It was 1986, and The Ben Hogan Company needed a new engineer. I was a R&D engineer at the time, and working in Wisconsin for the Kohler plumbing products company. It was a great job and company, but I was already golf crazy at that time and I had some good reasons to move to Texas. My very young son Jake lived in Dallas with his mother — plus they play golf year round in Texas.
This was before Herb Kohler built the incredible courses at Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits. Years later I told him that I was glad he had not built these tracks earlier, as that would have made leaving the beautiful, deer-filled Wisconsin even harder.
Getting near my boy was the real reason I wanted to get to Texas, but the golf was a sweet attraction, too. With a perfect touch and timing, the Good Lord prompted the Hogan Company to advertise for a new product development engineer. On just the right day, I was changing flights at DFW and bought a copy of the Fort Worth paper. In the want ads I saw something like, ”Ben Hogan will pay you cash money to engineer and work on golf clubs.” So I applied.
My product development experience at Kohler got me the interview, but the Good Lord got me the job. It was truly a real miracle, because in 1986 I knew zero about club design and manufacturing. I was quickly made the boss of the model shop, and was to manage the master club maker Gene Sheeley and his incredible team of long-time club artisans.
Me as their boss? That was a joke.
I knew a few things about physics at that time, but these guys were the real deal in club design. I knew immediately that I was in over my head, so I went to Gene and professed my ignorance. I pleaded with him to teach me how to do the job right. At that, I guess he considered me harmless and over the next number of years he became my Yoda. His voice was even a bit like Yoda.
Gene was a patriot and the very best example of pure golf craftsmanship. He fought in World War II and Korea, and had a shoulder and arm full of bullet scars from a Chinese machine gun to prove it. He later told me he should have died many times in the wars. The only jobs he ever had in life were fighting for America and crafting clubs for Kenneth Smith and Ben Hogan. Early in the days of his company, Mr. Hogan had hired Gene away from Smith.
Gene later helped me blend my engineer stuff with the true old ways of the club. He also (a bit later) opened a very rare door for me with Mr. Hogan. It was a special few years for me as I learned from the two of them and I took my place inside Gene’s very guarded and close circle.
I never met the man Ben Hogan during my interview period or my first few weeks with the company. About one month after I reported for work, I was invited to play with a member at Shady Oaks. I was thrilled to play at the famous home of Hogan. After the round (and a few quick-moving 19th hole beverages), I headed for the men’s locker room and facilities. While I was standing in front of a single use Kohler product, engaged in my own private personal plumbing business, I noticed a figure pulling up to a nearby fixture. When I realized who it was I nervously looked over my shoulder, but I should have waited until I had completed the task in hand.
The turn to gawk re-directed the stream of my spent beverages. He was ignoring me, thankfully, and didn’t see the errant hosing I gave the wall and the floor. I’m especially relieved (pun intended) that he did not notice the back splash evidence on the leg of my khaki pants. I secretly apologized to the Shady Oaks janitor that would have to clean it up the next morning, cinched up and hurried to the sink to wash. I wanted that man to see me washing my hands, vigorously. I wanted him to have no doubt that my soon-to-be-outstretched hand was clean.
After the wash, I almost reached out to him there at the sink, but then remembered my southern daddy’s advice: “Never introduced yourself to a stranger in the men’s room.” So I went outside the plumbing area and set up for an introduction ambush. At this point of my life no one had ever coached me as to the safest way to approach or interact with this very special man. I stupidly thought he would actually be excited to know he had a new employee and engineer working for his company. That assumption would soon be proven wrong. So I went out to the locker room like a well-positioned ambush hunter and waited for him. After a long couple of minutes that seemed like hours, Mr. Ben Hogan walked out.
Because I didn’t know better, I stood directly in his path to the locker room. There was no way for him to walk around me. I knew this was the golf giant of the world, but I was surprised to see that he was only about my height. Any comfort that gave me soon evaporated. As he got closer I noticed his eyes. Wow, they were so brightly blue! His eyes reminded me of a brilliant blue-eyed Australian cow dog I once loved. These eyes, however, were not happy. A really intense glare started to come over his face. Was he mad I was in his path? Today I’m sure of that, but with the ignorance and bravo of youth I foolishly squared up and stuck out my right hand.
