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Hole 5: Ben Hogan’s “Prototype” Fly Swatter

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One year after Mr. Hogan’s “I had a dream” speech, we gathered for another annual company sales meeting. It had been another good year for the Ben Hogan Golf Company, with sales of our Edge irons going strong and the GS (Gene Sheeley) model under development for the future.

Mr. Hogan’s speech to the sales force that night at TPC Los Colinas was quite memorable, but it only lasted two minutes. In that two-minute address, however, he tipped over the first in a line of dominos that would give me my greatest golf trophy. One year later, that same line of dominos would create a very long and sleepless night for me.

Here’s how it went down. Mr. Hogan once again addressed his worldwide sales force and the corporate leaders from our headquarters in Fort Worth. Like years past, he was impeccably dressed in a suit (we all were) and he was quite stoic. To the best of my memory, here’s what he said:

[quote_box_center]”Men, we are going to make a new golf club. It will be better than our successful Edge. I believe it will change the game of golf. It will help make those golfers who now shoot 100s shoot 90s.[/quote_box_center]

He paused. 

[quote_box_center]”It will make those who now shoot 90s shoot 80s.”[/quote_box_center]

There was another long pause.

[quote_box_center]”It will make those who now shoot 80s shoot 70s. It will be so damn good I may just take it back out on Tour.”[/quote_box_center]

With that, he stepped away from the microphone and sat down. The crowd was not quite sure how to respond, but soon they were giving Mr. Hogan a rowdy round of applause. His speech did not invoke the same response as the year before, but it didn’t take much to please this crowd. If Mr. Hogan had got up and said his ABCs or just counted to 100 everyone would have cheered and been glad they saw the man do it.

The second Mr. Hogan announced he was going to make a new club, I found many eye balls around the room looking at me. New clubs were my thing at the Ben Hogan Golf Company, so they assumed I knew what he was talking about. As soon as the spiller of the beans sat down and the formal part of the night was over, a number of them (including our president) asked me to fill them in on the specifics of the club Mr. Hogan had heralded. More than one jaw dropped as I told them I had no idea what he was talking about.

Maybe Gene was working on something secret with Mr. Hogan, I told them. Gene was not at the sales meeting, so we would be waiting a few hours before we knew what he knew.

I went and saw Gene the next morning and told him what happened. He was confused as I was. Neither of us knew about Mr. Hogan’s secret, and possibly imaginary club! I found company president Jerry Austry, and told him that Gene didn’t know what Mr. Hogan was describing last night. Jerry told me I’d better get up to Mr. Hogan’s office and figure it out.

With no idea what I was walking into, I went into Mr. Hogan office. “What?” he said, as I knocked on the frame of his office door.

[quote_box_center]”Mr. Hogan, you told the company last night you had a new idea for a great club,” I said. “Do you want us to get to work on a prototype? If you will tell me what you have in mind we will get right on it.”[/quote_box_center]

He looked at me for a bit, and then started to describe a low-profile utility club that had everything. To call it a hybrid would not do it justice. This was a time before these types of clubs were in vogue. I’m going to hold out two features, but what I can tell you is that Mr. Hogan’s dream club had a very long, yet lightweight hosel. It also had a heavy keel, turf-riding sole, and the low-profile body had a very low CG. It would shaft up with an extreme offset and inset, and would even have a bent shaft.

flyswatter3 (1)

An artist’s illustration of Ben Hogan’s famed grip on a fly swatter.

At this point, I made a big mistake and talked. I told him that the club he was dreaming up might be non-conforming. He looked at me with those drilling, bright blue eyes and told me that I had better worry about him right now, not the USGA. Just build it and see if it works. We would worry about the USGA later.

He was right. The man known for classic blades was very creative. He knew real innovation requires risk and taking chances. We should prototype early and often. We could learn from the mistakes and move on. And we should never miss a chance to make something better for everyone. Let’s kiss all the frogs and hope a few will turn into something good!

Mr. Hogan knew all these things, and he made sure I understood them that day. It was a way of living and thinking I then chose for the rest of my career. I don’t know from whom or how he got that creed, but he had it and he knew how to pass it on.

The club Mr. Hogan was describing to me that morning was hard to put into words at the time. He could see my confusion and he got frustrated that I didn’t see it as clearly as he did. He needed something to use as an example, so he spun around to his credenza and came back with a very old fly swatter. It looked like the one my grandfather used. He then told me to “come here.” I had to step around the corner of that huge desk, a place where I had only seen Gene go. I never expected to go back there. When I did, he gave me the fly swatter and told me to “grip it and address the ball.”

[quote_box_center]Huh? I thought. What? What ball? Address it with a fly swatter?[/quote_box_center]

He was dead serious. With Mr. Hogan sitting in a chair two feet in front of me, I gripped the bug weapon and stood there frozen, pretending that his right knee was the ball.

