By Brian Keogh
Is your anorak fitting snugly? Then we will begin.
In June last year, Memphis-based True Temper Sports Inc. announced its acquisition of Royal Precision Inc. So far so good. Big dog eats little dog in the golf shaft manufacturing world.
Fast forward just under a year and Darren Clarke is sitting in the media centre at Loch Lomond telling the world that he has been playing with the wrong shafts in his irons "for three years." The two events are not unconnected.
"My driver was going up in the middle of the fairway and my irons were going right and left and too high," Clarke said. S"o you would I think would be smart enough to figure it out myself after about three years, but I wasn't quite clever enough."
Clarke took his clubs to Malcolm Clark and had them checked and they were S's as opposed to X's. Given the turmoil that has been going on in his life, he had neglected to check his shafts and convinced himself that it was his swing that was at fault.
Top professional golfers are sensitive beings in more ways than one. They can be as emotionally skittish as a thoroughbred going into the stalls when dealing with some less than diplomatic question for a member of the Fourth Estate.
Watch them in the equipment trailers at a big event and they are transformed into boys with toys, shaving wedges, tweaking lies and lofts, twists grips and generally fine-tuning their tools with the precision of a watchmaker.
Clarke might have the physique of a bull but he also has touch of a neurosurgeon with his golf clubs.
"The players have high kinesthetic ability - so high feelability", explains the technician in the TaylorMade tour van at Carnoustie who regularly shafts Clarke's clubs. "They have great feel to tell the difference between one shaft and another. One might be a little bit more flexible or a little bit stiffer.
"Was it strange he didn't notice the difference in his shafts? Possibly. But some guys don't feel it as much as other guys do. Darren is one of those guys who is very feel oriented. But the difference between what he had and what he has now is fractional really.
"It wasn't really a problem with the shafts per se. It was just a confusion between Darren and the guys who supply the shafts. The reason being that Precision, who had the shafts before, were bought out by True Temper. I think in that particular period of time between the True Temper people and the Precision staff, there was a little confusion over what was the actual frequency of the shaft that Darren was using. He uses 7.6s and he thought he was using 7.0s. So he asked for 7.0s and we have always made him 7.0s. But the original people from Precision said, no, you use 7.6.
"In the greater scheme of things it is not a lot. It is about half a flex. It is fractions to be honest and at the end of the day it comes to a point where the game is so psychosomatic, it is so in the head and if things haven't been going well and you are just looking for that little edge, something like that can make a difference.
"He is very, very confident with the new shafts. He seems to be really, really happy with it. He is certainly not blaming anybody. If anything, he is blaming himself for not communicating the right information."
Lee Trevino once said: "It’s not the arrows, it’s the Indian." SuperMex was blessed with great natural feel, yet there are those that claim it can be learned as well. After Billy Casper won the 1959 US Open, the great Ben Hogan quipped, "If he couldn't putt, he'd be selling hot dogs out here." But was Casper's putting skill a gift he was given at birth? Hardly.
"When I was a youngster, I would practice putting long after the other kids had gone home," Casper once explained. "I found that if I practiced putting in the dark, it greatly improved my sense of feel and touch. I'd practice for hours, alone in the dark."
Feeling the difference of half a flex in the shaft of a golf club is beyond most mere mortals. And that includes Darren Clarke obviously.
The difference of half a shot in one year could mean losing €300,000 at the end of the season. The moral of the story? Get your shafts checked or get shafted.