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Introduction: Why I’m writing 18 stories for GolfWRX

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My name is Tom Stites, and 40 years ago I fell in love with a wonderful game. For most of that time I’ve also been a golf club geek.

I started getting serious about golf clubs in the mid-1980s when I was a young, golf crazy engineer. In 1986, the Good Lord got me a dream job at the historic (and real) Ben Hogan Golf Company. That was 30 pounds and 30 years ago, but I remember it like yesterday. Actually, I remember it better than yesterday.

From then to now I’ve worked (or done consulting work) for more than 20 golf club manufacturers. During those gigs I’ve received more than 200 patents, designed more than 300 commercial golf products and worked directly with more than 150 touring pros who have used my clubs for hundreds of wins (including all four major championships, multiple times). I’ve had 30 years of great golf fun, made a good living from clubs and lived vicariously on the tour through some really great players. I don’t think for a second, however, it was because of my small dose of talent.

I got much help from many others. I also don’t think any of the good stuff would have happened if I had not met, worked directly for and learned from Mr. Ben Hogan and master club maker Gene Sheeley in my very first golf industry job. You just can’t dream up a job, a place, a time or a blessing like that. Thank you, Mr. Hogan! Thank you, Gene!

I’m sort of semi-retired now, but I still do club design and business consulting work. If you’ve ever shared a beer or dinner with me, you know that I love to tell the Mr. Hogan stories. I’ve also had great fun with many other pros. I’ve even had some hard encounters with a few. I sometimes slip up and tell these stories.

I’ve got some strong opinions about how the club business got to where it is today and where I think it will go in the future. I question how many will care, but maybe it is time for me to tee up these stories and opinions. My friends and family have encouraged me to write a book. Maybe someday I will, but for now, no. I just want to get a few things recorded so some future golfing grandson will know what his old timer granddaddy did back during the club wars of the 80s and 90s.

I wish some of my native Cherokee ancestors had recorded their stories as they were removed from their land in Georgia by Andrew Jackson and force walked on the Trail of Tears to settle Oklahoma. I wish my great great uncle, who was killed the first day of the battle at Vicksburg, had told us more of his life as a Civil War veteran. No way my life as a mere golf club veteran even sniffs close to these guys, but still I’m feeling compelled to get on paper some of my experiences and stories just in case someone, somewhere, someday might care or enjoy. As club and golf lovers, maybe some of you too will want to follow along.

So here is my plan. I will play this like a round of golf. I will tee up 18 short stories with the front 9 holes being some never-published stories of my personal encounters with Mr. Hogan. On the back nine, I will take a risk and tell stories of other pros and share my opinions on the equipment industry, as well as my predictions for the future. I especially look forward to telling you about my personal favorite touring pro and how his incredible ball striking skill doesn’t even get close to the level of his awesome personal character.

So if you will join me, I invite you to go back with me 30 years and hear the ramblings of this old fart golf club geek. I learned a lesson in each of these stories, and I think you might, too.

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Tom Stites has spent more than 30 years working in the golf industry. In that time, he has been awarded more than 200 golf-related patents, and has designed and engineered more than 300 golf products that have been sold worldwide. As part of his job, he had the opportunity to work with hundreds of touring professionals and developed clubs that have been used to win all four of golf's major championships (several times), as well as 200+ PGA Tour events. Stites got his golf industry start at the Ben Hogan Company in 1986, where Ben Hogan and his personal master club builder Gene Sheeley trained the young engineer in club design. Tom went on to start his own golf club equipment engineering company in 1993 in Fort Worth, Texas, which he sold to Nike Inc. in 2000. The facility grew and became known as "The Oven," and Stites led the design and engineering teams there for 12 years as the Director of Product Development. Stites, 59, is a proud veteran of the United States Air Force. He is now semi-retired, but continues his work as an innovation, business, engineering and design consultant. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Ben Hogan Foundation, a 501C foundation that works to preserve the legacy and memory of the late, great Ben Hogan.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Anna Simon

    Nov 4, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I am currently working with a company that is building a new product that helps golfers improve and analyze their golf swing, taking a multi-sensor approach to the swing analyzers products on the market. The product’s Kickstarter will be launching later this month. Would you like us to get in touch with you to test the product? If so, please send me your email to anna@duotrac.com.