“Is that your grip?” he asked.

By the way he asked the question, I knew I was in trouble. He reached up with an open right hand and swatted my hands on the swatter. It wasn’t hard enough to constitute an assault, but hard enough to get my attention. It was like one of the times my football coach would slap the side of my helmet, grab my face mask and pull me in face to face so I could experience up close his booming voice and a few sprays of screaming spit as he coached me up to be and play better. Mr. Hogan was a great coach, so the shock effect worked for him, too.

There must have been something about my grip he just couldn’t stand, and he was determined to fix it before we could go on. Those super strong hands of his came up and pushed, pulled and repositioned my hands on the swatter’s wire handle. I was getting a hands-on grip lesson from the Wee Ice Mon, Mr. Ben Hogan. Wow oh wow!

After he had my hands to a minimum acceptable grip, he told me again to address the ball. “Yes sir,” I said. I went into my pre-shot routine, shifting my weight from foot to foot as I waggled the pretend club a few times. I then glanced down the imaginary fairway, which was the north wall of his office. I didn’t want to screw up again, and I settled into what must have been an acceptable address position.

Mr. Hogan then went to the neck of the fly swatter I was gripping and started to twist and shape the wires — the imaginary shaft and hosel — the way he wanted the new club to be made. If these bends were put in a real club it would help promote a natural closing rotation at impact, I noticed. I didn’t think it would help someone who had a tendency to hook the ball, as Mr. Hogan did, but for those who hard cut or sliced the ball it would be cool feature. Mr. Hogan had the physics right, but I still doubted the USGA would go for it. I kept my mouth shut, however.

“Do you understand what I want?” Mr. Hogan asked. “Yes, sir,” I said.

“Now, just go do it!” he said.

Mr. Hogan probably didn’t realize what he had just said, but my future Nike brothers and sisters would have been proud.

Without changing my hands or taking them off the high-speed insect whacker, I walked out of his office gripping the world’s most unique prototype golf club. This one was hand crafted by Ben Hogan himself. I did not want to let go of my new grip, so I shoulder bumped all the doors open on the way back to my office. When I got there, I sat down to think about what had just happened.

It wasn’t until I went to lunch that I released my new Hogan grip on the wires. I never gave the swatter back to Mr. Hogan, and he never mentioned it. I used it to describe to the design team what we would build and prototype, and I’ve still got it. It’s old, rusty, and bent out of shape, and it will never kill another fly. I know it wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else but me. Through the last three decades, I’ve kept hundreds of keepsakes and clubs — even some clubs played and hit by major champions — but that old fly swatter is by far my favorite trophy.

Over the next 12 months, we would build several prototypes based on that fly swatter. One of those prototypes would be at the center of a memorable, sleepless and wild night. On the next hole I will tell you what happened.

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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.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. FredWomble

    Aug 19, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Great series. I was afraid reading it.The Hogan mystique came through in this story!

  2. Steve Thomas

    Aug 19, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Tom:
    Can you make this a 72 hole tournament? I can’t get enough of these stories!

  3. Zach Mayo

    Aug 18, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Keep us dangling for installment # 6. !!!!
    Like Ive said before Mr Stites….. your story telling matches the quality of the clubs you’ve made . SPECTACULAR.
    The first 5 holes were birdies on my scorecard..keep it up and you could have the perfect round of 18 birdies that was the dream of the man whose stories you engage us with.

  4. Wiley

    Aug 16, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Definitely will need an emergency nine!

  5. Philip

    Aug 13, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    Great story telling. Don’t forget that there is always the 19th hole, and that one never ends …

  6. Ken

    Aug 13, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    When it comes to the wisdom of Mr. Hogan, maybe we could play 36? Great article. Thanks.

  7. Tom Wishon

    Aug 13, 2015 at 11:49 am

    TS, keep these up because I’m really enjoying these as well. And when you finish 18, think about creating a second 18 as well !! Hope all is well with you these days.

    • tom stites

      Aug 13, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks Tom. Hope to see you again soon.

    • rymail00

      Aug 13, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      Yup agree with Mr. Wishon. I really hope to read more stories after this 18. I’m sure your time at Nike could fill a book (which would be very cool too). If there’s one I really hope there’s another 18 to help past the wait. We’re equipment junkys and I believe that’s why reading yours, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Wishon articles are so interesting.

      Keep them coming.
      Ryan

  8. Howard

    Aug 13, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Tom, These stories are great and this one is the best so far. I never grow tired of reading about Mr. Hogan. One of my most treasured mementos is a letter I received from him about a week after I wrote him to tell him how much Five Lessons had improved my golf game. I’ve been hooked ever since.

  9. Ronald Montesano

    Aug 13, 2015 at 7:35 am

    Also, Did Anthony Ravelli draw the image you used of grip and fly swatter?

