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Introduction: Why I’m writing 18 stories for GolfWRX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Anna Simon

    Nov 4, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Hi Tom,

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

    Many Thanks,

    Anna Simon

  2. Austin

    Jun 12, 2015 at 1:32 am

    Tom,

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

  3. Christosterone

    Jun 7, 2015 at 2:19 pm

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

  4. driver ben

    Jun 6, 2015 at 12:09 pm

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

  5. Deez

    Jun 2, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    WITB?????

  6. Deez

    Jun 2, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    WITB?????

  7. C. Weber

    May 31, 2015 at 7:07 am

    I can’t wait to read the stories.

  8. trbgolfer

    May 31, 2015 at 12:50 am

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

  9. Reid

    May 30, 2015 at 3:50 am

    Definitely looking forward to your stories!

  10. Justin O'Neil

    May 30, 2015 at 3:15 am

    Mr. Stites,

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

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

  11. rymail00

    May 29, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Tom,

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

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

    -Ryan

  12. Ryan K

    May 29, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Sweet!

  13. Sean

    May 29, 2015 at 6:12 pm

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

  14. Scott

    May 29, 2015 at 3:10 pm

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

  15. Lynn Rowland

    May 29, 2015 at 2:46 pm

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

  16. larry

    May 29, 2015 at 2:30 pm

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

  17. alan

    May 29, 2015 at 1:30 pm

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

  18. MHENDON

    May 29, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    To all you Nike bashers here’s your chance.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: How To Overcome The Mid-Season Golf Blues

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Every Year around this time, golfers start getting tentative because they have missed a few too many golf shots and they immediately start to blame the faulty wires on the Pinocchio.

Of course, we are here to tell you that is not the case.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship: Outright Betting Picks

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With the PGA TOUR regular season in the books, it’s time to begin the 2022 FedEx Cup playoffs.

Previously known as the St. Jude Classic and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, the event will now serve as the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and is named the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

While the name of the event and the spot on the PGA TOUR schedule has changed, the course remains the same. TPC Southwind is located in Memphis, Tennessee and has been a regular TOUR stop since 1989.

TPC Southwind is a Par 70 measuring 7,244 yards. The course features Bermudagrass greens and rough. With 94 bunkers and 10 water hazards, there is potential trouble on almost every hole.

The FedEx St. Jude Championship will play host to the top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings with the top 65 and ties making it through to the weekend.

FedEx St. Jude Championship Outright Bets

Matt Fitzpatrick (+2200)

Typically, the FedEx Cup playoff events are won by players who have been among the best overall players for that season. Matt Fitzpatrick is having the best season of his career and is undoubtedly one of the most impressive golfers of the year. For the 2022 season, the Englishman ranks third in Strokes Gained: Total, which trails only Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler.

Had it not been for Fitzpatrick’s incredible U.S. Open victory, TPC Southwind would have been a spot that I’ve always thought could be the perfect break through spot for the 27-year-old. Now that he’s won and gotten his first victory in the United States out of the way, it only increases his chances of being able to win a FedEx Cup Playoff event.

Talent was never the concern for Fitzpatrick. The former top ranked amateur in the world exploded onto the professional golf scene at nineteen years old and never looked back. Despite having eight European Tour victories by the time he’d hit his mid-twenties, many people questioned why he couldn’t win on American soil. Now that he’s a U.S. Open champion, there’s reason to believe the floodgates will open.

Fitzpatrick has had plenty of success at TPC Southwind in the past. In three starts at the course, “Fitz” has two top-six finishes including a fourth-place finish in 2019.

His success at the track isn’t all that surprising considering how well his skill set aligns with what’s required to compete at the course. It’s important to hit fairways, which is something he does at a high clip. He also is one of the best in the sport at limiting mistakes and ranks third in the field in Bogey Avoidance.

A FedEx Cup Playoff victory would add to what is already the best season of Fitzpatrick’s career and give him a chance to make a run at a being the FedEx Cup champion.

Will Zalatoris (+2500)

For the past few weeks, we’ve seen Will Zalatoris near the top of the odds board. Despite being one of the most talented players in the field, there was nothing about Detroit Golf Club or Sedgefield Country Club that made me interested in betting him at those spots. The opposite is true about TPC Southwind.

When targeting Will Zalatoris for an outright bet, it’s most prudent to look for spots on the schedule where his immaculate ball striking can set him apart from the rest of them field.  The Rocket Mortgage Classic rewarded driving distance and wedge play. The Wyndham Championship rewarded the best putters and most accurate drivers.

This week, the FedEx St. Jude Championship will favor the best iron players who can ball strike their way to the top of the leaderboard. In the past, Strokes Gained: Putting hasn’t been a strong indicator of who will play well at TPC Southwind; which is great news for Zalatoris, who often struggles with the putter.

