One (very) amateur golfer travels to Mississippi’s gulf coast to see if the sport’s best new technology can improve his game. By Mike Guy
THE DAY STARTS AS MOST GREAT DAYS DO: with a fine pair of shoes. In this case, stylish Ecco Street spikeless shoes designed by Fred Couples. They are, according to Ecco, the most advanced shoes in the golf world. As I glide comfortably on the Eccos to the locker at Fallen Oak, just outside Biloxi, Mississippi, to collect a set of clubs that include some of this year’s other radical advancements in golf tech, it occurs to me that no matter what shoes I wear or clubs I swing or type of tee I set my ball on, I’ll always be a duffer. The problems with my game, I believe, come from deep inside me, far beyond the reach of technology or even instruction.
It’s early spring on the Gulf Coast, and the weather is a crisp 65 degrees. On the first tee, Fallen Oak’s general manager, Dave Stinson, an affable (and, it turns outs, very patient) scratch golfer, remarks on the contents of the golf bag: a TaylorMade R11 driver, a Nike SQ Machspeed driver, a TaylorMade putter and a Bushnell Hybrid Laser/GPS rangefinder, which already has the contours and greens of the Tom Fazio–designed Fallen Oak programmed into it.
Taking the R11 from the bag, I gaze out over the rolling first hole of this breathtaking course, a gnarly par- five dogleg with a lake on the left and a stream to the right, and a shiver of dread passes through me. I need to knock a 275-yard drive, and it needs to be straight. I consider myself a typical golfer—I play 20 rounds a year and feel grateful when I shoot 10 over par. To this day, when I golf with my father, he points out that I was born with a natural swing. Standing atop the claustrophobic second tee-box at our local course in York Harbor, Maine, my dad would crow to our playing partners, “The kid was born with a natural swing.” Then he’d add, as he shook his head at his own scorecard: “I’m not sure where he got it from.”
It’s true. I was born with a swing as graceful as Fred Astaire, but it grows weaker by the year. My swing, that fluid series of well- executed movements that my father was so proud of, has grown into a nightmarish series of spasms.
Of course, the makers of golf equipment understand this aspect of the sport all too well. They have teams working overnight in brightly lit laboratories concocting devices that will somehow bandage over the deep wounds in a player’s game. There are the clubs that profess to cure everything from a weak swing to a strong swing. There are putters in myriad configurations, and there are balls that improve distance, loft, “playability.” There are also things like the Bushnell rangefinder, which I’ve placed on the dash of the golf cart, but I’ve got more pressing issues in my game right now than precise distance.
For a weekend duffer like me, the TaylorMade R11 is a beautiful Band-Aid. Released this year, it’s the latest version of the revolutionary R-series driver. Like most modern drivers, it’s so large it sometimes feels as though you’re swinging a train caboose, though in fact it’s light as a feather. It’s equipped with the same “Moveable Weight Technology,” or MWT, that was introduced in the R7. Basically, MWT is a set of small “discretionary” weights that can be placed in strategically positioned sockets on the driver to change the characteristics of the club. Put more weight in the heel, and the club rotates faster, theoretically reducing the severity of a slice.
Now, I’ve tried MWT a few times on a practice range and moved as much weight as possible to the heel to try to counteract my slice. It wasn’t that effective for me, though I reckon that has more to do with my erratic game than with any flaws in TaylorMade’s design.
The R11 advances the R-series with a white and black club head that improves visibility. As I address the ball, the white is actually a little bit distracting. Sure enough, the ball rockets straight out over the fairway and then turns right like a tiny balloon in a stiff breeze. It’s not the club’s fault.
On the second hole, I grip the titanium Nike SQ Machspeed driver, a sleek, mean-looking club that feels more natural in my hands. The head is black, which means when I address the ball I’m not thinking about the head being white. It’s equipped with something called “STR8-FIT” adjustable face-angle technology, which can, with the turn of a wrench, open or close the club face up to two degrees in either direction, to correct for a slice or a hook. There are eight different angles to choose from. I’ve opted to close mine all the way, and sure enough, on impact the ball launches straight down the fairway. Is that old natural swing of mine suddenly reappearing, or is it the wizardry of the Nike lab technicians?
By the time I reach the 18th hole at Fallen Oak, a sweeping turn to the clubhouse with a mess of picturesque bunkers running along the left side, I’m in something like a groove. That old swing is back. I’m even comfortable enough to try out the Bushnell rangefinder. Standing on the tee box, I turn it on and, sure enough, every contour of the 18th is programmed into it. Peering through the lens, I see that the bunkers on the left are exactly 183 yards. The trees on the right are 280 yards—very much in play.
I opt for the Nike and manage a decent drive that rolls to the right side of the fairway. My second shot is a vindication—it bounces just shy of the green. I take out my TaylorMade Rossa Ghost putter, which, like the R11 driver, is painted white. In this context, I find the white much more soothing—it blends slightly with the ball, and calms my hands. I drain the 10-foot putt and mark a par on the card.
Walking off the green toward the clubhouse, where I’ll console myself with a spicy bowl of homemade gumbo, I feel slightly disheartened, as though all the money in the world couldn’t help prop up my game. But then I look down at my shoes—those stylish Fred Couples spikeless Eccos—and remember that, at the very least, I started the day in a great pair of shoes.
Despite his natural swing, MIKE GUY reckons he’s lost more than 500 balls at the York Golf and Tennis Club in York Harbor, Maine.