The clock on my truck reads 8:55 a.m. The meeting with Tony Hoffman is five minutes away but there’s 10 minutes of traffic. My phone vibrates with a text at 9 a.m. “You able to find it okay?” Tony asks in reference to his house. Tony’s street is visible, but 50 cars away.
Pulling into the driveway, his home seems almost vacant from the outside if it weren’t for the manicured lawn and landscaping. It’s a beautiful gray, brick home with a two-car garage and a driveway that dips down and forces me to park my truck in a position where the driver’s door swings open as soon as the latch clicks. Tony meets me at the front door with a grand handshake and smile that could convince you to trade your house for a mashie niblick.
“Do you know the difference between a golf collector and a drug addict?” Hoffman asks me as we sit down. There were a couple answers running through my mind, but none seemed appropriate. “There are cures for drug addicts.” Tony chuckles. It’s a warm chuckle. He’s a man of a 78, tall and lanky, but he seems as if he were stout in his younger days.
We’re sitting in Hoffman’s office, more a museum than an office. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Arnold Palmer’s office at Latrobe Country Club then you can imagine the room. He calls it his “I-love-me room.” The wall is littered with vintage putters, niblicks with hickory shafts, and a foray of pictures — some of golf clubs, some with caricatures of golfers from a foregone era. We’re here to talk about his addiction. It’s not an intervention, however; it’s quite the opposite. It would likely more resemble the mentorship session Bubbles gives his partner in the pilot of The Wire.
“I’ve been a member of the Golf Collector’s Society for over 20 years,” Hoffman says. “I think I joined in 1991 or ‘92. I got hooked. I found this old golf club.” He smiles as he tells his origin story. The addiction got him early and being around him would give anyone a contact high.
“After I bought it, I called around to see what they were worth. I found a man who was a distributor of old golf clubs, [his] name was Chuck Furjanic up in Dallas [Texas]. So I called and he said, ‘If you can find some old golf clubs, just give me a call and give me a description and I’ll tell you what it’s worth.’” Another grin appears on his face. “So I started just as a hobby. I’d go out to the antique stores or the flea markets and I’d find one here, one there, and I’d call him and he’d ask what I paid for it. I’d say $5 or whatever, and he’d say, ‘Well, send it to me and I’ll give you $15.’ That started it. And it’s contagious. You have to be careful.”
It’s a friendly warning, but for those of us who are gearheads, the abandoned clubs in our basement or garage are a testament to the truth he’s spitting.
I first met Tony almost a year ago now. I was interested in purchasing a set of hickory clubs that I could play with. A few years before that, I’d played in a 9-hole hickory scramble at my club. It was a blast and ignited this desire to find a set of my own. To make matters worse, I stumbled on a video promoting the U.S. Hickory Open. Yes, it’s a real thing. Players from all over the world play a 72-hole stroke play event with hickory clubs. Most are original clubs from the era, but some are exact replicas approved by the Hickory Association. When my initial search began, I reached out to a man named Max Hill. I would later learn he has what is likely the largest collection of hickory clubs in the world. After an email exchange with Max and a quote for a set of clubs north of $1,000, he connected with Tony Hoffman, who just happened to live in San Antonio, my new home. The first morning we met, I bought three clubs from him. Two weeks later, he gave me another for my birthday. He also beat me by four shots on my birthday, from the same tees, at age 78. He shot two better than his age and he was annoyed with himself. A friendship began that day.
Tony sits at his desk and his chair squeaks as he leans back to look around the room, pointing at things without explanation. Then he sort of twirls his fingers and it seems to remind him to rewind and start from the beginning.
“Most of my collection focused on everything prior to 1930, and most of my good clubs were from the 1800s,” he says. He stands up and points to the circular rack standing next to my chair. It doubles as a lamp with a statue of a pre-war era golfer that could be anybody from Harry Vardon to Old Tom Morris. Behind the lamp he pulls up a spoon and tells me it’s from “1890 something.” It’s wooden head and shaft have darkened over the years, but the condition is nearly impeccable. He says he’s refinished many of his clubs, but this one is original. It looks more like a sawed off hockey stick than it does a golf club. What’s considered the hosel these days is thicker and makes a more gradual, more graceful, transition from the shaft to the head.
