In the first round of the Open last week, Lee Elder shot a 77. He blamed poor driving.

Hooking and pushing, he hit only four fairways. After the round, Elder said "the driver felt heavy. Maybe I'll try to take some weight out of it for Friday's round."

Elder has the mental affliction that most of the touring pros suffer: tinkeritis. They convince themselves that the club isn't designed exactly the way it should be to suit their divinely-made talent or perhaps the last tinkering job didn't go far enough. So one day the clubs are too light, the next day too heavy. Something is always wrong, except when you shoot 66.

The tinkering Elder had another option: temporarily scrap the driver.

The spoon does just as well, if the purpose of getting off the tee is to get a reasonable amount of distance, rather than the overwhelming amount we usually crave. And it does much better if we want to stay in the fairway.

Everyone goes through driving slumps; the intelligent solution is to switch rather than fight. The driver is the least controllable of all the clubs, if only because its room for error has so many windows through which the tee shot can be misdirected.

During one recent stretch when I had a severe case of the sprays, I decided to play the next five rounds with my driver and five rounds after that with my spoon. In my driver rounds I averaged only six fairways out of 14. On the eight holes that I had to play out of the rough and the forests, I bogied five, double-bogied one and parred only two.

When I switched to a spoon, I was able to hit 12 out of 14 fairways. Instead of being seven over par for those 14 holes, I was only two over, from the two bogies I had when missing the fairway. Multiplied by five rounds, that is a difference of 25 shots.

The sacrifice in distance is only about 10 to 15 yards a hole, a small tradeoff compared with the strokes saved.

Two kinds of golfers resist taking to the spoon. One is the cruncher, the individual who lives for the booming tee ball.

His pride is fat with the calories of vanity. His happiest word is "connecting." He will tell you about the pro-ams he has played in when he outdrove his professional partner by "20 yards, and that was when his ball rolled and mine didn't."

With all his connections, the cruncher actually hits but one or two long drives a round, but they're enough to satisfy his ape-neck needs for advertising his masculinity. To use a spoon would not only deny his crunching urges but it would open the floor to questions about his vaunted manhood.

The second driver-only player is the defeatist. He believes he can hook or slice as proficiently with the three wood as the one wood, so why raise hopes that a change can make a difference.The case of a defeatist is more of a challenge than the cruncher because his confidence, not his ego, is threatened. Golf has made him into a negative thinker.

What he needs are a few positive facts. Let him take a notebook to the course in which he gets the actual disaster figures straight. Over a few rounds, how many times does he drive into the rough? Then let him use the spoon for a few rounds.

For nearly all golfers, I would be willing to bet my treasured Silver King golf ball that the game will be more pleasurable when driving with a three wood.

This applies only in emergencies: when your driving suddenly sours and no theories or professional help can sweeten it. The driver is still the proper club to be teeing off with, and you still ought to be using it most of the time.

A case can be made that after a week or two with the spoon, your driver will actually become a better-managed club. For one thing, you will at least have an increased desire to be playing your second shots from the fairway, a delight you may have forgotten.