The great debate in certain sporting circles at the moments is whether a golf ball ought to be equipped with a steering wheel and brakes.
Something called Polara has been on the market for about six months, causing wonder and concern for everyone who hits it. It is supposed to cure slices and hooks by as much as 75 per cent, and when I used it the other day I broke 85 on a difficult course for the first time in memory.
I do not intend to use it again.
In truth, the guilt far outweighed the satisfaction of keeping the ball in sight on tee shots that lately had often whistled to places two-legged creatures rarely visit. The bye-bye banana became a controlled fade.
Any score with Polara may well need an asterisk, though, as Charley Taylor's pass-catching feats would if the NFL suddenly allowed elastic sidelines, to be stretched anytime there was doubt he could grab the ball inbounds.
It is possible the U.S. Golf Association, whose lead the PGA tour people follow in such matters, will allow Jack, Tom and the other cashmere cruchers on the pro tour to use Polara, although if its exhaustive tests show the ball in fact regularly corrects a book ot slice it will - and should - say no.
In fact, the USGA is considering a rule that would read: "A golf ball must in general be spherical in shape and be designed to have equal aerodynamic properties and equal moments of inertia about any axis through its center."
That would keep the Polara out of serious competition, because the dimples on the top and bottom thirds of the ball are more shallow than those in the middle. Those shallows spots are what say. "Whoa, there," to shots headed toward Ethiopia and somehow seem to change the direction in the last moments of flight.
The general feeling is that the ball would most benefit the wid-swinging high handicapper, that pros would have given at least two of his companies to keep out of the rough in the final round of the British Open, Ben Crenshaw, the happy hooker, might win every tournament he entered with a Polara.
The Polara inventors, two California scientists, make no stroke-saving claims for the ball, admitting to insufficient data, although the Washington-area salesman, Ray Bassler, said: "In the 8-to-15 handicap range, it'll knock five to eight shots off your game."
And make you wonder if that is fair?
Although not nearly enough scientific hitting has been done to offer permanent conclusions, my round at Hobbit's Glen seemed a reasonable test because I had not bothered even to cast a nasty glance at the driver the previous four rounds. It had been like a rookie at Indy, usually out of control.
The three-wood was given the day off, and a strange scene took place on the first swing - the tee ball went straight. On the second tee, there was an experience similar to that witnessed by the editors of Golf Digest when they tried Polara:
"There appears to be a definite in-flight correction rather than simply a shallower shape to the curve." What this unseen steering wheel and brakes did were to turn a potentially tree-bound slice into almost an S-shaped beaut of a shot that bent around a dogleg and landed in the fairway.
A bogey followed, because, after all, you still must strike the ball well to score well. Still, drives that under normal conditions would have gone into the woods landed in the rough the next two holes. An 89 two days before at Hobbit's became an 84.
Before the round, I had been given this scouting report on Polara: "no hook, no slice, no distance." That may be true of the black-lettered Polara, but the red-lettered variety produced the same distances with the same clubs on the parthrees as did balls used on the earlier round.
Perhaps some of the difference had been my mental attitude, that having used the tree-wood effectively of late had slowed my swing enough to again get useful results with the driver. Indeed, I smacked a regular ball once jest after Polara - and Hubert Green could not have driven it straighter.
"I'm convinced there's something to it, though," said one of my partners, Ken Thomas, a five-handicapper. Thomas used a Polara for eight holes, quitting for the same reason I chose after the round.
"I just keep feeling I'm cheating," he said.
Before this begins to seem too sermon-like, let me offer the fact that I would not have thought this way six years ago, or perhaps even six months ago. When I was struggling to break three figures, having once mis-hist a drive so badly the ball flew between the legs of a man putting 60 yards away. I would have welcomed Polara the way George Allen would greet a youthful Deacon Jones.
Integrity be dammed Keep me out of the woods. Or jail even.
There are scores of levels to golf, and nearly as many reasons for playing it. The player for whom the sport is exercise and score only incidental should not feel guilty if Polara keeps him moving in the proper direction. It ought to speed up play, in fact, and what golfer would not be grateful for that?
So it alters handicaps. So what? A five handicap earned at Columbia likely is not the same as a five handicap at Needwood. And a 15-handicapper who plays writer rules on 100-degree days hardly is the same as a 15-handicapper who does not touch the ball until it hits the bottom of the cup each hole. Both get equal satisfaction from the game.
If the USGA does not snaction Polara, that will not stop those in Dufferland from buying it. if the USGa trusts Jim Dent with Polara, I will treat it as something more than a conversational tool.
There is a level to golf that demands that one play it properly, each shot from where it comes to rest and with equipment that offers risks as well as rewards, as Hogan and Hagan played the game, as Nicklus and Watson play it now and, presumably, as old TOm Morris played it. With a graphic club, of instance, one might hit the ball farther, but also less accurately. If Polara is all it claims to be, the only compensating factor would be to make every fairway as wide as a country road. And as crooked.
I became a born-again duffer just this season - and with almost a religious zeal. I also learned to hit a two-iron off short-clipped grass about the same time. Whatever, a colleague said he found himself secretly switching to Polara on every narrow hole during suchharmless matches as Coke nassaus.
So that is the lesson of Polara. Use it as your conscience allows - and also see what the other player is doing.