[quote_box_center]“Mr. Hogan my name is Tom Stites,” I said. “I just went to work as a new engineer for your company. I am very proud, honored and excited to be working for you.” [/quote_box_center]
Hogan stopped dead still and stared at me. It was a melting stare. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. At the focal point of that gaze, I started to quickly lose my ambush objective. I suddenly wished I was somewhere else. Part of me said I should use my military trained “about face” footwork and run. I had already put myself in the head lights, however, and like a doomed deer that would soon be introduced to a speeding car’s bumper I completely froze. I continued to hold out my empty (and now nervous) hand.
After what seemed an eternity, and just before I was almost able to bolt, Mr. Ben Hogan reached up with his right hand and grabbed mine. He gripped it hard. I grew up with real rodeo cowboys so I can say this: Hogan had one of those right hands like a bull rider — nothing but muscle — and a hand strength that was completely out of proportion to the rest of his body. It was one of those “I win” handshake grips.
Still no words yet, just more stare and grip. He didn’t even give it a single pump up or down. A few more seconds…just grip…more stare.
I was losing this encounter and would soon be unhinged. Finally, with his left hand he reached up to cover and grab both or our right hands. When he had added this to achieve complete two-handed control of the connection between us, he gave me a firm body jerk toward him. This was not a normal hand shake. I had to shuffle and find my footing. If he didn’t have my complete attention before, he did now. After I had recovered what was left of my balance, he gruffly uttered the words I will remember to my dying day:
“Well, sonny… don’t you SCREW anything up.”
Actually he used another word for “screw,” but I clearly understood what he meant. “Don’t worry Mr. Hogan, sir. I won’t.” That was all I could say, and it was barely audible. I did my 180-degree about face and got out of there. It would be months before I would be near him again, but his specific verbal directive was with me for the rest of my days at The Ben Hogan Company.
- Introduction: Why I’m writing 18 stories for GolfWRX
- Hole 1: The Day I Met Ben Hogan
- Hole 2: Gene says, “Let’s go see Ben”
- Hole 3: Ben Hogan: “I had a dream”
- Hole 4: Ben Hogan had his own math
- Hole 5: Ben Hogan’s “Prototype” fly swatter
The Wedge Guy: Plenty to be thankful for
This has always been my favorite week of the year, well, at least since I got old enough to understand that Christmas gifts do not just “appear” out of nowhere. I think that was about 60 years ago! This is the week of the year where, hopefully, we all take time to ponder the wonderful blessings of our lives.
No matter what 2022 might have brought you, I’m sure you can find at least a handful of blessings to be thankful for. My favorite holiday movie is a 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire film called Holiday Inn. If you haven’t seen it and enjoy old movie musicals, you might make it a “must see” this season. Besides being the movie where the classic White Christmas was introduced, there is a wonderful song for Thanksgiving called Plenty To Be Thankful For. It’s also a favorite of mine.
As I ponder my own year and the 70 years before it, I realize I have so many wonderful things to be thankful for. That starts with my blessing of good health. I find it remarkable to be on the north side of 70 and still have no issues. No prescription drugs. Only one visit to the hospital in my life, the result of a motor scooter incident when I was 13. A fabulous Mom and Dad, small town upbringing. A lifetime of great friends and the blessing of living in a small town on the Texas coast. And most recently, the entry of a great lady into my life that makes it all so very much better.
I have the opportunity to run a fledgling custom wedge company, Edison Golf, which allows me to challenge the entire category with different thinking. And I love writing this column every week to share the many lessons learned and observations made in this 40-year career in the golf club industry.
There are just so many things I cannot list them all. But right there with them is the blessing of the strength and flexibility to still move the golf ball around pretty good. To be able to still play to a low single digit handicap from the regular tees (no ‘senior tees’ for me, thank you), and test courses from the back tees occasionally is fun.
That last blessing comes straight from God, of course, but I “help Him out” by making stretching and fitness a part of my daily regimen for over 30 years. And that is something anyone can do to improve their golf scores.
As we all face the “off season” (even here in South Texas it gets cold and rainy occasionally), you can make the decision to have lower golf scores to be thankful for this time next year. Just because you are cooped up inside for the next few months doesn’t mean you have to forego golf and preparation for next year can begin right now.
