Talking (Club) heads

I've had my butt welded to the La-Z-Boy for a couple of months now -- you know, watching football, drinking beer, dozing off, watching more football, going to the bathroom, etc. Half man, half mattress. A piece of furniture for me has to be soft, comfortable, and thoroughly absorbent.

I don't play golf so much any more, but on the rare occasions I do, I've noticed that my little Strata is visiting parts of the clubface that it never used to lay a dimple on. If clubs could speak, mine would say, "Ouch!" quite a lot.

That, however, is not the language that is emitted from the faces of the clubs belonging to the best players in the world. I know because I interviewed them. That's right, I talked to the clubs instead of the players. Hey, they have heads, faces, heels, toes, and necks, so why shouldn't they have mouths?

Go ahead, admit it. You talk to your clubs. You call them vile names, I'm certain, when your slice is headed straight for the upstairs bedroom window of that last condo on the right.

Call me daft -- you wouldn't be the first -- but I decided to have a word or two with what's in the Tour players' bags. You know, get it straight from the source. They speak, I listen. Don't laugh -- all right, go ahead and laugh -- but you know from reading this column that stranger things have happened.

It's dusk outside the bag room and all the spectators have gone home. A couple of players search for a stroke on the putting green in the gathering gloom, while the rest are back at their hotels, or at least on the way. My Softspikes squirm on the AstroTurf floor as I walk between the rows of bags. I stop and poke the microphone into David Duval's bag. "Hey, guys, how was your day?" I ask.

"Oh, you know," replies the 8-iron, "we bumped into each other a lot, banged heads as usual, and the putter has the flu. Last night somebody left us right under the air conditioner. The man wonders why he couldn't make a thing today. The poor putter's shaft is stiff and sore and its head is aching. As for those sunglasses, we all wish the boss would take them off when it's cloudy. He can't see a thing. One of these days he's going to hit the umbrella instead of the sand wedge, mark my words."

Over in the corner, a voice calls out: "Hey, microphone boy, over here!" It's Bruce Lietzke's bag, and the driver is not happy. "I'd just like to clear something up. It's a well-known fact that the big guy doesn't play a whole lot, okay? But the fruit under the headcover thing is getting a little old.

"Last fall, some idiot stuck a banana up my headcover, and it was February before I saw daylight. I had enough penicillin stuck to me to cure a clap epidemic. Nobody ever does anything to that absurd UHF antenna sticking out of the top of our bag; they always pick on me."

Lietzke's long putter immediately took offense. "Look here, you whiner -- short shaft, short memory. You obviously don't remember that melting left wrist he had before I showed up. If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have a home at all. I might not look like the rest of you, but I get the job done. We pay the bills because of me and don't you forget it!"

The driver continued, "Don't pay attention to him. He thinks size matters and he's always trying to justify his existence. We've tried therapy and drugs, but nothing works. Anyway, we all got our hopes up at Christmas, when the Mrs. bought a practice net for the garage. The boss puts it up, hits three wedges, disappears for two weeks, comes back, and turns it into a hammock. Typical."

I cross the way and notice a particularly neat Hogan bag with the clubs all in descending numerical order in their compartments. The fur headcovers have side hair partings. These are obviously Justin Leonard's clubs. I poke my microphone in. "Okay, boys, where's the putter?"

"In bed with the boss," replies the 2-iron sniffishly. "Haven't been able to pry them apart since the Ryder Cup. It's pretty disturbing to the rest of us, I can tell you. It has a real attitude, you know, talking about how it has the power to move the masses and attract good-looking women. We'd put a headcover on it, but we can't find one big enough."

"Pssst, Pssst," goes a noise behind me. It's Phil Mickelson's 60-degree wedge.

"How about a word from a minority group? It's a cruel world out there when you always have to look the other way. It's like we're different or something, but the other clubs seem to be afraid of us. If it wasn't for Mike Weir and Steve Flesch we'd have no one to talk to at all.

"But the one I really feel sorry for is Notah Begay's putter. The poor thing goes both ways, and that's just not done out here, like most people are in total denial about it. His clubs are in the closet over there; sometimes you can hear them knocking at night. It's just not right."

I hear a faint rattling behind me, and I turn to face Jim Furyk's bag. The clubs are revolving slowly. "What's up with you guys?" I ask.

"Oh, don't mind us," they say. "We're just fine. It's just that it takes us a little while to get rid of the dizziness after a round, you know? Most clubs have to make only one change of direction in a swing, but we have about eight. Not that we're complaining. The trip away from and back to the ball is way more interesting for us, and we love it. We get to see a lot more than the rest of the guys, and we get hit sweeter than most of them, too."

"No sweeter than us," says Steve Elkington's 3-wood. "The only time we disturb the air is when the boss sneezes on the downswing. Mind you, that happens quite a lot. My only problem is that he doesn't use headcovers. I've rubbed faces so often with the driver that the short irons are starting to talk about us, like we're in love or something."

From the darkest corner of the bag room I hear a faint, but regular snoring sound from a bag with a "Do Not Disturb" sign obscuring the name. I tiptoe across and ever so gently lift up the sign, just enough to reveal the name: "Couples." The 4-iron wakes with a start.

"Whoa, pal, can't you read? It's mid-season, and we're trying to get a few weeks of sleep here."

"Sorry," I whisper, and head for the door, but on the way I notice a bag that sits higher than the others, bathed in a halo of light. These are the surgical instruments of Tiger Woods.

I kneel down in front of the bag, and look into the one remaining eye of the battered and faded little striped Tiger headcover. It looks like the comfort toy of some long since grown-up toddler, worn out but irreplaceable.

"So what's it like to be the best?" I ask. The little guy blinks, and rubs the spot where his left eye used to be.

"Well, it's not all glitz and glamour, I can assure you," it says. "For a start, compared to the rest of the clubs in this room, my guys are pretty weak. Everyone else is at least a couple of degrees stronger than we are, sometimes more, yet we get hit a lot harder than they do. That doesn't seem fair. Worse than that, we get hit in the same place every time, too.

"One of the few things we've got going for us is that we get hit less often than the rest, but having said that, we never know when, either. Your average golf club gets a little warning before impact, you know? Like an address position, followed by a waggle or two, but these guys never know when to brace themselves.

"One minute you have a ball bouncing up and down on your face, which is kind of fun, and then, without warning, you go from zero to 140 mph and collect one right in the kisser. We have the only 8-iron in the history of golf that has to wear a diaper. The poor thing is a nervous wreck. And as for the 3-wood, he's a paranoid schizophrenic. He doesn't know where the hell he's going to be used from next -- either from 300 yards or just off the edge of the green. We're thinking seriously about having him institutionalized."

One thing is certain, however. It doesn't matter which implements the owner of the Tiger headcover uses. He could take any bag in the room and still find a way to win. He reminds me of a story that's often told in football circles. Since I live in Texas now, I can call it my own.

Former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips used to say of Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, "He can take his'n and beat your'n, or he could take your'n and beat his'n."

Who says you can't make clubs sit up and talk?

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