A reminder of golf’s lost art
I still own my first golf club. It says on the bottom of it that it’s a 7-iron, but, looking at the width of its face and its angle of loft, I have my doubts. Back in the mists of time, a member of my old club’s scratch team began calling it Professor Yaffle, after the woodpecker fromBagpuss – possibly because it’smade out of wood, possibly because I would adopt a sudden, studious aura while using it – and the name has stuck.
I think of The Prof as a kind of inverted Trojan device – it originates from timber, and you can sneak it on to the battlefield without your opponents being any the wiser. Its shaft rises only just above knee-height, and while I’ve never used it as a hidden 15th club, I cannot deny that I’ve often been tempted to do just that.
If you saw Professor Yaffle’s face, which only a mother could love, and its tiny hickory shaft, you’d immediately assume that I kept it for sentimental reasons. In a sense, you would not be incorrect. It was given tome bymy late granddad, whose wartime buddy had heard his grandson had taken up golf and kindly fished some old, mismatched clubs out of his attic. My granddad was the most good-natured and absent-minded of men, and I still have fond memories of our games together on the local pitch-and-putt course.
Some of these – the time he stood, completely oblivious, gnawing on a biscuit four feet in front of the people teeing off on the adjacent hole, for example, or the time that I informed him, as we walked up the 7th fairway, that he had mistakenly put the flag from the 6th in his bag, mistaking it for an unusually long club – will surely stay with me forever. Nonetheless, the other clubs fromthat original quarter-set have long since been sold, lost, or abandoned. The truth is, the real reason I’m keeping Professor Yaffle is that I hold out a tiny hope that, one day, it will be the secret weapon responsible for winning me a championship of significant magnitude – a proto rescue club performing one of the biggest rescues in golfing history. I’ve even rehearsed the interview that follows this performance.
Lineker: “So, Tom. 62 today. Quite a change after your 91 of yesterday. If you were to attribute your good score to one factor, what do you think it would be?”
Cox (holding Professor Yaffle up to the camera): “Well, Gary, I really couldn’t have done it without this.”
Lineker: “Well, there you have it. I’ve seen plenty of players experiencing a resurgence in form because of a new club, but this is the first time I’ve seen one of them experiencing it because of a walking stick.”
I do not know exactly how old Professor Yaffle is, but I would estimate that he dates from the Edwardian era, when mid-irons apparently looked like confused wedges and grooves were dimpled. The inscription on the bottom of his much-dinted head says that he was made in Scotland, but also that he came from TomWilliamson, fromHollinwell Golf Club, who was one of the most famous British golf teaching professionals of the early 1900s.
Since Hollinwell is probably my favourite golf course of all time, this only drawsme to The Prof evenmore. As for his grip, I am sure it is not the original, but I can say with certainty that it has not been replaced in the 20 years I have owned him. It now provides a misleading yardstick (and I emphasise the ‘stick’ part of ‘yardstick’ here) when the grips on my other clubs need replacing. To any sane golfer, the shiny rubber at the top of my driver is about 30 months past its renew-by date, but I can always look at Professor Yaffle and say, “Well, it never did him any harm, did it?” and put it off for a few more months.
Of course, to most sane modern players, my persistence in clinging to The Prof is an indication of my overall slapdash approach to toolsmanship, my criminal lack of understanding of the technological intricacies of club design. But that’s not quite true. I like new golf clubs very much. I like the way they shine more than the old golf clubs that I haven’t got around to cleaning. A few weeks ago, in fact, I got a new set of Nike SasQuatch Sumo irons, and they’re very nice. As for what more together players call their “performance”, who knows? The way it seems tome is that they’re golf clubs and, like most other golf clubs, if you swing them well, they will help the ball go more or less in the general direction that you want it to go.
A couple of years ago, when I made the rash step of trying my hand at the Europro Tour for a year, I took the unprecedentedly enlightened step – for me, at least – of getting custom-fitted for the endeavour by a top golf club manufacturer. I’m not going to blame the clubs for the insipid, shank-happy chaos that followed, but my poor form has only served to exacerbate my sadly inherent suspicion of custommade weapons.
