Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I feel kind of sorry for the average golfer these days. Thirty years ago, kitting yourself out with a good set of clubs, nice shoes, a glove, and a dozen decent balls was a fairly simple affair. But these days, with the amount of quality equipment on the market, it's an expensive mind-bender. Of course, it's never been a problem for the Tour pro, who gets all the best stuff flung at him by the reps on the range. He usually takes a whack with a bunch of clubs, hums and hahs a little, and then takes armfuls of them home to his pals under the pretense of a little "home testing." Yeah, right. What happens is a few more average golfers are equipped with tools entirely unsuitable for their standard of handiwork.

So, how should the amateur swordsman choose his weapons? Probably not as follows, but in golf, no matter at what level we play, we all have delusions.

People are always sending me books, most of which are collecting dust on the shelves of my study. The other day, however, one arrived that piqued my interest. In the pile of flyers, bills, and ladies' undergarment catalogs heaped on the hall floor lay a small, plain, green-covered paperback with the title, The Darrell Survey 2002 Golf Equipment Almanac.

Following a close but thorough examination of Push-Up & Thong Weekly, I settled down in the old Lay-Z-Boy to see if there was anything I didn't already know in the pages of what is being touted as golf's version of the auto trade's Blue Book. I wanted to find out juicy tidbits like the trade-in value of my old Wilson shag bag or my mint condition Uniroyal Plus 6 hexagonal dimple-ball with the elastic hanging out.

Alas, no luck on anything like that, but as it happens, there is a lot of stuff in there I didn't know, even more stuff I don't want to know, and a complete absence of certain vital information that people like me would find invaluable when we're trying to make an informed choice about tackle.

For instance, did you know that about 52 percent of all golfers over the age of 50 wear FootJoy golf shoes? Damned if I did, but my question would be this: Of that 52 percent, how many of them wear those FootJoys to drive home slowly in the fast lane with their left-turn signal blinking all the way? They need to research that and get back to me.

I'd like to know a bunch of other things about golf-shoe performance, too. Like, which is the best alternative spike to wear on the beer-drenched tiled floor of a cheesy topless bar? Never mind your sidehill lies, pal; you need to keep your head up when you cross the blue line in a place like that. Another thing: Why hasn't anyone designed a golf shoe with a little speaker in the toe that can simulate the sound of metal spikes on concrete? I miss that.

And after a three-putt, why do you never see anyone arc-welding themselves to a cart path in a fit of tap-dancing fury on their way to the next tee any more? It was one of the most spectacular sights in golf, but sadly, with the dawn of Softspikes, it's probably gone forever. Now people just melt rubber and spend the rest of the day smelling like an electrical fire.

Flicking backward (as is my wont) through the book, I came upon page after page of sideways bar charts about interesting stuff like the overall satisfaction rating section on putter brands by age, handicap, and feature (whatever that means), but time after time I was puzzled by the absence of data on the truly important issues, such as putter durability.

The Ping Anser 2 is a favorite among all handicaps and ages, but why that is so is not revealed. Personally, I think it's because you can beat the crap out of, dig up, and mulch a medium-sized conifer with a Ping Anser 2, and afterward, you still have something to putt with.

One of my favorite sections of the book is the bit where they show the total and average amount of money per tournament won by each piece of equipment used on the PGA Tour. It's sort of an equipment order of merit, or money-list thingy. The whole concept is brilliantly flawed in that it doesn't mention the amount of money the players are paid to play the aforementioned equipment. To me, that would be the real stat. Then we could compare the average amount of money per start that the Nike ball wins to the amount Phil Knight pays Tiger to play it divided by the amount of tournaments Tiger plays. I'm guessing, but I think we're talking about a loss leader there. (Ha! Who'd have thought we could ever legitimately call Tiger a loss leader? This book could be brilliant with a little creative editing.)

How about the golfer who wants the entire package: as in the best shoes, shirt, shafts, grips, irons, wedges, glove, ball, driver, fairway woods, putter, and golf bag? With The Darrell Survey 2002 Golf Equipment Almanac, access to NASA's mainframe, and the help of the entire workforce at IBM for a couple of months, why, it should be a dawdle to figure out what to wear and play.

By combining the "Shirt brands by handicap" figures with the "Shirt brands by age" info and factoring in your age and handicap, it's relatively easy to figure out that if you happen to be a 44-year-old with a handicap in the 11 to 20 range, you should be wearing a one-sleeved, Cutter & Ashpolo, size extra-medium -- presumably with matching tighty-whities.

This little book is a lot of fun, but like I said, there are a number of glaring oversights and omissions. One of the most worrisome is the lack of data on the margin of error, which as we all know, exists in every poll, no matter how meticulously it is taken.

I remember the Darrell Surveyors (or, "Bagspies," as they were known) from my playing days. Sneaking furtively around the practice ground with clipboards and leopard-crawling under the ropes onto the first tee, they were occasionally intercepted by the alert caddie or even a player who might just have had a vested interest in concealing the true identity of what lay beneath his head covers or in his ball pocket. The dirty dogs. Oh, yes, sometimes a player can be paid a lot of money to swing a set of clubs, and money is "corruption," except most of the letters in it are different. Stay with me here, I'm onto something.

You see, I know from first-hand experience that there is jiggery-pokery going on. I remember playing with a guy who was 20 yards behind me off the tee one day and 30 in front the next. (Well, I only vaguely remember, because I was a little hung over the morning of the second round, and we had a really early tee time, but you know what I mean.) Believe me, if a guy is whistling on the first tee, with his hands buried deep in his pockets and his head turned to one side, there is almost certainly some kind of ball-tampering going on. Call me a genius, or a paranoid freak with a conspiracy theory, but do you really think McCord is playing with a limp Noodle?

All right, maybe that's not such a good example, but who says the Darrell arms inspectors have been given full access to the suspected sites, and even if they have, are they qualified enough to tell whether or not the coefficient of any given driver has been sufficiently restitutionalized? Ask yourself that! Do you think that you could tell the difference between a set of blank Mizuno forgings and a set of leaded-up Wilson FG17s? Exactly! You thought the Wilson FG17 was a fighter plane, didn't you?

Don't worry, it doesn't make you a bad person, and here's what I think: The Darrell Survey 2002 Golf Equipment Almanac is an essential piece of literature for the golfer who has everything and is having a hell of a time trying to figure out what goes with which, into where, and why. It's about time we had a manual to follow here, and other sports could take a leaf or two out of this book.

For instance, my most recently discovered passion is fly-fishing, and I had a hell of a time getting myself equipment that would make me an expert overnight. No Darrell Survey available there, so I had to rely on my own instinct, which has a few gaps in it, and, as a consequence, I was hoodwinked by a slick salesman. It's the old story: Get the customer on the line and then play him like a sick mullet. It was obvious I needed the inflatable trout decoys, but only after a very unsuccessful afternoon spent up to my nads in freezing cold water did it become apparent that the buggers needed their little anchors, which are, of course, sold separately.

Talk about an investment going down the Suwanee. But with The Darrell Survey 2002 Golf Equipment Almanac, golfers everywhere can have that reassuring feeling that the purchase they make will be the right one, at least until your shirt starts a nipple-rash after its first wash and your long irons, like all long irons, are unhittable. Still, you'll know which 7-, 9-, and 11-woods to buy instead.

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