When I think about what Mr. Hogan left behind, I’m reminded of the Greek myth about Theseus who entered the labyrinth to slay the Minotaur. Theseus faced a second challenge that was just as daunting: How would he find his way out of the maze if he succeeded in slaying the Minotaur? Well, it turns out all he needed was a spool of thread. He tied the thread to the entrance of the maze and unspooled it as he ventured into the darkness. Thus, he was able to accomplish his goal, and eventually find his way out of the labyrinth. Like Theseus in the labyrinth, Ben Hogan left us these books to help us on our way. All we have to do is follow the thread of the hero path.
As I look back over the past few years, I have to laugh because I’ve never been as good at golf as I wanted to be. I’m sure many people could say the same thing. I started playing when I was 8 years old, and today I’m 47. I was willing to work on my game and I spent a lot of money on clubs and lessons, but I did not get better. My average score was in the high 80s. I often shot in the 90s, and I sometimes shot in the 100s. The worst score I can recall was 126.
Then one fine day, I was in the checkout line at a golf store and saw Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons on a rack by the cash register. I bought that book, and it changed my life. Around the same time, I got a Flip video camera and I saw my swing for the first time in decades. Well, suffice to say, I didn’t look like Ben Hogan. I realized I needed to improve my swing, and Mr. Hogan’s books gave me a path to follow. Over the course of the next five years, I would undertake the challenge of trying learn how to swing like Ben Hogan. Along the way I started a YouTube channel, and began rebuilding my swing and sharing my work with the world. Today, I have more than 9 million views on my channel and I can even shoot under par.
Taking on the challenge of trying to rebuild my golf swing in the manner of Ben Hogan probably sounds a little crazy. At first, it seemed like a preposterous goal. I had been a martial arts champion and professional ballet dancer in my past, however, and it was by studying Bruce Lee and Mikhail Baryshnikov that I was able to achieve a respectable level of mastery in each of those fields of study. So, I thought “How hard can it be?” Well, it was the most complicated of all of my pursuits due to the counter-intuitive nature of the golf swing.
It didn’t take long before I could make golf swings that bore some of the hallmarks of the Hogan golf swing. The first year, I flattened my backswing plane and I learned to use my body well enough to create a good amount of lag. My scores quickly improved and I achieved my initial goal of being able to break 80. In fact, I did it 14 times that first year! To be honest, that was all I wanted from my game at the time. I just wanted to be able to shoot in the 70s, and not feel like a buffoon when I stood on the first tee box. But the goal of mastering the Ben Hogan golf swing began to fester in the back of my mind, and being in my mid-40s, it seemed like an age-appropriate pursuit since my days of combat and theater were far behind me.
After some initial successes, the greatest challenge I faced moving forward in regards to learning how to swing like Mr. Hogan was how to use my lower body correctly. Years of playing the game with my weight too far forward had caused me to develop some bad habits that seemed impossible to break. I’m right handed, and as soon as I started my downswing, my right heel would immediately pop off of the ground. This led to early extension of my hips and my spine angle would rise through impact. These are common maladies in the world of golf, and it took me years before I could get “over the hump.” Mr. Hogan said many times that what really separates world-class players from everyone else is the use of the lower body.
I would spend years trying to overcome my early extension, and sometimes I convinced myself that it was just how my body worked. But then I learned about a teacher named Gregg McHatton in my area. I began taking lessons with Gregg, who was known for being an expert on Ben Hogan’s swing. Once I arrived, Gregg pointed out something that many folks on YouTube had also noticed. He told me I resembled Mr. Hogan until just before I released the club head. At that point, I would lose my angles and I looked like an average Joe. The truth is my swing was really just a poor imitation of Mr. Hogan at that point. I had to tackle my impact and release.
Gregg first helped me to understand what a proper impact position actually looked like. The first time he asked me to demonstrate what I thought the impact position should be, I was flummoxed. I didn’t really know. He wanted me to keep more flex in my knees through impact, especially my front leg, with my hips open and forward shaft lean. Gregg has an interesting way of teaching. It seems to me that he prefers not spilling his guts about everything right away, but he rather enjoys leading students down a pathway that causes them to have their own epiphanies. At least that was the case with me.
