I’m singing from the same song sheet as you when it comes to classic golf equipment. Thanks to the manufacturers’ control of the ruling bodies, golfers have been addicted to performance-enhancing equipment for decades. A major detox is badly needed but will likely never come about.
Some quick background before the Moe story: My dad was a golf nut who introduced me to the game at age 12 in 1966. My uncle was an accomplished amateur golfer who had the good fortune to play an exhibition match with Gary Player and Stan Leonard in 1960. I aspired to be as good a player as my uncle one day, but ended up being a dime-a-dozen 4 to 5 hcp player. I just don’t have the natural talent that he had.
I loved my old laminated wood driver; it was my favorite club and served me well for many years until it finally split apart from impact wear. I was sneaky long with it – in the 260 to 270 range for a sold hit. I once hit a 325 yarder with a gale force tailwind in a tournament and it got coverage in a local newspaper article for its “huge” distance. That’s ho-hum nowadays, as current players would probably hit it 450 under the same conditions. Some junior golfers I competed against in tournaments one day became club pros. Terry Hashimoto even went on to play the Canadian tour for awhile, so you maybe met him at some point.
At our home course, I mostly played used balls that we would find as kids. A guy certainly couldn’t hit a balata ball skinny, or it would immediately be ruined with a big smile in it, right down to the rubber windings. I do recall buying some golf balls at the local Firestone dealership that were, I believe, 3 for $1.33 (when the Cdn and US dollar were about equal). A tad bit lower priced than today’s hot balls, even when factoring inflation.
Anyway, here’s my Moe story …
As teenagers, my brother and I caddied at the 1971 CPGA championship in Saskatoon, SK. When we were done caddying for the day, we went back on the course to follow several pros who were in contention. All the buzz amongst the caddies was an eccentric pro who was playing the event – Moe Norman. I’d never heard of him until that weekend, as TV sports coverage focused on the PGA tour.
We tracked Moe down on a par four hole, waiting for the group ahead to play their approach shots before he could tee off. He was a strange sight to behold with his funny looking attire, disheveled hair and his odd mannerisms and speech. I thought he was about to take a practice swing, so I wasn’t paying full attention. I immediately heard the loud “thwack” of his drive. Having missed seeing him hit it, I looked at my brother in astonishment and said, “Holy shit, he didn’t even take a practice swing!!” Not knowing that he addressed the clubhead so far behind the ball, I had incorrectly assumed he was setup for a practice swing.
Moe’s unorthodox swing was a shock to the system; nothing about it was what I was taught for fundamentals and what I figured a great swing should look like. But, what an amazing display of pure ball striking and accuracy I got to witness.
Moe seemed to be more interested in entertaining the fans that day than playing seriously, as he would hit his drives off of turned over cups or very high tees. On another par four hole, Moe was at his drive in the fairway (dead centre, of course!), impatiently waiting for the group ahead to finish on the green. He chatted with us in the gallery, complaining about how slow the players ahead were. He then promptly lay down on the fairway, with his hands tucked under his head, and pretended to have a nap. The gallery hooted.
Years later, I read a biography about Moe that stated he could play competitive eighteen-hole rounds in two hours or less and still shoot sub-par scores in the 60s. I remember during the CPGA event that he never lined up putts or made any practice putting strokes either. To me, his legacy was just as much about quick play (slow play is a huge pet peeve of mine!) as it was about being “Pipeline” Moe. His pre-shot routine was simply aiming at the target and then pulling the trigger.
Fast forward to the 1992 CPGA championship held in Regina, SK, where my wife and I took our three pre-school age boys to watch some action. At one point, we caught a driving exhibition on the range put on by Canadian pro Kelly Murray. Kelly told the gallery that he knew George Knudson and Moe Norman, and incorporated some of their ideas into his game.
Kelly was bombing drive after drive past the end of the range. They had a high flight (he launched them at an optimum angle for maximum carry distance) and they went dead straight. I noticed that Kelly had lead tape on the persimmon head of the driver. I asked him what the swingweight was, expecting him to say D6 or D7. He replied, “F8 … in other words, it’s a sledgehammer.” My eyes bugged out in amazement. How the heck could he wield such a heavy club, let alone hit such long drives. The heavy driver, of course, was inspired by Moe Norman.
A few years ago, I did an internet search and tracked down Kelly living in Florida. I asked him by email if I recalled correctly that his driver was F8 during that exhibition. He replied, “F8”. He then phoned me and we chatted for an hour. He had stories from his days playing the Canadian tour (including some Moe tales and voice impersonations) as well as his time on the Asian tour.
I had assumed his F8 driver was steel shafted because it was silver color. He told me that it was actually a Honma boron shaft, extra stiff. Honma had signed an endorsement deal with Kelly for apparel and equipment, and it included this new shaft technology (VERY expensive compared to graphite). With the lighter shaft, it allowed Kelly to increase the length of the driver by three inches. So the extra length contributed the most in getting such a high swingweight. The club had a high static weight too, but I’m not sure what that was. In any event, Kelly told me the driver with that shaft gave him 25 more yards compared to his persimmon driver with the traditional steel shaft.