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Hole 3: Ben Hogan: “I had a dream” 

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He was much misunderstood, and I certainly do not intend to contribute to more of that. My first few encounters with Mr. Hogan were tough. And if you only consider one dimension of Ben Hogan, you might call him crusty. I assure you, however, that he had many dimensions that would come out in time. He was guarded, but he did later show his passion and softer side. I just needed to earn my stripes.

Stick with me and I promise in a few holes I will give you a few glimpses of a warmer and fuzzier Ben Hogan. If you can’t wait, my buddy Tim Scott has a number of those in his recent book, which is a great read. As for me and my stories, I need to take you down this path as it happened to me.

Anyone who could get just a little bit close to Ben Hogan would soon learn he loved dearly a number of causes. I am only going to report what I saw him do or what I heard him say in my presence. With that backdrop, I can tell you that I experienced several examples of his enormous passion and love on the following subjects: his country, the U.S. military, the game of golf and those who play it at all levels, his family, his company, his products, his employees, Texas, and even stray dogs. Those are the things that for me caused his first impression as a crusty, demanding man to chip and melt away.

There is no doubt, however, that Mr. Hogan was a fiery competitor. He drove himself hard to be his best and demanded no less from those around him. I doubt anyone he led ever worked harder or faced bigger obstacles than he did. If you have ever played for a tough coach or experienced the pressure of a military drill instructor, you know that it is not always pleasant. You also know that from the pressure you became a better player, a better teammate or a better solider because you were challenged and driven hard. That was Mr. Hogan. He didn’t coddle his employees, but he did instill team loyalty and an extreme sense of accomplishment.

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about something I saw him do in 1988 — or maybe it was 1989 — that offers insight into how his mind worked. You’ve probably heard his quote about golf: “The best part of the game is improving.” He talked of that many times.

Anyways, here’s the story.

Mr. Hogan always made a point to be with his troops at the yearly Ben Hogan Company sales meetings. Company salesmen and management folks from across the country and the world would gather each year to celebrate successes and map out the plans and products for the next year. The year of this story, we had the most successful and hottest product in the industry: our “Edge” irons. On the night of our formal awards dinner, Mr. Hogan was to speak. Guys and gals were pontificating all day as to what would be his subject, and we knew that he was very creative over the years in how he would address the group. 

When the doors to the banquet hall opened for dinner, roughly 40 full-grown golf geeks in suits jockeyed for the seats near the main table to get as close as they could to Mr. Hogan. I was pretty aggressive and wiry quick in those days, so I’m proud to say I got one of the prime seats. I would be near enough to catch it all.

Mr. Hogan came in the room and was seated at the head table with Jerry Austry (our president) and the mucky muck VPs. Mr. Hogan had a reputation of not being much for chit-chat, but he seemed to be having a good time discussing whatever the head table subjects were during dinner. After chow and a number of presentations for sales awards, Jerry got up to introduce our very rare speaker. Doug McGrath (one of the VPs) went over to shut down the drink waiters and bartender; he did not want anything to distract from Mr. Hogan’s address.

After Jerry’s introduction, Ben Hogan rose and stepped to the podium. He was in his late 70s at the time. Mr. Hogan gripped his left and right hands on the podium furniture, and slowly turned his head left and right and scanned the room. He had no notes with him. The silence he invoked was loud. Ben Hogan was a true master of the pause and could use silence like no one I’ve ever encountered since. All eyes that night watched and waited. If Elvis had crawled out of his grave at Graceland and entered the room’s side door, I doubt if anyone would have cared. We were Ben Hogan’s team and our leader was about to speak. 

The silence was finally broken when Mr. Hogan leaned into the microphone, and I’ve transcribed what he said to the best of my memory. 

[quote_box_center]

Men, (pause). A few nights ago I had a dream. It was Masters Sunday. All the greats were there and I was in the last group. I stepped to the first tee and hit the greatest drive of my life. The ball flew like a rocket. I hit my second shot near the pin and tapped in for my birdie. I was happy.

I stepped to the second hole and hit my drive. It set up perfectly for my approach shot. My third was at the flag and trickled near, and I tapped in for another birdie. After two holes I was 2-under. I went to the third tee. Same thing there, birdie. Now I’m 3-under for the day.”   

[/quote_box_center]

Mr. Hogan continued shot by shot, describing 14 more dream holes at Augusta National, each of which resulted in a birdie. He had many times during his career said that there should be no reason a golfer could not make a birdie or better on every hole. It seems his dream was a round just like that. It took a good while for Mr. Hogan to describe all these holes, but the room was mesmerized and locked into his story.