Gregg and I enjoyed a number of conversations about Ben Hogan and baseball, and I like to practice swinging a bat to feel my hips leading on the downswing. I’ve always had a tendency to overpower the golf club with my hands and arms, but the weight of a bat makes this harder to do. But it was after I took a look at pitching that helped me to really understand how to use my feet and legs better. Once I started to imagine feeling my back foot against the rubber, I realized how inefficient it was to allow my right heel to pop off of the ground. I knew I needed to use my leverage against the ground. This caused my lower body to work in a much more efficient manner, and also helped to deepen my hips and to stop me from early extending. By mimicking a sidearm/underhand throwing motion like Mr. Hogan showed in his book, I really started to feel how the swing builds from the ground up. Today, I have a consistent move that allows me hit the ball farther than I ever have before and my consistency has vastly improved.
We all know there is only one Ben Hogan, and his swing was one of a kind. Mr. Hogan was so modest he didn’t even believe his swing was the perfect swing to copy. But he did say the ultimate judge of the golf swing is the ball itself. I do not believe I will ever perfectly match Mr. Hogan’s swing, but I have received so much enjoyment just from the pursuit, not to mention the benefit from my tremendously improved golf game. I certainly hope to keep improving at this wonderful game, but judging from my ball flight I can say that I made it much farther along than I ever thought possible.
I’ve slain the Minotaur and lived to tell the tale.
Bag Chatter: An Interview with Uther Supply
Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email email@example.com for consideration. This interview is with Daniel Erdman of Uther Supply.
Tell us about Uther. How do you pronounce that? What are you all about? How did you start?
It’s actually pronounced “other.” We’ve gotten that question a lot and, to be honest, we’re kind of OK with it. We wanted to brand ourselves as unique, so we think it fits well. We want to create products that no one else creates. That could be towels in unique prints or some other golf goods outside of that. We’re targeting the customer that wants to be different as well…people who want to demonstrate their unique personalities.
Forgive me for being a little direct, but golf towels may not strike a lot of people as being something a lot of people would start a business with. Were you seeing a lack of something in the marketplace somehow? What prompted you to start this company selling golf towels?
It may not be conventional and I definitely recognize that. Some of my friends have laughed at me for starting a golf towel business. I guess it hit me when I was working at private clubs (I have worked at The Thornhill Club and Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto). When you work in the back shop and storage facility, you handle a lot of golf bags. I just noticed rows and rows of bags that all look the same and I thought it made a lot of sense to inject some personality into it. You know, people go crazy for how all the pros personalize their wedges and their bags. They buy towels and bag tags from courses like TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach to personalize their stuff, but in the end it all kind of blends together. Billy Horschel’s octopus-print pants at the 2013 US Open was something that always stuck out in my mind and in that moment when I was staring at all those bags, it all kind of came together in a way. I thought we could really add something to the marketplace.
What do you think differentiates your products from others in the marketplace? Why do you think people would buy your products?
We’ve already addressed the fact that we offer different and bold prints, but that’s obviously the first thing that most customers will notice. Beyond that, though, we put a lot of attention to detail into our products. We went through 40 different suppliers to get things right. My grandparents had a really successful flooring mat company when I was growing up. Watching them run the family business gave me the bug at a very young age to start my own business. It also taught me how much quality matters and getting the right suppliers and materials. It was so much more difficult back then without the internet, but now, a quick google search just does so much of the legwork for you.
Something that I think is very interesting here is you’re very young at only 22 years old. A lot of the people I’ve talked to recently have been in their twenties as well. Tell me a little bit about what it took to start this company. Did you have to secure an investment? A lot of people shy away from starting a company for fear of the hill being too steep to climb, if you will. Since you’re in the process of climbing it, what’s that actually like?
It definitely was difficult. The only outside funding I got were some grants and loans from business accelerator programs. Those helped tremendously. I remember having to place a very large order at my supplier at the same time my one of my funding opportunities was being processed. That particular one only had like a 20 percent acceptance rate, and if I didn’t get it, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to fund the order. The way everything happened to be timed, I had to I place my order before I heard back from my funding application to meet a deadline. It turned out I was accepted, so that was a relief, but it was definitely pretty stressful. You know, in the beginning, you’re working for months before you generate any income. You’re doing everything for the first time like sending stuff through customs, dealing with suppliers, collecting transactions, you name it. You’re bound to make mistakes along the way and when you have zero money coming in, the mistakes you make hurt so much more. You have no processes or systems in place. It’s something you need to accept for what it is and grind through it. Social media helped accelerate things quite a bit (including meeting my sales partner Luke through Instagram). Selling on Amazon and going to the PGA show last year gave us a boost as well. It’s hard to say what the hardest part is specifically. It’s just the grind in the beginning trying to get momentum behind it. Once you get over the hump, it’s really exciting and fun, but getting up to that point is definitely not easy.