I believe flexibility is more crucial to stronger shots and lower scores than strength. A simple internet search can turn up dozens of good guides to stretching for a longer, fuller and stronger golf swing. If you add a bit of endurance and strength training to that, it’s amazing what will happen to your golf fortunes. Nothing more complex than a daily walk and swinging a weighted club daily or several times a week will pay off big dividends when you can get out on a winter golf vacation or next season starts.
I hope you all have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving, and I look forward to another year of being able to share my lessons from a lifetime in golf and over 40 years in the golf equipment industry. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
2022 Fortinet Australian PGA Championship: Betting Tips & Selections
Is Cam Smith in Oz the Jon Rahm of the Spanish Open?
The recent, dominating T2/winner of the DP World Tour Championship went off at around 9/4 to beat Tommy Fleetwood, Min Woo Lee and company in Madrid in October, eventually sauntering home by six shots and delighting home fans supporting his third win at his home Open.
This week, Smith looks like going off at much bigger (at 7/2) to beat a slightly fuller depth of field, again including Min Woo, to win his third Australian PGA, after going back-to-back in 2017 and 2018.
There is little left to say about the winner of the 150th Open Championship in terms of class, summarised by the run of T2/T10/T3 at the three most recent Masters, as well as wins at the Sony Open, Tournament of Champions and The Players.
Of course, his career year has also been hot with controversy, denying a move to LIV and then vehemently defending his right to join the Greg Norman-led tour a couple of weeks later, but that’s not our concern as bettors. Indeed, look at the way his presence has been received back home.
Smith’s local Brisbane Times reports that the 29-year-old superstar was the first golfer to be awarded the ‘keys to the city’ and will also probably get his desire of a LIV event in Queensland.
He’s huge news back home, and if we are looking back at that Rahm comparison, looks pretty big at over 3/1.
Smith, though, is a grinder, no matter how good of one, and whilst wins have come in decent numbers under par, he tends to win when the short game simply outlasts everyone else in tough conditions. I’m not certain he gets that here, where the winning score was 22-under last time (in January 2022), and examining his impressive victories, it’s worth noting that none of his six PGA Tour victories have been by more than a single shot, with his second Oz PGA by just a stroke further.
You can count the LIV victory as better than I do if you like. No complaints on that score, but following that win he’s gone 42nd and 22nd on LIV – beaten by a lot less a player than he faces this week.
The filthy each-way doubles look certain to be popular, with Smith across the card from Joburg fancies Bezhuidenhout and Lawrence, but in a light betting heat, I’ll take a chance with just a couple of wagers.
Just one outright for me this week.
Golf form site, tour-tips.com rates Ryan Fox the number one this week, a short-head over Smith, and whilst he isn’t quite that elite class, his form shows he is plenty good enough to beat the favourite on his day, and hasn’t that much to find in comparison to Adam Scott, MIn Woo and Cam Davis, all of whom are rightfully respected and popular.
Fox is easy to precis.
In what has been a stellar season for the always-promising Kiwi, the 35-year-old has improved from around 200th in the world rankings at gthe start of ’22, to a current ranking well inside the world’s top-30, and certain of invites to all the most desired events.
Fox waltzed home by five shots in the desert at Ras Al Khaimah and won again by a stroke at the Dunhill Links, an event including tournament stalwarts Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood. In between, Fox posted eight top-10 finishes including running-up in Belgium, at the Dutch Open, Irish Open and, just a couple of weeks ago, by a shot to Fleetwood and one of the latter’s favourite courses, the Gary Player GC.
Fox went into last week’s DP championship as a live contender for the title, which, given his commitment to the European Tour, would have been richly deserved. Perhaps that’s too political for here, though.
Either way, despite starting slowly in Dubai, he made his way up to 19th after four steadily improving rounds, enough to hold off Rahm from swapping places at the end-of-year rankings.
The silver medal is the least Fox should have got, and with a strong game on the sand-belt and a significant win in Queensland at the QLD PGA in 2018, challenging here should be a formality.