[quote_box_center]“Then in my dream, I found myself looking up the hill standing on the tee at 18. I was 17 strokes under par for my final round. It was the best dream of my life. I hit my drive up the hill on 18 with the same rocket trajectory as the first hole. My second hit the green and tracked towards the pin. After it came to rest, I had a makeable putt for my birdie. I then rolled that putt at the hole. It was tracking perfectly. At the last moment, the ball lipped out around the cup and left 6 inches for par and a final-round score of 55.”[/quote_box_center]

Everyone in the room started to laugh uncontrollably… everyone but Mr. Hogan, that is.  He kept a stern face and squeezed both sides of the podium as if he wanted to break it.   After he let us hoo and haw for a few seconds, Mr. Hogan raised both arms high in the air. The room went silent. He had complete command again and gruffly said:

[quote_box_center]You guys might think that lip out was funny, but I didn’t!”[/quote_box_center]

There was a long pause.

[quote_box_center]”My best dream ever had become a nightmare! I was so damn mad it woke me up and I haven’t slept since.”[/quote_box_center]

I didn’t think it possible, but Mr. Hogan found a way to scowl at us even more. We didn’t know how to react. Was he serious? For a moment, I wondered if the nightmare had been real and it and sleep deprivation had melted his mind. But at the apex of this newly imposed silence, Mr. Hogan’s icy stare slowly morphed into a sly grin, and then a real smile. A few seconds later, he topped off the smile with a millisecond “I gotcha” wink.

He stepped away from his pulpit and sat down, and everyone in the room leaped to their feet. We were ape like berserk with cheers, applause and gut-wrenching laughter.

It was a priceless moment of Ben Hogan being Ben Hogan.

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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.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Ray Moore

    Aug 5, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Excellent Data. Is the waiter that served Mr. Hogan still alive I think his name was Charles at Shady Oaks CC. I heard a story that Mr. Hogans wife was sending Mr. Hogan in town to be fitted for a new suit or two which he did not like to do and he told the waiter if I’m going you are going also would you be able to verify. Thank you

  2. Sara "Gene" Crawford

    Aug 3, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    These were great men. Thank you Tom, for showing the world just pieces of my “paw paw” !!

  3. Pingback: Ben Hogan “I had a dream” | Bringing you all the news from around the world

  4. M.

    Jul 12, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    How far the game has come from it’s gentlemen like beginnings to the half wit trolling offspring of today… go find another sport to heckle douche bags!

  5. Christosterone

    Jul 12, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Tom,
    I LOVE golf history….in fact, my wife is always telling me to delete all the 60s and 70s “Open Championship” episodes from the DVR.
    Your articles are quickly climbing the ladder in my rankings…
    And though I am not a Hogan fan, his place in history is unarguable and your articles invaluable..
    Please keep em’ coming….
    Thanks
    -Christosterone

  6. BD57

    Jul 11, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Tom,

    Keep telling the stories, knowing the folks who know their history and respect the game appreciate it.

  7. Big Tony

    Jul 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Thankfully Ben Hogan did not have a Twitter account. The canyon-esq divide between his pretty golf swing and basic social decency is so sad it could make tennis fans out of all of us. Where are you Sam Sneed?

  8. Josh

    Jul 10, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Some of you are just pitiful. The guy is sharing an inside glimpse of one of the most noted golfers of all time and all you can do is come back with snarky comments about everything.

    If you hate Hogan so much why are you even reading the articles?

    Tom, great stories keep them coming.

  9. Slimeone

    Jul 10, 2015 at 5:24 am

    Sounds like Hogan was the life of the party.

  10. Jake Anderson

    Jul 10, 2015 at 4:52 am

    seems like this hogan person was very unlikable. and he wasn’t even a very good golfer, so why bother?

    • Me Nunya

      Jul 11, 2015 at 12:37 am

      I wish they would just moderate the obvious trolls.

  11. Nolanski

    Jul 9, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Love it! Keep em coming.

  12. Chuck

    Jul 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Well, if he made a three (drive-“approach”- one putt) on the second hole at Augusta on “Masters Sunday,” that would have been an eagle. Not that I would have been counting, listening to Ben Hogan. Maybe it was a Masters Sunday where Ben, in his seventies, was playing at Shady Oaks and not Augusta.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Jul 9, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Chuck, the story has been corrected. He was describing his third shot on No. 2.

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“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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