    RM

    • tom stites

      Aug 13, 2015 at 8:30 am

      The art was done by a good friend of mine who happens to be a very gifted illustrator and artist. I asked him to help me tell the story. There are just no photos on the internet of someone golf gripping a fly swatter. He did a great job. I can say however we were both inspired by the great works of art in the Five Lessons Book.

  10. Ronald Montesano

    Aug 13, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Tom, I simply cannot wait for each successive installment. You are gifting all of us with rare insight, the type that we would never be able to acquire on our own. Thank you.

    RM

  11. gvogel

    Aug 12, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    What?!!! I have to wait until hole number 6?!!!!!

    Aghhhhh.

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On Spec: Dr. Paul Wood, Ping Golf’s VP of Engineering

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Host Ryan Barath talks all things design and innovation with VP of Engineering at Ping Golf, Dr. Paul Wood.

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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Opinion & Analysis

Clark: A teacher’s take on Brandel Chamblee’s comments

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Because I’m writing to a knowledgeable audience who follows the game closely, I’m sure the current Brandel Chamblee interview and ensuing controversy needs no introduction, so let’s get right to it.

Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player, now plays a role as a TV personality. He has built a “brand” around that role. The Golf Channel seems to relish the idea of Brandel as the “loose cannon” of the crew (not unlike Johnny Miller on NBC) saying exactly what he thinks with seeming impunity from his superiors.

I do not know the gentleman personally, but on-air, he seems like an intelligent, articulate golf professional, very much on top of his subject matter, which is mostly the PGA Tour. He was also a very capable player (anyone who played and won on the PGA Tour is/was a great player). But remember, nowadays he is not being judged by what scores he shoots, but by how many viewers/readers his show and his book have (ratings). Bold statements sell, humdrum ones do not.

For example, saying that a teacher’s idiocy was exposed is a bold controversial statement that will sell, but is at best only partly true and entirely craven. If the accuser is not willing to name the accused, he is being unfair and self-serving. However, I think it’s dangerous to throw the baby out with the bathwater here; Brandel is a student of the game and I like a lot of what he says and thinks.

His overriding message in that interview is that golf over the last “30-40 years” has been poorly taught. He says the teachers have been too concerned with aesthetics, not paying enough attention to function. There is some truth in that, but Brandel is painting with a very broad brush here. Many, myself included, eschewed method teaching years ago for just that reason. Method teachers are bound to help some and not others. Maybe the “X swing” one player finds very useful, another cannot use it all.

Brandel was asked specifically about Matthew Wolff’s unique swing: Lifting the left heel, crossing the line at the top, etc. He answered, “of course he can play because that’s how he plays.” The problem would be if someone tried to change that because it “looked odd.” Any teacher worth his weight in salt would not change a swing simply because it looked odd if it was repeating good impact. I learned from the great John Jacobs that it matters not what the swing looks like if it is producing great impact.

Now, if he is objecting exclusively to those method teachers who felt a certain pattern of motions was the one true way to get to solid impact, I agree with him 100 percent. Buy many teach on an individual, ball flight and impact basis and did not generalize a method. So to say “golf instruction over the last 30-40 years” has been this or that is far too broad a description and unfair.

He goes on to say that the “Top Teacher” lists are “ridiculous.” I agree, mostly. While I have been honored by the PGA and a few golf publications as a “top teacher,” I have never understood how or why. NOT ONE person who awarded me those honors ever saw me give one lesson! Nor have they have ever tracked one player I coached.  I once had a 19 handicap come to me and two seasons later he won the club championship-championship flight! By that I mean with that student I had great success. But no one knew of that progress who gave me an award.

On the award form, I was asked about the best, or most well-known students I had taught. In the golf journals, a “this-is-the-teacher-who-can-help-you” message is the epitome of misdirection. Writing articles, appearing on TV, giving YouTube video tips, etc. is not the measure of a teacher. On the list of recognized names, I’m sure there are great teachers, but wouldn’t you like to see them teach as opposed to hearing them speak? I’m assuming the “ridiculous” ones Brandel refers to are those teaching a philosophy or theory of movement and trying to get everyone to do just that.

When it comes to his criticism of TrackMan, I disagree. TrackMan does much more than help “dial in yardage.” Video cannot measure impact, true path, face-to-path relationship, centeredness of contact, club speed, ball speed, plane etc. Comparing video with radar is unfair because the two systems serve different functions. And if real help is better ball flight, which of course only results from better impact, then we need both a video of the overall motion and a measure of impact.

Now the specific example he cites of Jordan Spieth’s struggles being something that can be corrected in “two seconds” is hyperbolic at least! Nothing can be corrected that quickly simply because the player has likely fallen into that swing flaw over time, and it will take time to correct it. My take on Jordan’s struggles is a bit different, but he is a GREAT player who will find his way back.

