There’s a saying among the panelists that the best day of the year is the day you get the email requesting your participation in the Golf Digest Hot List.
Better than any birthday present, your imagination immediately turning to the gleaming clubs that await your swing.
I’ve had the privilege of being one of the lucky 16 golfers tasked with testing next year’s soon-to-be-released clubs for America’s premier golf magazine.
It’s a labor of love, one which requires a unique blend of willingness, availability, skill, vocabulary, and a dash of mental illness.
What other explanation exists for hitting the equivalent of 6 large buckets of range balls per day for 4 straight days.
The first day is an exercise in self-control, lest your enthusiasm lull you into hitting too many shots with something new or novel or just plain awesome.
There’s always at least one club that surprises in the first category of clubs tested, one that strikes the “tuning fork to the loins” as one movie’s aspiring teaching pro once said. Alas, pacing yourself is the order of the day.
By day two, you begin to understand the veteran testers’ early morning huddle around the first aid station.
Taping the hands-on contact points unfamiliar, copious sunscreen, and your favorite NSAIDS are not things you want to skip out of pride.
Even for those that take full preventive measures, there is a strong likelihood one will go home with callouses and blisters on places you didn’t even realize were part of a proper golf grip.
The final day finds you exhausted and excited and sad in equal measure. The physical toll of hitting shot after shot has an accumulating effect, pushing towards your limits.
Mentally you begin to wish you had spent more time in the thesaurus, needing one more unique word that differentiates the microscopic differences between clubs that, when you really get down to it, are all incredible products of modern engineering.
This is a good time to tap into your inner stoked grommet, surfing just one more wave before your mom makes you get out of the water, despite your arms feeling like overcooked spaghetti noodles. Stay excited, respect the process, I repeat to myself, a mantra to remind that, at this point, it’s mind over matter.
The sadness of the last day will sound familiar to anyone that’s planned a once-in-a-lifetime buddies trip.
The end of any journey, really. You’ve spent so much time and energy on anticipation and excitement, that the finality of an end seems like a dream.
As we 16 spread back out across the nation, back to our families and familiar pillows and shower heads operating at the desired water pressure, we go home satisfied, having been part of a process that will have an impact on golfers the world over.
And I whisper to myself, hopefully, next year, they’ll ask me again. Like I said, mental illness.
Written by Wei Mao, a tester for the 2020 golf digest hot list.