It should also be mentioned that you’re based out of Canada. A lot of people would assume being in the Great White North would make the game of golf a challenging proposition. How long/short is your golf season in Ontario? How do you stay sharp over the Canadian winters? And what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to play golf when it’s far too cold for most of us? To what lengths will you go?
It can get interesting for sure. I first started golfing because of my hockey friends. Yes, a lot of us do play hockey up here. It was a natural transition for a lot of us to play hockey in the winter and golf in the summer. However, if you do happen to get a golf itch in the winter, you will have to get creative. It’s pretty easy to go to just an indoor simulator to practice. Sometimes I would go to Golf Town (our version of Golf Galaxy) to pretend to demo clubs in order to practice my swing. That can get you by for a while, but it’s not the same as hitting an actual golf ball and watching it fly through the air, you know? So when you get to that point, there’s a nice indoor/outdoor range near me with covered, heated hitting bays. Our golf season is from like April through October, so that leaves a lot of time in between. Golf vacations become necessary sometimes.
Before starting Uther, you alluded to your experience working at golf courses. First off, you must have some good stories. No need to mention any names, but what’s your favorite story from that stage of life? Also, what was it like to go from working at a club to having to court those golf clubs to become your customer, stock your products, etc? Was that really easy or really difficult?
Well, I have a bunch of stories involving golf carts. Just in case the old golf directors read this, I won’t give too many details. Working at a course is great. You can’t get a better “office” than going to the course every day. There’s nothing like watching the sunrise on a dew-covered golf course, especially when you’re being paid. Some of my best memories were after tournaments where three of us guys would clean like 80 golf carts. We would all have fun and get to know each other. It didn’t really feel like work.
In both instances (working for a course and now selling to them), it doesn’t really feel so much like work. It does take a lot of work, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel like drudgery, that’s for sure. The difference is that there’s a lot more behind the scenes work that I’m doing now. We recently did a towel for the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance in collaboration with State Apparel. It took us a lot of back and forth to get that product right, but once we did, we came up with a custom, one-off product that our customers really loved. And watching them react to it was incredible. Stuff like that really keeps you going.
This question is unabashedly inspired by (ahem…lifted from) one of Rick Shiels’ recent posts. (Giving credit where it’s due here). If you had to “Tin Cup” it (i.e. play a round of golf with only one club), what club would it be and how many extra strokes do you think it would take? So, if you were to play your home course, your normal score is what? And what would your “Tin Cup” score be, you think?
If I had to choose one club for a Tin Cup round, I think it would be a five iron. My home course (and the public golf course I worked for) is Richmond Hill Golf Club. It’s only like 6,000 yards, so I feel like I could totally get by with a five iron and get on any green in 3. I typically shoot like an 80-85. I don’t think I would be that far off the number honestly. I trust the five iron, but also, I know my course pretty well and I think that club would suit it nicely. Now that you ask, though, I feel like I’m dying to try it!
What tour pro would you most like to have a beer with? Not necessarily the guy you’d want to play golf with or pick his brain about the game. Who do you think is the most likeable guy on tour? Who would you most like to befriend, if you will?
I would definitely have to go with Rickie Fowler. He’s got a bold style for sure, but he owns it and I really dig that. I love that he congratulates the other guys on tour and is supportive of them when they win tournaments. He seems so humble. He’s also really adventurous. He’s into motocross. I’m not into motocross, but I love the adventurous spirit. He just seems like a really cool guy from what I can tell.
It’s almost hard to believe, but the PGA Merchandise Show is fast approaching (January 23-26, 2018 in Orlando, FL for those who don’t know). Will you be exhibiting? What are you most looking forward to? That question is, of course, about what steps you think Uther will take, but also, are you looking forward to anything specific from other manufacturers? What companies’ booths are you planning on going to?
We will definitely be at the show and we’re really looking forward to it. Come see us at booth 3988! I walked the show last year but wasn’t exhibiting, so I would go up to potential customers and pitch my products to them. That was a lot of work and it was quite stressful being out on a limb like that. We’ve been working on this year’s show since August and I think it’s going to be a ton of fun. We’ve got some really cool stuff planned. You also get to meet so many people there, which is just a blast. As far as other stuff I’m looking forward to, Greyson Clothiers is definitely at the top of the list. Charlie’s story is so interesting and I just love their products.
Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Are there any product releases forthcoming? Tell people how to find you on website, social media, etc.