Fox has always had a strong driving game, and finding greens has rarely been an issue. However, he’s now gone from being one of the worst with the flat stick to ranking in the top-10 for putting average at even the toughest of courses.
I have the selection at the same price as Min Woo, who may have needed the run-out when a beaten 6/1 favourite here 11 months ago, so that 14/1 is simply too big to resist, especially as the latter has not won since July last year.
Fox can continue a big year for the Kiwis following Lydia Ko’s brilliant victory and subsequent crowning as this season’s LPGA queen.
The only other wager that appeals as a value pick is defending champion Jediah Morgan over Marc Leishman in a match bet.
Leish is a bit of a hero of mine, but it may sadly be time to give up on him as a serious potential winner in this class.
After a lucrative career, the 39-year-old came off a Covid slump to once again show up at Augusta over the last couple of years, but this has been a poor year.
There have been highlights – top-15 at the U.S Open, maybe – but he played poorly at River Highlands, in an event at which he historically does very well, and followed that with missed cuts at the Scottish Open and Open Championships, and midfield, don’t-write-home-about-it efforts at the first two FedEX play-off events.
Leishman is now at LIV, doing nicely ‘thank you’ and collecting $3 million for doing nothing much. In fact, his individual results gained him less ‘sole’ money than Pat Perez, another who caught onto the coat-tails of his teammates.
Respect to him, but Leishman isn’t going forwards these days, and will need the weather to turn bad if he is going to be able to live with some of these birdie machines.
Count Jediah Morgan as one of those birdie machines.
Although he produced a 100-1 shock in January when winning this event in just his fourth event as a professional, Morgan did it in some style.
The 22-year-old recorded three rounds of 65/63/65 to take a nine shot lead into Sunday, and simply went further clear, crossing the line 11 shots clear of Andrew Dodt, himself with plenty of previous in this grade at home, and a further shot clear of Min Woo.
In 2020 Morgan had won the Australian Amateur around this course, beating Tom McKibbin (see Joburg preview for his chances over there) by 5 & 3, an event that has thrown up Cam Smith amongst other multiple international winners, and whilst he hasn’t shown his best lately, returning to a venue he knows so well should be to his big advantage.
Morgan was one of the surprise signings to LIV Golf, although, as he admits, he “didn’t have much in my schedule,” given his exemption to the DP World Tour didn’t kick in till the 2023 season, plus it gave him the chance to compete at Centurion Club for LIV London – “The field is nice and strong so it’s a cool format to see how I shape up.”
Morgan has played every event since, although mixing it up with sporadic entries and invites onto the PGA, DP and Asian tours do not help a young golfer settle.
His Dunhill Links effort wasn’t bad – a 76 on that horrendous day two the cause of his eventual missed cut – but 25th and 13th at the last two events are as good as Leishman produced at the same events.
Leish has the back-form and the class but looks on the way down, and while the attention of being defending champ could overawe the younger man, he has put up with ‘Golf, but louder’ for a few months now.
I have these much closer than the prices suggest, so take the 8/5 in a match.
- Ryan Fox 14/1 Each -Way
- Jediah Morgan to beat Marc Leishman -72 holes – 8/5
TourPutt – The secret of the pros?
Driver vs. Putter: Your Choice?
If you were granted one golf-related superpower, which would you choose? The ability to hit 300-yard drives straight down the fairway all the time, or never 3-putt again?
Bobby Locke, one of the greatest putters in the game, said to ‘drive for show, but putt for dough’ And when you consider that the putter is the most used club in the bag, it seems like a no-brainer. But then again, according to Mark Brodie and his ‘strokes gained’ method, a long, straight driver may be more important to saving strokes. So what would you choose?
For me, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with the putting skills as I am currently suffering from the worst case of yips I’ve ever experienced in over 30 years. Sure, it’d be nice to outdrive the guys in my regular foursome, but I don’t think I can live down the shame of missing inside of 3ft all day, every day. And with no genie in site, I have searched high and low for that perfect putter that can cure my woes.
After trying nearly 50 putters over the past two years and enduring numerous snide remarks to get putting lessons instead, I finally gave in. I bit the bullet and sought professional help from Jong-hwan Choi, Korea’s number one putting coach to the pros.
