The Hacker: A cracker of a contest follows the soundand the fury

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The Independent Online

Driven off waterlogged courses by the incessant rain, most golfers have spent the past couple of weeks relaxing and reflecting on their game. But no such luxury was available to those of us still in search of a trustworthy driver to replace the springy one that became illegal on 1 January.

I've already had a moan about the iniquity of forcing high-handicappers, at no little expense, to throw away a club that might have enabled pros to drive further but wasn't necessarily helpful to the hacker. Someone estimated that the illegal driver could add three yards to a drive but, even if that is true, for most of us that meant three yards further into trouble. One magazine claims to have experimented by issuing a group of golfers with conforming drivers, and in each case they drove further than they had with their illegal clubs.

It's all unsatisfactorily vague, and the manufacturers haven't been much help. Are they feeling self-conscious about selling a product that was eventually outlawed?

A kindly act would have been to offer a part-exchange deal to anyone required to buy a new driver, but the firms I contacted haven't even responded to my questions about how many golfers have been affected.

But the upshot is that rules are rules, and I am busy auditioning for a new driving implement which, because my course is closed, has led to much swishing about in a covered bay at the local driving range.

I want to try others, but at the moment I am favouring a squarial, the latest shape to hit the market, which is reputed to hit the ball straighter. The one I am trying out is the Nike Sumo, which is working well apartfrom the noise it makes.

You can't avoid a sound when a clubhead meets the ball, but when you hit it right it is part of the satisfaction. The old wooden drivers made contact with a healthy thwack, and when the metal versions were introduced there was a pinging noise that was not unpleasant.

But the Nike emits a jarring clunk that is difficult to describe. The nearest comparison I can make is with the sound of a mason's chisel on a headstone. Can I, as already a doom-laden golfer, live with that onevery hole?

Perhaps I'm too pessimistic about the challenges that face me in 2008, but the signs are not encouraging. Although I've played most sports with a conspicuous lack of success, I've always considered golf to represent the nadir of my sporting accomplishment.

That was until last Monday, when the 'Independent on Sunday' sports department held our Christmas lunch, which had been delayed for reasons I won't go into.

It was a very happy and boisterous yuletide affair, complete with crackers, paper hats and party poppers. I had the pleasure of sitting opposite my esteemed sportswriting friend and colleague Ken Jones, who refused to allow the loss of his right arm in a train accident 15 years ago to affect his career.

During the jollifications Ken and I pulled two crackers and he won both of them. As I reflected on the way home – if you can't win a cracker-pulling contest against a one-armed man, what bloody chance have you got?