He hands me the club and I set it on the ground as if I’m going to address a ball. It’s a beautiful piece of equipment, resembling more a pretty vase on a shelf than a club. He grabs the spoon back and says that everything in the office he’s accumulated in the last three months.
“I’m going to give you a book when you leave to let you borrow, and you can look through and see what all is out there,” he says. “It was one of the few things I managed to keep when a collector friend of mine from Canada came and bought my whole collection. We loaded up an entire 8-foot by 12-foot U-Haul with the collection. He cleaned me out, so I basically started all over.”
It’s hard to fathom everything in this room has been accumulated in such a short time. There are 10 or 12 putters around the top of the wall encircling the office, 10 or so spoons and woods older than the U.S. Open Championship, a mint set of Wilson Staff Tour Blades, a mint set of Ping Eye 2 irons that includes the 2-iron, all the woods, and the vintage Ping staff bag. And then there’s a giant, exact replica Callaway Big Bertha Steelhead 5-iron that was a promotional product when Callaway launched its best-selling iron ever. On another rack in the corner, there are 10 or 12 Ping Anser putters. Tony is one of those Ping guys.
Tony gets up when a set of Wilson Staff Tour Blades is mentioned, and he walks me around the office. When we get to the Ping set, his eyes light up. He pulls an iron from the bag and says, “These are great, but if you ever find a set of the first ones he made, these are cast, but the first ones he made were called Dynamic, and there were forged cavity backs,” he says. “If you can find a set of those they’re worth about $9,000. The last set I saw was at a golf show, they were asking $7,500 and it was missing the 2-iron, and it sold! For $7,500!” The joy on his face is reminiscent of when my son sees a new WWE Wrestler at Wal-Mart that he doesn’t yet possess. If playing golf brings a man to his knees, collecting golf clubs turns him back into a boy again. It’s a childish glee Tony bears, and it rubs off on you. “Are you familiar with the Scottsdale, Redwood City differentiation with the Ping Anser putters?” he asks.
“No,” I tell him. He pulls one of his putters from the rack. It’s an old Anser, but it’s in good shape. Not mint, but good.
“You see how this one says ‘Scottsdale.’ Well, this one says ‘Phoenix’,” he says. “But if it says Scottsdale on it, in rough condition it’s worth about $125. In good condition, it depends, but could be much higher. Scottsdales are good, but if it says Redwood City, it’s real good.” He goes on to describe the ski slope differences among all the models of Ping Ansers. Some of the early Anser models had a steep slope instead of the gradual slope on the back of the putter between the sweet spot.
“If you see a putter with a steep slope, it’s worth anywhere from $125 to $150,” he says. “If you see one that has a gradual slope, it’s worth about $15.” He laughs. “If it says ‘Scottsdale’ and has a steep slope, it jumps up to about $600.”
“You’re kidding!” I say.
“No!” he says, “It’s collectors! It’s collectors! We’re crazy!” Hoffman laughs and replaces the putter.
“Something is worth what people will pay for it, I guess,” I tell him.
“Exactly! That’s exactly right,” he says.
We sit back down and he settles into his chair again. “The wooden clubs are starting to go away now,” he says. “People are just holding on to them or they’re getting lost in estate sales or whatever.”
Hoffman points to a picture on his wall; it’s the biggest picture in the room. The picture is of 20 different persimmon drivers, all with different designs on the face. Some of them have different color dots and a couple have a single design right in the center. One even has a cartoonish silhouette of a golfer. Tony is telling me another part of his origin story as he continues to point, and then he pivots to the picture and stands.
“You see these right here, these were called fancy faces,” he says. “They were all made in the early twenties. They made a billion of them, all with different faces. They were art deco and people wanted something different.” He sits back down and grins once again.