Brandel accuses Cameron McCormick (his teacher) of telling him to change his swing.  Do we know that to be true, or did Jordan just fall into a habit and Cameron is not seeing the change? I agree there is a problem; his stats prove that, but before we pick a culprit, let’s get the whole story. Again back to the sensationalism which sells! (Briefly, I believe Jordan’s grip is and has always been a problem but his putter and confidence overcame it. An active body and “quiet” hands is the motion one might expect of a player with a strong grip-for obvious reason…but again just my two teacher cents)

Anyway, “bitch-slapped” got him in hot water for other reasons obviously, and he did apologize over his choice of words, and to be clear he did not condemn the PGA as a whole. But because I have disagreements with his reasoning here does not mean Brandel is not a bright articulate golf professional, I just hope he looks before he leaps the next time, and realizes none of us are always right.

Some of my regular readers will recall I “laid down my pen” a few years ago, but it occurred to me, I would be doing many teachers a disservice if I did not offer these thoughts on this particular topic!

 

 

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Opinion & Analysis

A trip down Magnolia Memory Lane: Patron fashion at the 1991 Masters

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Like a lot of golfers out there, I’ve been getting my fix thanks to the final round Masters broadcasts on YouTube via the Masters channel. Considering these broadcasts go back as far as 1968, there is a lot we could discuss—we could break down shots, equipment, how the course has changed, but instead I thought we could have a little fun taking a different direction—fashion.

However, I’m not talking players fashion, that’s fairly straight forward. Instead, I wanted to follow the action behind the action and see what we could find along the way – here are the 1991 Highlights.

I love the “Die Hard” series as much as anyone else but one fan took it to a new level of fandom by wearing a Die Hard 2 – Die Harder T-shirt to Sunday at the Masters. This patron was spotted during Ian Woosnam fourth shot into 13. Honorable mention goes to Woosie’s gold chain.

There is a lot going on here as Ben Crenshaw lines up his put on 17. First, we have the yellow-shirted man just left of center with perfectly paired Masters green pants to go along with his hat (he also bears a striking resemblance to Ping founder Karsten Solheim). Secondly, we have what I would imagine is his friend in the solid red pants—both these outfits are 10 out of 10. Last but not least, we have the man seen just to the right of Ben with sunglasses so big and tinted, I would expect to be receiving a ticket from him on the I20 on my way out of town.

If you don’t know the name Jack Hamm, consider yourself lucky you missed a lot of early 2000s late-night golf infomercials. OK so maybe it’s not the guy known for selling “The Hammer” driver but if you look under the peak of the cabin behind Woosie as he tees off on ten you can be forgiven for taking a double-take… This guy might show up later too. Honorable mention to the pastel-pink-shorted man with the binoculars and Hogan cap in the right of the frame.

Big proportions were still very much in style as the 80s transitioned into the early 90s. We get a peek into some serious style aficionados wardrobes behind the 15th green with a wide striped, stiff collared lilac polo, along with a full-length bright blue sweater and a head of hair that has no intention of being covered by a Masters hat.

Considering the modern tales of patrons (and Rickie Folwer) being requested to turn backward hats forward while on the grounds of Augusta National, it was a pretty big shock to see Gerry Pate’s caddy with his hat being worn in such an ungentlemanly manner during the final round.

Before going any further, I would like us all to take a moment to reflect on how far graphics during the Masters coverage has come in the last 30 years. In 2019 we had the ability to see every shot from every player on every hole…in 1991 we had this!

At first glance, early in the broadcast, these yellow hardhats threw me for a loop. I honestly thought that a spectator had chosen to wear one to take in the action. When Ian Woosnam smashed his driver left on 18 over the bunkers it became very apparent that anyone wearing a hard hat was not there for fun, they were part of the staff. If you look closely you can see hole numbers on the side of the helmets to easily identify what holes they were assigned to. Although they have less to do with fashion, I must admit I’m curious where these helmets are now, and what one might be worth as a piece of memorabilia.

Speaking of the 18th hole, full credit to the man in the yellow hat (golf clap to anyone that got the Curious George reference) who perfectly matched the Pantone of his hat to his shirt and also looked directly into the TV camera.

It could be said the following photo exemplifies early ’90s fashion. We have pleated Bermuda shorts, horizontal stripes all over the place and some pretty amazing hairstyles. Honorable mention to the young guys in the right of the frame that look like every ’80s movie antagonist “rich preppy boy.”

What else can I say except, khaki and oversized long sleeve polos certainly had their day in 1991? We have a bit of everything here as Tom Watson lines up his persimmon 3-wood on the 18th. The guy next to Ian Woosnam’s sleeves hit his mid-forearm, there are too many pleats to count, and somehow our Jack Hamm look-alike managed to find another tee box front row seat.

You can check out the full final-round broadcast of the 1991 Masters below.

 

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