Originally created 05/27/01

Equipment takes golfer only so far



I cheated this week ... and I've got to tell you it felt pretty good.

Granted the privilege of playing Augusta National one last time before it undergoes a major renovation, I made a conscious decision to play outside the rules.

I counted every stroke, putted everything out and didn't improve any lies (as if that might be necessary). But in the eyes of the USGA, I cheated nonetheless. I used a loaded driver on North American soil.

"Non-conforming" is the popular catch phrase. It said so right on the label of the controversial Callaway ERC II. Something about "spring-like" effect, or whatever.

On a spring-like afternoon at the most perfectly manicured golf course in the world, I wanted to see what an average hack could do when armed with the hottest equipment. Since Arnold Palmer, Callaway's staunchest defender, is an Augusta National Golf Club member, I figured the club wouldn't mind.

In case the ERC II driver wasn't enough ammo, I stocked up on the revolutionary Titleist Pro-V1 balls as well.

The motivation behind this experiment was to see whether Augusta really needed to lengthen and strengthen its par 4s, which it will do this summer with or without my blessing. The club sees technology in the hands of players such as Tiger Woods as a threat to the integrity of the course.

They might be right. I can give you 345 reasons.

As in the 345 yards that my drive traveled down the hill of the par-4 10th hole before coming to rest at the brim of the fairway bunker, an easy wedge away from the green of the longest par 4 on the course.

I didn't even swing hard - which I've come to understand is the point. I didn't get that while I was smother-hooking the driver on five other occasions trying to kill the ball.

The seven airborne and measurable drives I hit are testimony to the potential of this club-ball combination. Average driving distance: 277.8 yards - which would rank 70th on the PGA Tour between Bob Estes and Lee Janzen and about 14 yards behind Woods. Shortest drive: 250-yard easy cut on No. 11.

I hit wedge into five of the par 4s, and the longest approach I had was a 7-iron into 18. Granted we were playing from the Members tees, which yield 770 total yards. But if you add the difference to the Masters tees on each hole, the longest approach club I would have needed was a 5-iron.

The ERC's substantial impact pales in comparison to the advantages of the new golf balls. Pills such as the Pro V1 have changed the game for everyone. In the hands of players who know how to work a ball, they are magical.

Two years ago, friends ridiculed my style of play as "grandpa golf." Drives of roughly 225 yards were the norm, and my 150-yard club was a solid 7-iron.

Suddenly, I'm struggling to recalibrate my game, and it's all because of balls like the Pro V1 or TaylorMade Inergel or Callaway Red or Lady Precept. My irons have gone down two full clubs, to the point I hit a 9-iron from 150.

Trust me when I tell you it has nothing to do with fitness or mechanics. I haven't worked out since high school PE class, I'm using the same irons, and my swing remains flatter than St. Andrew's. It's got to be the ball.

What did all this prove? Well, it illustrates that the USGA might not need to be so vigilant against clubmakers such as Callaway. All the added distance didn't mean squat in the end. I missed all but four greens in regulation, blew eight makable par putts and couldn't save myself from an unspectacular 89.

You still have to get the ball onto the green and in the hole, and they haven't designed a club yet that can guarantee that.

Until they do, I'm tempted to abide by Royal & Ancient standards and keep on cheating.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.