Choi is an accomplished Tour putting coach who has made a name for himself through relentless research and dedication to master his chosen craft. Thus far, the pros and elite amateurs he helped have won a total of 350 tournaments, including KPGA, KLPGA, and LPGA wins. He is so popular that it can take up to a year to book a lesson with the man himself, but I was desperate. After pulling all the strings I can muster, I was able to get an interview with him in the hopes of getting some help
with my flat stick.
When the day finally came, I arrived at Choi’s academy armed with 3 of my current best-performing putters. I was eager to glean the secrets of the pros and to find out which of these best fit my stroke. I was greeted by Choi and briefly shown around the spacious academy, which had a large flat putting surface and some basic training aids that are common online. Upon chatting about Choi’s background and teaching philosophy, he reminded me of the motivational speaker Tony Robbins. He was constantly emphasizing positivity and proactive learning reinforced with hard work and dedication towards self-growth – that skills are built, not born. Sure, I get that.
But surely, preaching alone doesn’t improve (my) putting?
TourPutt: The Secret of the Pros?
When Choi offered (after some subtle arm twisting) to look at my putting, I was puzzled when he pulled out a tablet rather than some kind of putting trainer. I figured maybe he was going to film me first, then point out some flaws on the monitor. Nope.
We were going high-tech for this one. We were joined by his friend and business partner Chan-ki Kim, a software engineer who co-developed TourPutt, a state-of-the-art putting training system.
According to the dynamic duo, TourPutt was developed to accurately assess a player’s putting tendencies, habits, and skills utilizing big data and A.I. Rather than second-guessing and trying to identify the faults, Tour Putt acts like an MRI machine that shows the doctor where to problem lies. Once the diagnosis is made, Choi would bring to bear his extensive experiences to cure the ailing putter. Sounded simple to me. But how would it know what my problem was?
As Choi’s fingers danced over the tablet in his hand, the TourPutt sprang into action and a small circle the size of a hole-cup appeared on the artificial putting surface. As I surveyed the circle of light beamed from a ceiling projector, Choi asked me a question I hadn’t considered before. ‘Which breaks are you most comfortable with on short putts? What are the odds that you make them?’ Taking my blank look as his cue, Choi proceeded to explain the process of mapping my putting pattern to gauge my stren gths and weaknesses.
To begin, I was directed to putt a golf ball into a hole from 36 random locations ranging from 3 to 6 ft. A ball tracking camera with two projectors mounted on the ceiling rendered various crisp, clear images onto the putting surface. Prior to start, I was informed that the putting surface was sloped 3% from top to bottom. So if you were to imagine a clock face, the 12 o’clock location would be a 3° downhill straight putt, while 6 o’clock would be a 3° uphill straight putt.
As I am right-handed, all putts from the left side of the 3 o’clock would be a hook like, and the left side a slice lie, all to varying degrees. When I asked why it was fixed at 3%, Kim explained that tour regulation greens don’t allow for more than a 3 degree slope within 6ft of the hole. Also, most amateur golfers had a difficult time detecting such a small amount of slope, and thereby misjudge the breaks to a higher score.
Knowing Where to Tap
After the pattern test began, it took me a little over 20 minutes to complete a total of 36 putts at random locations. I was quite conscious of the many eyes on my performance and equally frustrated at how often I was missing putts despite my best efforts. After I was done, Choi pulled up my results, or key performing index (KPI), on a large screen TV where I was able to see exactly where I was effective in my short putts. In brief, I had a tough time with both hook and slice lie putts. I showed slightly better results with uphill straight and slice putts, but absolutely nothing to write home about.
Now, I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story of the plumber who was called to fix a steam pipe. After looking around the pipes and tapping a couple of valves, he charged $200 for his services. When the irate customer demanded to know why it cost so much and asked for a detailed breakdown of the services, the plumber replied, ‘$10 for tapping, $190 for knowing precisely where to tap.’
As such, my results from the pattern test were eye-opening. I’ve never known what lie I was more effective at, much less the percentage of probable success. For example, the more often I use TourPutt to practice or diagnose my putting, the more accurately it can diagnose my skills. Thus, I can pinpoint which area to improve through practice, as well as try to get the ball to an area I am more likely to save par.
