The year is 1978, I’m 14 years old and it’s Christmas time. My mom asks “what would you like for your present this year?” I reply “I need a new driver.” The next day my mom takes me to an Edwin Watts Golf Shop in Terrytown, LA. We walk in and there it was, a brand new MacGregor Eye-O-Matic wooden driver with a steel shaft. It was probably a little too long for me at 43 ½ inches but I had to have it. It was a golden brown color with red and white inserts and it had a swing weight of D4. Mom throws down $125 and I say “no need for wrapping paper its going in the bag today.” Christmas arrived a few days early. One week later, I won my age bracket in the first tournament I played with that driver. It was the Holiday Classic at Lakewood Country Club. It never left my hands again for the next 15 years.
Fast forward to my rookie year on the PGA TOUR. I don’t know how many rounds I had played since 1978 but it’s safe to say it’s probably a couple thousand. I played High School, College and traveled the world with this club. I made some money on the Canadian Tour, South African Tour etc. I entered every long drive contest there was on any Tour that I was playing and won a few contests along the way when the big boys would hit it out of bounds. They usually paid more than 1st place so I finished in the money a lot. This club actually influenced the way my swing developed through the years. It’s now 1992 and it’s my 6th year as a pro and my first on the PGA TOUR. I’m in Dallas, TX playing the Byron Nelson in a practice round. Mark Jimenez is on my bag for the first time, he normally caddied for Bob Tway but he was taking the week off. Our group is standing on the par five 8th tee at TPC Las Colinas, I am playing with Kenny Perry and Russ Cochran. They did not have swing speed machines back then on tour, so I am guessing that my swing speed was around 120 to 130 mph. I step up to hit my drive giving it a little extra gas probably around 125 mph and catch it high in the heel. There was a loud crack like a bat splitting at a baseball game. The shaft and little remaining part of the heel of the club head whipped around and smacked me in the back of my head. The club head exploded into pieces and flew everywhere. I was in shock. The players were staring at me like what the hell? The caddies didn’t know what happened. It was quiet. I almost start crying. I stood there without the driver I had used for the last 14 years and had no backup that had seen any play time. I start to panic and grab a black trash bag from the trash can next to the tee box. I ask Mark to help me find all the pieces and he says “Pro, you’re not going to be able to fix that.” I tell the pros to go ahead. I’m still gathering the pieces when the next group of pros walk up to the tee. One asked what I was doing. I said “my driver exploded, I’m trying to gather all the parts.” They just laughed. I managed to find all the pieces, most importantly the face insert including all the screws. I tried to explain to Mark that I have a guy who could fix this. Mark looked at me like I had lost my mind. Let me introduce you to Mr. James Leitz. James is a lifelong Louisiana resident and was the director of golf at Pinewood Country Club in Slidell, LA for over thirty years. He’s now the director of golf and instruction at Tchefuncta National (aka Tchefuncta Country Club). Today he is recognized as one of the foremost experts in the world on club repair, club fitting and player instruction. Golf Industry companies fly him all over the world to hear him speak on these matters. James is the only teacher ranked in the Top 100 Best in both teaching and club fitting. Back to 1992, I miss the cut at the Byron Nelson so I fly home Saturday, carrying my black trash bag full of wooden chips with me. I’m still in a state of panic. I immediately drive to Slidell, LA to see James. I walk into his pro shop and say “I need you to perform a miracle. I need you to put this club back together. It has taken me six years to get on the PGA TOUR and now I don’t have a driver.” He can hear the stress in my voice. He says “what do you have?” I open the bag and put the pieces on the counter. He had to be thinking holy shit, but to his credit he didn’t flinch which gave me a little bit of hope. He said it might take a month but he would get it done. It took him two weeks. He had performed the greatest epoxy resin surgery ever on a MacGregor driver. It was better than the original when he gave it back to me. It was the same weight, same length but now had a refurbished half epoxy half wooden head that looked beautiful. It was a work of art. Having said all that, I’m not sure if the driver was legal. It was more epoxy resin than it was wood and I’m not sure what the actual rules were for club composition in 1992. LOL I was able to keep using that driver for the rest of my rookie season finishing 107th on the money list while also finishing as the 4th longest driver on TOUR that year at an average of 275.4 per drive. They only measured two holes per round back then. The long drive leaders that year ahead of me were John Daly, John Adams and Freddie Couples. Historically, I was one of the last few players to use a wooden club on the PGA TOUR. I believe Davis Love III, Mike Donald, Justin Leonard and Omar Uresti were the others that lasted as long as I did.
Note 1993 would be the last year anyone won a major championship using a wooden driver when Bernhard Langer won his 2nd Masters. The era of hitting it in the screws was over. I still have dreams about that wooden MacGregor Driver. It is safely kept in a storage unit in New Orleans. I’ll probably have it mounted after writing this story. Most cherished Christmas present ever!