    Many Thanks,

    Anna Simon

  2. Austin

    Jun 12, 2015 at 1:32 am

    Tom,

    It was great to sit down for dinner with you a few years ago in the stockyards of Ft. Worth. I still retell the Henny Bogan story you to told us over those great steaks. I look forward to hearing more of your experiences. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Christosterone

    Jun 7, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Any wait….Nike in 2000….can’t wait to hear tiger stories/legends….dude was a god at the turn of the century

  4. driver ben

    Jun 6, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Looking forward to hearing your stories! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Deez

    Jun 2, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    WITB?????

  6. Deez

    Jun 2, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    WITB?????

  7. C. Weber

    May 31, 2015 at 7:07 am

    I can’t wait to read the stories.

  8. trbgolfer

    May 31, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Looking forward to hearing your stories and insight into the world of golf club design. Thanks for taking the time to share from your experiences and challenges with players and, even, Mr. Hogan himself. What an honor to have worked with so many wonderful people and it’s an honor to hear what you have to say. I will definitely be joining you for this “round” of golf.

  9. Reid

    May 30, 2015 at 3:50 am

    Definitely looking forward to your stories!

  10. Justin O'Neil

    May 30, 2015 at 3:15 am

    Mr. Stites,

    It will be a pleasure to read of your encounters and experiences from behind the curtain of the golf world. Your brother, Kirk, was the best man in my parents wedding. Jack O’Neil is my dad and he got me started on the game very early in life and shared some stories of you and your brother. He always went back to a round of golf with you at Oak Tree and discussing golf club tech. He also liked to tell the story of Kirk taking him up in his airplane on the morning of the wedding and doing a free-fall! Please, if you read this it would do me a great honor to have a personal correspondence with you via email. You can reach me at: justin.oneil@wosc.edu

    I am looking forward to this 18-holes worth of reading material!

  11. rymail00

    May 29, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Tom,

    Welcome to WRX. Reading your first article I got say I’m looking forward to more of them. The real “inside” of golf is something I’ll never be a part of so reading future articles or a book on that subject especially on Hogan and the Hogan company as well as Nike definitely peaks “my” interests. Hopefully people keep the comments to whatever is written in the articles and get to side tracked fanboys or haters.

    Like I said really looking forward to stories, and inside look into the golf companies regarding the good and the bad.

    -Ryan

  12. Ryan K

    May 29, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Sweet!

  13. Sean

    May 29, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Look forward to it Tom! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  14. Scott

    May 29, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    This sounds like there will be some good reads. Looking forward to it

  15. Lynn Rowland

    May 29, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Eager to hear these stories. Would be interested in reading a book written by Tom and his experiences with Hogan (the man and the company) and Nike. As well as general thoughts on club design. I have a feeling he has some very cool stuff to share. Especially with Hogan/Nike fans like myself with an engineering background. Thanks Tom

  16. larry

    May 29, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    This is exciting. I’m sure Mr. Stites is well aware of the opinions that some folks have in regards to Nike clubs and this may be a real eye opener for some, and of course, hearing stories of Mr. Hogan will be awesome as well. Looking forward to this!

  17. alan

    May 29, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    looking forward to these stories and your opinion. not many folks willing to share less than pleasant encounters they have had with others. i personally think taylormade and callaway are killing themselves and having multiple releases every year. spending tons and tons of money on advertising and product rollouts cuts into their bottom line, further consumers dont want the value of their clubs to be nominal in less than 3 months.

  18. MHENDON

    May 29, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    To all you Nike bashers here’s your chance.

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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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Podcasts

TG2: Reviewing Tour Edge Exotics Pro woods, forged irons, and LA Golf shafts

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Reviewing the new Tour Edge Exotics Pro wood lineup, forged irons, and wedge. Maybe more than one makes it into the bag? Fujikura’s MCI iron shafts are some of the smoothest I have ever hit and LA Golf wood shafts get some time on the course.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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