As evidenced by his three top-six finishes including two runners-up at major championships in 2022, Zalatoris can absolutely compete in the strongest of fields. In fact, I believe his chances to win in a star-studded event are higher than they are to win a lesser event on TOUR. The 25-year-old is a big game hunter who does his best work when the stakes are high.

The first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs is an excellent time for “Willy Z” to finally break through for his inevitable maiden PGA TOUR victory.

Sungjae Im (+3500)

As frustrating as it was being a Sungjae Im backer on Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, his overall performance and current hot streak can’t be overlooked.

The South Korean has now finished in a share for second place in back-to-back starts. In those two events, Im has gained an average of 8.5 strokes Ball Striking on the field, which includes both Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach. At a course where ball striking is the most important factor, he should be in store for another strong showing.

Im had his best Strokes Gained: Approach day on Sunday at the Wyndham, gaining 2.0 strokes on the field in the fourth round alone. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the putter going and lost 2.2 strokes putting while Tom Kim gained 4.5 on the day. If it weren’t for Kim’s unconscious effort with the putter, there’s a good chance that Sungjae would have notched another PGA TOUR victory.

If the 24-year-old can get the flat stick going this week, we may have back-to-back South Korean winners on the PGA TOUR.

Tyrrell Hatton (+6000)

It appears as if Tyrrell Hatton is trending toward a victory, as he’s playing arguably the best golf of his 2022 season. He finished 11th at the Open Championship and followed it up with an impressive performance at Wyndham, finishing eighth. In addition to his top-10 finish, the Englishman was impressive with his approach playing and gained 5.3 strokes on approach, which was good for sixth in the field.

Hatton got hot in his final round last week, shooting a 64. Oftentimes we see golfers who go low on the previous Sunday carry the momentum into the following tournament. Hatton is a much better player than he’s shown thus far in 2022, and it seems as if he’s found something ahead of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

If he has, TPC Southwind should be a good course for him as he finished in 17th last year and was in contention prior to a fourth round 72 that took him out of the running.

Russell Henley (+6000)

It’s fair to wonder whether Russell Henley can close out a victory on the PGA TOUR after witnessing him blow leads at last season’s Wyndham Championship and this season’s Sony Open. Considering that the FedEx Cup St. Jude Championship will be comprised of a much stronger field than either of those events makes it perfectly reasonable to question it even further. However, at his number, I’m willing to give it one more shot.

Henley is in the best form we’ve seen him in this season. In his past two starts, the 33-year-old has finishes of 10th and fifth and has gained 11 and 9.7 strokes from tee to green in those events. At the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Henley ranked seventh in the field in approach, and at the Wydham Championship, he ranked first.

TPC Southwind is a course that should fit Henley’s game to a tee. With a premium on iron play and hitting greens in regulation, the former Georgia Bulldog is a perfect fit. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a course where he doesn’t have to gain a bunch of strokes with the putter to win.

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Equipment

Davis Love III was still using a persimmon driver in 1997?!

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The revolution of metal drivers was happening quickly in the early-to-mid 1990’s, but Davis Love III was set on sticking with his Cleveland Classic Oil Hardened RC85 persimmon driver. He wasn’t oblivious to the emerging technology, though. He knew exactly what he was doing, and why.

“The Cleveland has been in my bag since 1985,” Love III wrote in his 1997 book, “Every Shot I Take.” “It was given to me by a good friend, Bob Spence. I experiment with metal drivers often; I find – for me, and not necessarily for you – they go marginally longer than my wooden driver, but they don’t give me any shape. I find it more difficult to create shape to my drives off the metal face, which is important to me. …I also love the sound my ball makes as it comes off the persimmon insert of my driver.

“I’m no technophobe,” he added. “My fairway ‘woods’ have metal heads … but when it comes to my old wooden driver, I guess the only thing I can really say is that I enjoy golf more with it, and I think I play better with it…golf is somehow more pleasing to me when played with a driver made of wood.”

Although his book came out in 1997, Love III switched out his persimmon driver for a Titleist 975D titanium driver in the same year.

It was the end of an era.

During Love III’s 12-year-run with the persimmon driver, though, he piled on four wins in the year of 1992, including the Kmart Greater Greensboro Open — now known as the Wyndham Championship.

Love III, who’s captaining the 2022 Presidents Cup United States team next month at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., is playing in the 2022 Wyndham Championship in nearby Greensboro. In celebration, we took a look back in the archives to see what clubs Love III used for his win in 1992 for an article on PGATOUR.com. We discovered he was using a Cleveland Classic persimmon driver, in addition to a nostalgic equipment setup.

In our latest Two Guys Talking Golf podcast episode, equipment aficionado and co-host Brian Knudson, and myself (GolfWRX tour reporter Andrew Tursky), discuss Love III’s late switch to a metal-made driver, and why he may have stuck with a wooden persimmon driver for so long.

Check out the full podcast below in the SoundCloud embed, or listen on Apple Music here. For more information on Love III’s 1992 setup versus his 2022 WITB, click here.

 

 

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