So, the big news is that we will be expanding beyond golf towels. We will be launching some gloves and hats that I’m really excited about. We have six different golf gloves as well as bucket and baseball hats we’ll be rolling out in some very fun prints and colors (because that’s what we do). Definitely a good idea to check out our website, which is www.uthersupply.com. The website has a link to sign up for our email list which will send out some discount codes from time to time. There will also be some exclusive and limited-edition products on the website at times too. @Uthersupply is our handle on all social media platforms. Business customers can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org to collaborate with us on custom products. We’d love to have people come see what we’re about!
Tara Iti: A Golfer’s Paradise
This trip couldn’t have started better. Tara Iti Golf Club is magic! No disrespect to the home of golf, but this course might be as special as it gets when it comes to playing links golf.
Catch Up: The Start of My Golf Adventure
Tara Iti is a masterpiece that opened late in 2015. It’s designed by the famous golf architect Tom Doak, and it’s located on a large piece of land on the North Island of New Zealand around 1.5 hours from Auckland. It’s well hidden from houses and traffic, so you can just focus on your game and the stunning property.
The course brings swift fairways and plenty of risk-reward opportunities, offering a bevy of challenging shots that you need to plan carefully in order to get close to the flag. I loved especially the shapes presented by the fairways and waste areas, which make it feel as though the entire course is seamlessly woven together. I also like the idea they’ve got here of playing the ball as it lies. No bunkers, just waste areas.
On a personal note, my match against Johan was halved. He played very well on the first nine while I did well on the back nine.
What’s key to success to Tara Iti is a polished short game in combination with the ability to hit the fairways. I found my favorite hole at No. 17, a strikingly beautiful short par-3 that pops up between the wild sand dunes. There are three iconic trees to the left with the sea and a beautiful island as a backdrop.
Up Next: Kauri Cliffs on the northern peak of New Zealand. It is said to be one of the most scenic courses in the world.
Life as a left-handed golfer
“My bad, forgot you were a lefty,” my cart partner says, driving to the wrong side of the ball for the third straight hole.
“All good. Let me just grab my wedge and putter and you can head over to your ball,” I say, realizing I left that wedge on No. 2.
“Too bad you can’t use one of mine!” my hilarious buddy jokes. And just like that, we’re off. The life as a lefty.
Saturday morning rounds usually start casually enough. Tees are thrown and partners drawn. As I approach the ball, my laser-like focus after a terrible range session is typically interrupted by everyone’s favorite knee-slapper.
“Did anyone ever tell you you stand on the wrong side of the ball?” ZING!
“Actually, I’m standing to the right of the ball if you really look at it,” a younger me once quipped, a joke that would confuse and embarrass all involved. And then, with the confidence of an awkward night at the improv, I dead block one that nestles next to a tree.
As we cruise down the rough, my chauffeur politely asks, “You pulled your drive, correct?”
“Yeah, missed left side,” I mumble, preferring not to get into that brain teaser.
Now, this ball may be perched to the right of the tree, giving me a lucky angle in. “Man, what a time to be left-handed, eh?” Or, to my chagrin, settled just to the left of it forcing me to play it sideways. “Ugh, what a tough break being left-handed, huh?”
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Now, I don’t fault anyone for making these observations; even I think left-handed players look outrageous on the golf course. The most experienced golfer will still see a fellow lefty in the middle of their ensuing fairway and wonder, “Why is this guy hitting it toward us?”
We’ve been conditioned to think this way. I like to call it The Ugly Duckling Syndrome. Maybe someday, we too will turn into swans and have the beautiful swings that all right-handed golfers like to say we have (we don’t). The compliment usually comes in around No. 6 as he’s starting to get the hang of this cart thing and your wedge is still holes behind.
“You have a good swing there. You remind me of Phil Mickelson. I bet you are a big fan of his?”
Sure, why not. I also have a Mark Brunell jersey, Mike Vick fathead, and I exclusively watch James Harden play basketball.
Sarcasm aside, us lefties are a proud bunch and really do love playing with or seeing another lefty on the course. For many of us, it’s the only chance we have to try different equipment. We take full advantage.
Seeing another lefty at the club is like seeing a long-lost friend on Thanksgiving Eve. We might wave, give a head nod or take an air swing, but I promise you we are acknowledging each other. Have you ever been out on the lake and pulled off the friendly wave to a fellow boater? That’s being a lefty on the golf course.
Now, we like you righties; we know your charm. You provide us an endless supply of dad jokes and sometimes you have an original one. And when we finally have a second to go grab that wedge left on No. 2, we know you’ll return it with a smile. “Well, at least you knew I wasn’t going to keep this one, Mickelson!”
Lather, rinse, repeat.
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