ONCE IN every man's life - we'll use men, since I am slightly more expert with that gender - once in every man's life he should, if possible, experience the joy of . . .

He should have a dark suit tailored.

He should have black shoes made . . . or, at least, properly fitted.

And, if he plays golf, he should have a set of clubs designed to fit his particular swing.

If nothing else, he should be fitted for a driver. It's that time of the year, and it makes for a perfect gift . . . to yourself, if no one else is willing.

After all, few other things in a man's life are as precious, or as personal, as his big stick. They form an unnaturally close relationship. It's like finding the perfect . . . car, let's say.

You take as many test drives as possible before you commit to the right one. You customize it. You pamper it, at least at first. You won't even let your friends take it for a spin; you're the only one who belongs in that saddle. Am I right?

Eventually, something changes - your body type, its moods - and things begin to fray. But, hey, every relationship takes work.

As with a . . . car, so with a driver. You can always trade them in.

Any golfer will use his driver at least 12 to 14 times every round; more, counting mulligans; more still if his home course features hazardous tee shots. So, let's say 20.

He will identify his enjoyment of the game as much by how he performs with his driver as by how he performs with any other club. Nobody stands at the bar after playing and says, "Boy, I really clipped a lot of sweet 7-irons today." As with so many other areas of his life a man's length is, for better or worse, tantamount.

Short-game practice might be the best way to trim strokes off your score, but hitting better drives is the best way to inflate your ego.

As with a tailored suit and proper shoes, the process of finding the appropriate golf club is terrifying. The tailor will know your true waist size; the cobbler will see how deformed your toes are; and the golf pro will learn your actual swing speed.

As with a lawyer or doctor, the pro is not allowed to tell anyone. Except your playing partners.

However, once the processes begin, they become a delightful journey toward common sense. Think about it.

You might have a half-dozen formal outfits, but you're going to wear that suit to most weddings and every funerals.

You probably have a half-dozen drivers from over the years. Get fitted, and you can give them away.

I know this now.

Early this past summer, while visiting my mother, I played a round of golf with my older brother. He has a strict policy of never offering anyone advice on the course. His friends are not quite as wise.

One of his buddies, a physician whom we will call "Doc," since that is his name, noticed me struggling with my driver. He offered me a chance to swing his - a pretty, electric-blue device that sounded hollow when he hit it.

We were on the 16th hole, playing against each other, in a tight match; certainly, I was suspicious. Also, I had just hit a decent drive. And it had the, er, unusual name: "High Heat." I wasn't going to be seen with this thing.

But I didn't want to be rude.

I swung the club once. It was like slicing through butter. The ball rocketed off the face and I felt no reverberation - odd, since I'd slightly missed the sweet spot.

Or had I?

As a subscriber to two golf magazines and as a golf dork in general, I found it odd that I had not heard of the club. I asked Doc where he'd gotten it. Doc loves to tell stories, especially in the middle of a round; we will abridge it here.

Simply, Doc had become friends with Dean Knuth and Stephen Trattner. Knuth is a retired Navy brain who snooped for subs and, in his spare time, helped develop the USGA course rating system and slope rating system. Trattner was the USGA's intellectual properties attorney. In their retirement, they decided to manufacture a driver that would help hackers be a little less hacky.

Their idea was to lower and deepen the center of gravity, compared with other drivers on the market. The effect: higher ball flight, a larger sweet spot, a club that corrects itself at the bottom of the swing and waaaaay fewer mis-hits. Imperfect shots are less likely to slice wildly across the road and into someone's windshield, and relatively poor shots go far enough and straight enough so you still might save par. OK, bogey.

High Heat is targeted at amateurs with normal swing speeds. In other words, you.

The cost is $399. Don't let the price deter you. Good suits and shoes are expensive, too. Look at all those other drivers you bought on sale during the offseasons for $129 or $99 that never felt quite right, and realize that, if you choose wisely, you won't have to replace a fitted driver for a long, long time.

You know; just like a . . . car.

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