Wow. This was tour pro stuff. Was this the secret of the pros?
I was starting to get heady with the possibilities this digital marvel was able to provide. It took both of them to bring me down to earth again by informing me that knowing the areas of improvement is only half the battle.
For the actual tapping part, Choi and Kim then walked me through the many innovative features of TourPutt focused on helping me improve my putting. I was mesmerized by the detailed graphics that flashed all over the putting surface.
I was already impressed with the diagnostic aspects of TourPutt, but upon seeing the actual features to help me improve my putting, I was doubly blown away. From reading the green speed and breaks accurately to effective swing tempo and motion tracking, the system seemed straight out of the future.
Before TourPutt came into being, Choi was frustrated with the difficulty in collecting crucial data from an actual green as it was difficult to find a flat area to map his student’s patterns. When he discussed the matter with Kim back in 2019, Kim immediately became interested in ways to mesh modern technology and A.I. driven data to the art of putting. As an elite level golfer with extensive knowledge in the fields of VR and AR (virtual and augmented reality), Kim understood right away the issues faced by Choi and how he could help.
Delving deep into Choi’s experience and insights, Kim designed the TourPutt’s interface to yield accurate and reliable data that can be cross-checked, correlated, and compared across past and future performances. Best of all, TourPutt and its proprietary app feature the ability to keep track of all of my performance from any TourPutt system and access the data anywhere at any time. I could even replay all of my past putts and see the speed and the path it took, and compare them with other golfer’s data in the system. Mind. Blown.
Kim further explained that this feature of collecting real-world significant big data is one of the biggest advantages of TourPutt, and enables it to evolve further with every putt stored in its vast database.
The Student Becomes The Teacher
Once the flaws are identified, we moved on to the more traditional slow-motion video to see what I was doing wrong to miss the putts. For me, I kept too much weight on the back foot, and also needed more forward press to keep the putter head online through impact.
After several minutes of drill to correct the issues, I was holing the putts much better. The data from the second pattern test confirmed the improvement, and I was also shown the actual paths that my two putts took before and after the fix. All in all, being able to verify that the diagnosis was correct with immediate results, all backed by data was highly reassuring and enlightening. But what if these improvements were short-lived? That as soon as I walk out of Choi's presence, the magic evaporates and my crappy putting returns? I can’t tell you how often a club I thought was the answer to my prayers devolved into an ordinary stick as soon as I paid for it. It’s downright uncanny how often this happens.
To this end, Choi gave me a glimpse of hope. He assured me that since I was investing time into my skills and not money into more equipment, it will definitely last longer. Also, the coaching provided by Choi is reflected in each and every putt I had made since the lesson and recorded as part of my putting profile. So if I were to stray from the ‘good’ putts, the system can be used to bring me back on track. And if this cycle of improvement continues, I would be able to be my own teacher and
eventually practice effectively and independently on my own.
Honestly, I don’t know about this part. After all, I too know that the right diet and exercise will give me a six-pack; but knowing and doing it are two separate things. In the end, how effective any tool can depend on how well I make use of it, so it will have to remain to be seen. What I can say with certainty, however, is that TourPutt seems to work for a lot of people. Choi’s students continue to post wins on various tours with regularity, each crediting him with their improved putting performance. In turn, Choi credits his partner Kim and TourPutt’s growing database for accurate diagnosis and self-learning.
In Korea, the art of putting has found its poster child in Choi, with more and more golf academies and private studios installing TourPutt for its members. Several local tour pros and top amateurs have also installed the not-so-cheap system in their homes and have said to benefit from the move. Remember when Tiger showed up one day at the range with his own Trackman? I would imagine having a TourPutt in your basement is something like that, but I can only guess. I don’t have a personal Trackman either.
Now that I know where I need to improve on, does this mean I will be taking money off my foursome buddies with alarming regularity? Well, let me see. I signed up for pilates a few months ago and found out exactly where I need to work on for more flexibility. But as I still creak all over when bending over to tie my shoes, I’d guess my putting won’t miraculously improve right away neither. But hey, that’s on me. I’ll just have to start working on the tapping part. Anyone looking to buy some used putters?
For more information on TourPutt from the man himself, check out the video below.
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