have won by a greater margin had he been using a pomegranate.

My problem is that I'm way too smart. I know that this is true because that's what my wife tells me, and she is never wrong. You see, I think golf ball manufacturers might have been closer to developing the perfect ball than they thought some 30 years ago, you know, when we used to get the occasional lemon that stuck to the clubface a little too long.

The self-appointed rulers of the game have decreed that the golf ball should not be permitted to travel more than 250 feet in one second, and for years the equipment companies have attempted to make a ball that will go as far as possible, and then stop as quickly as possible. This is in my view, for want of a real word, a "golfymoron." (Come to think of it, that might be an adequate description for McCord.) We now have a generation of golf balls that leave the clubface faster than hot snot out of a chrome nostril when in fact, the opposite would be considerably more helpful.

Just imagine if you took a swipe at the ball and it stayed glued to the clubface for about 30 seconds. You could run up to the hole and wait for it to fall off. The "compression" factor would become obsolete and would be replaced by "duration." The distance that you are able to hit the ball would now be determined by the amount of ground you're able to cover during the period the ball is stuck to the face.

So, if you're a granola muncher who works out five times a week, and can cover 300 yards in 45 seconds, then the 45-Duration ball would be for you. If, on the other hand, you are a lard-assed salad-swerver (which, incidentally, does not make you a bad person), you might want to think about the 60-Special, or alternatively a turbo-charged cart, which brings me to my second great innovation.

Sadly, I've resigned myself to riding in a cart for most of my social games. So if I have to do it, I figure I might as well make it fun. With the new "duration" ball, the longest hitters would be those with the fastest carts. Enter the NasCart.

Those namby-pamby little electric chariots with their irritating gravity brakes and loathsome governors would be replaced by growling hotrods with lumpy idling small block V-8's and side oilers. They'd pop and snarl on the downshift and spit out unburned fuel.

Given the macho nature of the average male golfer, the race to be the longest hitter would bring the added attractions of fiery pileups and loss of human life. A whole new section of the community would be drawn to the game. I already have plans for the world's first 18-hole banked oval here in Texas, where I live.

We need to shed golf's elitist image anyway, so what better way to do it than to introduce a few rednecks?

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