New Golf Ball that Maybe Illegal?

May 28, 2011 Updated May 28, 2011 at 9:05 AM EDT

By WKBW News

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New Golf Ball that Maybe Illegal?

May 28, 2011 Updated May 28, 2011 at 9:05 AM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW-ABCNews-Ron Claiborne)

I confess. I am a slicer. I can't help it. I've tried to stop. I have even been able to get it under control, sometimes for weeks.

But sooner or later, my dark habit returns like a recurring, horrifying nightmare.

I am, of course, talking about my golf game.

I've been playing golf for nearly 40 years, and for as long as I can remember I have had a nasty slice when I tee off.

For non-golfers, a slice is what occurs when the struck golf ball boomerangs wildly to the right.

When it veers to the left (for a right-handed golfer), that's called a hook. Sadly, they are common afflictions of recreational and beginner golfers.

The problem is highly-resistant to corrective measures -- and absolutely maddening.

So, naturally, when I read earlier this month in the New York Times about a new ball that allegedly goes straight no matter how badly you hit it, I was intrigued.

The ball is called the Polara Ultimate Straight golf ball. It promises to remove up to 75 percent of your hook or slice, meaning it will improve -- though not totally straighten -- your golf shot, no matter how badly you hit it.

How does it work? It's actually pretty complicated. I spoke to Dave Felker, head of technology and chair of the board of Polara Golf, for half an hour and I confess I still didn't fully understand the aerodynamics of it.

The short, simplified explanation is that unlike a regular golf ball, which has symmetrical dimples of uniform size all over its surface, the Polara ball has dimples of differing size and depth.

The purpose is to modify or arrest the side spin that occurs when the ball is hit badly. Side spin is what sends the ball careening off to the right or left.

"We prevent side spin," he said.

For the Polara ball to work to its maximum corrective effect, the ball has to be aligned with the shallowest dimples at the top and bottom.

The Polara ball helps you figure this out: it has a green arrow printed on it. You put the ball down with the arrow on top and then hit it.

Polara was kind enough to send me a dozen balls to test drive.

On a recent Tuesday, I grabbed the box, stuffed my clubs into the trunk of my car and drove to New Haven, Connecticut where I know Peter Pulaski, the head golf pro at the beautiful Yale University course.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have taken lessons from Peter the past two years in an effort to cure my slice -- with limited success.

This time, I wanted to know what would happen if an accomplished player like Peter tried intentionally to slice or hook a Polara.

Would the Polara defeat his deliberate efforts to mis-hit it? Even more important, I wanted to know if it would help me.

We decided to try out the Polaras on Yale's third hole. It is a gorgeous Par 4 with serious trouble on the right in the form of a very large, menacing pond that is like a magnet for golf balls.

You have to hit the ball straight (or slightly to the left) to reach the fairway. Anything hit even slightly to the right on this unforgiving hole is going into the water.

Peter teed up a Polara and struck it in a way that should have sent it shooting off the right.

To our amazement, it went dead straight.

Peter walked away, shaking his head in delighted disbelief.

"It IS something," he said. "I tried to hit it in the water but it kept going straight."

My turn.

First, I teed up a regular ball to make sure I could recreate my slice swing. The ball shot crazily off to the right, landing in the lake with a sickening plop. I was confident that do that again would not be a problem.

I carefully teed up a Polara ball, arrow on top, as instructed.

I reared back and let it rip. The ball soared high into the sky, arched and landed on the fairway about 250 yards away.

It had flown straight and true from tee to landing. I was in shock.

"No slice!" I exclaimed. Then, feigning nonchalance (showing too much excitement on the golf course is considered bad form), I calmly said, "Not bad."

I hit another Polara. The same thing. And another. I simply could not hit a bad shot. It was beautiful. No, it was more than that. It was a miracle. Decades of frustration and, yes, at times, explosions of anger at balls sliced into oblivion, all erased in an instant. I thought of the lyrics to "Amazing Grace:" "I once was lost but now am found,/Was blind, but now I see."

But … there's always a "but," it seems.

In the case of the Polara golf ball, the "but" is the rather inconvenient fact that it's illegal.

Not illegal as in you-will-be-arrested and charged with a crime for using it. Illegal as in it-does-not-conform to United States Golf Association regulations.

USGA rules require that a golf ball have symmetrical dimples of uniform size on its surface. The Polara does not.

It gets worse.

Once you've teed off, to get the full benefit of the Polara you have to realign the ball so the arrow is on top. That's another rules violation. You're not supposed to touch a ball on the fairway. You must "play it as it lays," as they say.

Then there's the issue of how you can ever get better if you play with a ball that compensates for what you're doing wrong.

Polara's manufacturers, who obviously have a financial interest in the matter, dismiss these concerns.

"It's not for those people who for one reason or another want to follow the rules exactly," Felker told me. "It's perfect for those people, I call them the random golfer, you just never know where it's going to go. They hook it. They slice it. It's perfect for the person who just wants to speed up play a little bit on a busy day so they're not looking for their golf ball in the woods all the time. It's perfect for people who just want to go out there and have fun."

He added, "It doesn't take the challenge out of golf. It takes the frustration out of the game."

The Polara was actually not selling especially well until the story about the ball hit the front page of the New York Times.

Ever since then, sales have taken off like those Polaras I was hitting at the Yale course: up, up and away.

Polara says a survey they commissioned indicated 28 percent of very good golfers would play with their product, and their own estimate is that 50 percent of your average duffers would. That's a lot of golfers.

Amazon.com sells the Polara online.

After a tepid start, they're now selling tens of thousands of Polaras a week, according to the balls' maker.

"They were buying 20, 30 boxes of a dozen golf balls from us a week," Felker said. "They called after that article came out. They said, 'We need to order 200 dozen.' Then they called back a few minutes later and said, 'We need to order 600 dozen.'

"Then they called back an hour later and said, 'We need to order 1,200 dozen.'

"Then they called back and said, 'How many balls do you have in the warehouse that we can lay claim to?'"

Golf purists have been teeing off the Polara. One was quoted saying it was barely a step up from a gag exploding golf ball.

Another said, "Easier golf? What fun is that?"

I can answer that one. It's a lot of fun … even if it isn't entirely, well, proper.

Neither are Mulligans, the penalty-free second shot you get as a courtesy from your playing partners after a horrific shot. You want to wave the rule book around, then get rid of the Mulligan. The way I figure it, we're not playing in the Masters, so why not make the game more fun? Even if it is, uh, technically, cheating.