Golf's bountiful charms include its abiding bizarreness, spanning six centuries and finding fresh light over the weekend, dude, at a rowdy course in Arizona.
There, this familiar game long since passed off as normal behavior ran across the following narrative:
Technicians at Callaway had toiled to revolutionize a driver, which does paint a picture of glorious golf geeks, sleepless and hunched over computer diagrams. Last Tuesday, their newly forged RAZR Fit Xtreme found its way to the hands of 42-year-old Phil Mickelson who, when it comes to club advancements, has seen his share plus somebody else's. Mickelson hit it and "saw an immediate difference."
Boom. Mickelson lurched a lip-out from a 59 on Thursday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, an event that doubles as a cocktail party (not that there's anything wrong with that). He rested a shot from the PGA Tour 36-hole record after Friday. He persisted at a shot from the 54-hole record after Saturday. He won on Sunday with the obscene score of 28-under par. He made 29 birdies and one eagle, led the field in -- no, really -- greens in regulation.
And we all started envisioning Augusta, with excitement and pine trees.
"I think that sets up the tone for the rest of the year, because I really started to play well, but for me, the rest of the year took a turn on Tuesday when I got my new driver," Mickelson said in his Sunday press conference. "It just changed my whole deal ... The fact that this club is so easy to hit now, I think it's going to change the rest of the year for me. I really do."
Wake up Monday, same old driver, and you're just a great player with a great past and the capacity for occasional greatness up ahead. Wake up Tuesday, receive a new driver millimeters different from the old one, and you're a great player with a great past and a chance for a great whole year up ahead.
Now, any of us with an inordinate amount of our pasts spent in golf media tents has heard umpteen golfers go on and on about new-club revelations before. For a while in history, it seemed we always heard about putters found in garages. We have seen new-club fates rise in moments and fade in stretches. We might even reach the point where we feel skeptical of new-club revelations yet at the same time forgiving of new-club enthusiasm, because we know this savage human invention of a game is brutal and merciless, so that anything to boost the psyche comes off as acceptable, no matter how delusional.
Evidently, though, Mickelson's RAZR Fit Xtreme, despite its spelling atrocities, manages to come pretty close to replicating his iron play, and anything that can help replicate Mickelson's iron play would qualify as a good idea.
"This has been a driver in the works for months now," he said. "We have identified what we needed to do, what direction we need to do to be able to get me to make the same swing with my driver as the irons and hit it well, and I think we have accomplished that. I want to thank the technicians at Callaway for doing this, because it's not easy. To be able to make a driver that spins this low with this much loft for me has never been done."
How lovely to thank the technicians, especially in awards season.
Now we're talking about "potentially some of the best golf [Mickelson] ever played," and holy mercy for that. Now we're talking about the coming landscape of a promising year, because in addition to No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy still roaming the planet, the United States PGA Tour has churned out as its most recent tournament winners both Tiger Woods and Mickelson.
In San Diego, Woods proclaims excitement for the year after the Hundred Years War of rebuilding of his swing with coach Sean Foley; in Phoenix, Mickelson proclaims excitement for the year after a small meeting with his swing coach on Wednesday but mostly after a new driver comes to town on Tuesday.
It all could mean zero and it all could mean something, but it does mean that on this first Monday in February, the second Thursday in April cannot arrive soon enough. Whatever the various travails of Woods and Mickelson across recent years, Augusta soothes them -- both have four top-five finishes across the last five Masters, with a Mickelson victory from 2010 in that mix. Last year, with that bygone driver and its insufficient spin-loft combo, Mickelson still finished tied for third.
Now you take all of that and you fling in McIlroy, who won the most recent major in a landslide and who has his own weird scenario about whether he'll be as effective with the new Nike clubs as he has been since 2007 with his old Titleists. You could have a compelling mix of players plus a beguiling mix of questions about how much the clubs matter, and how much the clubs matter because the six inches between the temples deem that they matter.
Somehow, this tangle of equipment and psychology and delusion and logic and strife and mystery has persisted all the way since the Scottish 1500s. Of that, we must say, well, you know, thank goodness.