“I ran across a retired Army sergeant, just when I first started, in a flea market,” he says. “He had a few of these [fancy faces] and I asked him how much he wanted for them. He said ‘Oh, $4 each,’ I said, OK. I asked him if he knew anybody who had more of them. He said, ‘Do I?’ Then he told me that he had a whole locker full of them. He said, ‘I was in the service for 25 years and this is what I collected. I can’t repair them or do anything with them.’ I asked him how big his foot locker was. He said, ‘No, not foot locker, storage locker.’ I bought about 500 of them from him for $2 a piece, and I sold them for $35 a piece. I had to clean them up and refinish them, but that was my hobby.” He laughs again.
“I had a Master’s fancy face that was worth about $150-$200, I sold it for $35,” he says. Hoffman buries his face in his hands with a chuckle. “I was warned one time, golf collectors are funny. You could have this five-karat diamond you’re asking $2,000 for, they’ll pick it up and say to you, ‘You realize this is worth more than $2,000?’ They won’t tell you it’s worth $50,000; they’ll just tell you it’s worth more than you’re asking. Again, you have to be careful.”
Collectors have always been the keepers of history, whether it’s golf clubs or Egyptian antiquities. As our conversation draws to a close, the question comes up, “Why do you collect and what do you think collectors contribute to the history of the game?”
“I collect for the satisfaction I get from looking at these old clubs, seeing where we were and now, where we are,” he says. “The fascination is the same as collecting old cars. You buy an old car and fix it up. I do the same thing with clubs. I find these clubs and they are beaten and battered, and I bring them back to life and put them back out there for someone else to discover. People look at them and say ‘Oh! This is really neat looking.’” He’s the most serious he’s been all morning. “Plus it’s just an addiction.” He pauses and takes a deep breath.
“The satisfaction comes from the addiction as much as anything. Just like Max [Hill], he started with five clubs and now he’s got 17,000. You start and you just have to have more.” When he pauses this time, it’s almost as if he knows he’s telling a cautionary tale. “It’s the satisfaction of walking into an antique store and not really knowing what you’re looking for, but knowing when you’ve found it. But yes, it is an addiction. I’ve thought many times through the years that I could give up golf if I had to, but I don’t think I could ever give up golf collecting.” He leans forward in his chair. “It’s like a constant mystery story. Every time you walk into a golf show or a flea market, you’re almost uncovering this hidden mystery that is begging you to solve it.”
With that final word on his problem, feeling confident he’d admitted there was one, he asks me to join him in the garage. His tall, lanky gait heads down a short hallway and through his pristine kitchen.
“We have deer that come up in the back yard nearly every day,” he says. “My wife and I will be eating breakfast and look up and there’s a fawn staring in through the french doors. When we first moved here, it was sort of creepy. Now I just feed the damned things every day.”
He chuckles again and opens the garage door. He reaches down into a bag of cracked corn deer feed, fills an old whipped cream container, and walks out the back door of the garage into his yard. “Usually as soon as they hear the corn rattle they show up,” he says. He smiles at me again. This time in the antique store, he knows what he’s looking for. Tony rattles the bowl again. We look out into his yard that becomes woods about 30 yards behind his house. “Come on. This never fails,” he says. He rattles the bowl again. We wait a few seconds, maybe a minute. No deer. Tony reaches into the bowl and grabs a handful, then throws it out into the yard. Another minute. No deer. “Oh well. Figures they’d disappear today,” he says. He doesn’t say it, but it’s obvious he relates the feeling to hunting for golf clubs as well.
A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy
New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.
In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.
The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.
The new transfer rule
In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.
Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.
The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:
- New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
- Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
- Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
- What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
- New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
- What implications do you see for this rule?
In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.
Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.
The APR is calculated as follows:
- Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
- A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
- In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.
Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.
While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.
The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.
A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.
Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.
The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.
Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.
As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:
- With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
- Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
- Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers
Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.
Is golf actually a team sport?
Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.
“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”
My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?
From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.
To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.
So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.
Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.
For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.
The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.
So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at email@example.com.
Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”
Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.
What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?
You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.” That brings up two issues:
- How did they arrive at that number?
- How is that information valuable to me?
How did they arrive at that number?
They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.
For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”
The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.
The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.
Do Stimp readings matter for my game?
Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”
Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.
Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.
Setting your own Stimpmeter
- Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
- Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
- You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
- You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
- You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.
The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .
- After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
- Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
- Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
- Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
- Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
- Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?
Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.
This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!
Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution” that is now available through Amazon.
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