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New golf clubs & gadgets bring out the best, and worst, of human nature

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
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The PGA Merchandise Show has plenty of good-looking stuff, but we might be missing the forest for the (high-tech) trees. (Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)

To be human is to progress - to struggle to get better each and every day, in search of a better life or to better the lives of others.

This is why each winter, legions of manufacturers and companies gather in Orlando, Florida, at the PGA Merchandise Show. This year's show was the biggest ever, with more than 1,200 exhibits. No matter what they're selling, the pitch is usually the same: This can make you a better golfer.

But as I walked this grandiose orgy of golf for the first time, I was unnerved.

Swing monitors gauging your swing speed to the tenth of a mile per hour.

Polyester shirts specifically woven to lower your score.

Drivers that look like - and are as big as - the spacecraft in Flight of the Navigator.

I couldn't help but liken all these new toys to some of capitalism's other magic fixes: diet pills that take off the pounds without exercise; online poker rooms where any old Joe can win millions with just a little luck; the Ritalin parents give their kids after years of letting them play too much Nintendo and eat too much junk food.

I even thought I saw Christie Brinkley and Chuck Norris at one exhibit. But it was a salesman from Tennessee and a hired model in a cocktail dress helping pimp his product.

My head was spinning. I wasn't even taking notes or photos anymore. Every booth looked the same, whether it was selling personalized Sharpies or sunglasses that talk. I had to get out.

So I went to the end of the convention center and hit some drivers.

A MacGregor club consultant behind a computer monitor watched me whack a few balls with one of the company's new MacTec drivers to determine my optimum shaft flex and degree of loft. I ripped about five in a row that were solid. (Don't your drives always look better when a net stops them about 120 yards away?) Not satisfied, the guy gave me another club with some different specs.

Possibly fatigued from ripping a half dozen drives in about a minute, I botched the next few swings - bad duck hooks off the toe. That's my miss. It has been for two years.

"I think the other driver suits you better," the consultant said, analyzing the side-spin, carry and launch angle of my three obvious mis-hits.

That's the most misleading thing about these club-fitting kiosks. Sure, it worked for the swing you brought to the range that day. But what happens, six months from now, when you get sloppy with your setup, or your grip gradually gets stronger, or you lose some shoulder rotation?

Mystified at his digression, will you instinctively try to remedy the situation with a new club? Or will you have the discipline to fix the newfound kinks with a few sessions on the range or a lesson or two with a pro?

In golf, as in life, no machine or new tool can lead you to the answer. Not in 2007. Not in 3007.

I'm not anti-equipment. I don't think high-tech gear ruins the integrity of the game. Older golf courses are obsolete for about 2 percent of golfers; the rest of us have enough kinks in our swing to subtract any unfair distance or accuracy attained through these precious metals.

The PGA Merchandise Show is a vital summit for the golf industry, which feeds off $60 billion-plus in yearly revenue, more than any other recreational sport. But the purist in me felt the game might be better off if we 43,000 industry professionals had spent those few days elsewhere. Maybe sipping iced tea and reading Harvey Penick's Little Red Book, or working on our 100-yard game, or trying to erase blowing five-foot "gimme putts" from our list of bad habits.

Most vendors at the show seemed to have a genuine passion for making us better players through their product. But like self-improvement in any area, the solution in golf requires more than a Visa card.

It takes time, which seems more and more fleeting, no matter what technological wonder we develop.

Then again, maybe that product doesn't come out until 2008.

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Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
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