Imean, swings can change shape significantly on a day-to-day basis (mine especially). What if you’re swinging like Jimmy Tarbuck on fitting day, but fully intend to mimic the hand movement of Steve Elkington come the time of your first tournament? Are your custom-made clubs going to be right for you then? At least with my latest irons I know that they’ve been standardmade for someone with a generically half-decent swing, rather than the caffeine-propelled, flailing octopus that I was circa February 2006.
I should probably point out here that I’m not a complete Luddite. I appreciate a lot of things about the modern game. I would not want to return to the era of the small ball, just as I would not want to return to the era of the three-day week or that dodgy mustard-coloured ensemble Doug Sanders wore during the 1970 Open. I enjoy the fact that a Titleist Pro V1 goes 20% further off the tee than balatas did when I took golf up. But I can see that the instant awareness that young players have of high-spec equipment is doing the game more harm than good.When Peter Alliss talked recently aboutmodern pros being “mollycoddled”, I was with him all the way. That mollycoddling includes equipment, and it starts long before a good player has hit his first shot on tour.
It is hardly surprising that, in the wake of the many newspaper articles about Nick Dougherty branding Alliss’ comments as “disgusting”, the overwhelming reader support is in favour of Alliss.Doughertymight have sounded slightly less like exactly the kind of spoilt robo-pro that Alliss was describing if, in his own defence, Dougherty had been able to offer a story about chipping stones on a beach as a 10-year-old, equipped with only a Professor Yaffle-style hand-me-down. It might be a long time since Alliss struck a shot in a major tournament, but you can guarantee he has more awareness of the modern game than Dougherty has of the bygone one. Albeit as nice a guy as absolutely everbody says he is, I wonder whether has Nick Dougherty ever even used a club with a wooden head, let alone one which has a wooden shaft?
I started playing golf at the dawn of a new, techno-obsessive era and, even at that point, I was surrounded by kids who were increasingly interested in the latest graphite-shafted driver and decreasingly interested in the artistic nuances of swing and course design. These were the precursors to Dougherty’s generation: the last kids to grow up with 1-woods with heads significantly smaller than their feet, blinded by the glinting shafts of Tour Burners and Wilson Whales. Maybe it was because I immersed myself in the biographies of Seve Ballesteros and Lee Trevino – and their extraordinary and legion stories of ingeniously manufactured 3-iron pitch shots, balls hit with soft drink bottles and other tales of strokes no one could contemplate now – that I stayed permanently behind the times with equipment, but I can’t help thinking that an obsession with techno-perfection stifles creativity. It is also probably one of the major reasons why we are stepping worryingly towards an era of professional golfing clones.
Doughertymight be able to correctme on this, butmy guess is that, growing up, his granddad did not give him a hickoryshafted 7-iron, and he did not then proceed to take it on his family holiday to a campsite in the Cotswolds, and – imagining hard that it was the shiny wedge that Seve employed from the edge of Royal Lytham’s 18th green to secure that unforgettable 1988 Open Championship – use it to chip shot after shot over his neighbour’s tents.
On the other hand, I have to admit that he has turned out to be a much better chipper than me, so read into that what you will. But, given the choice between watching Dougherty or Paul Casey or Justin Rose, and on the other hand Seve or Trevino or any other better than half-decent player who had been forced to grow up manufacturing shots with a less-thanperfect club, I’d opt for the latter every time.
When, back in August 2006, I started to hit long-game form inmy final Europro Tour event of the season, the Bovey Castle Championship, but got the short-game jitters, it was with a genuine faith – a faith you can’t buy from your local American Golf – that I removed my smart new 64-degree TaylorMade wedge and replaced it with Professor Yaffle. Moreover, even now, two years on, with my dreams of ever making an money in a pro event long since shattered, I still can’t help believing that, had he not slipped so far belowthe dividers inmy bag that it was impossible to get him out, my old hickory friend would have helped me out of a jam.
Tom Cox is the author of the golf books Nice Jumper and Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia. www.tom-cox.com