Man About GolfApril 13, 2010

Backin' It Up

The controversy over Phil Mickelson's pre-1990 Ping Eye 2 wedge -- in which Scott McCarron said Mickelson was "cheating," even though his club was legal -- is doubly irrelevant to players like you and me.

In the first place, we'd need a microscope and new bifocals to see the groove difference that McCarron was upset about. In the second place, worrying about excessive backspin is, for us, like worrying about having too many interesting things to say to Jennifer Aniston. Most of the guys I know don't even clean their grooves, much less use them to terrorize their opponents. You could grind the faces of my wedges smooth, and I'm sure I wouldn't notice the change, unless my shanks suddenly started flying in unfamiliar directions.

Nevertheless, making a ball back up under any circumstances is undeniably impressive. The pros sometimes cause trouble for themselves by spinning their shots too much, but it's hard for an average player to think of that as a problem. If every approach I hit came zipping back into a bunker, I'd feel as proud as if I'd taught myself to breathe underwater. Anybody can accidentally hit the ball close to the hole; the awesome thing is to look like you've got an inside line on the laws of physics. I myself manage it occasionally -- usually from a bunker or on a day when the greens are unusually soft, or when I've swayed so far forward during my downswing that I've unexpectedly hit my ball before hitting the ground -- and it's always a thrill. Even in its truly malignant forms, ball rotation can be exciting.

I once played a round with a guy who had a two-fairway slice. His wife was riding in the cart with him, and she'd never seen him play before, and when he hit an unusually spectacular banana she gasped, "How do you make the ball curve like that?" A slice is just backspin lying on its side, so we should treat it the way the guy's wife did: with respect.

I can think of only one thing that would make me happier than routinely making balls shift into reverse. It involves an old dream of mine: Some winter, I want my regular Sunday-morning golf group to hire a couple of high school kids to secretly meet with us every weekend, and teach us double-dutch jump rope. We'll work and work and practice and practice, and then, at the big cocktail party in the spring, we'll suddenly break into our routine -- a dozen overweight, middle-aged men doing snappers and caterpillars and buck splits and scissor jumps. We'll blow everybody away.