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Opinion & Analysis

Hole 3: Ben Hogan: “I had a dream” 

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He was much misunderstood, and I certainly do not intend to contribute to more of that. My first few encounters with Mr. Hogan were tough. And if you only consider one dimension of Ben Hogan, you might call him crusty. I assure you, however, that he had many dimensions that would come out in time. He was guarded, but he did later show his passion and softer side. I just needed to earn my stripes.

Stick with me and I promise in a few holes I will give you a few glimpses of a warmer and fuzzier Ben Hogan. If you can’t wait, my buddy Tim Scott has a number of those in his recent book, which is a great read. As for me and my stories, I need to take you down this path as it happened to me.

Anyone who could get just a little bit close to Ben Hogan would soon learn he loved dearly a number of causes. I am only going to report what I saw him do or what I heard him say in my presence. With that backdrop, I can tell you that I experienced several examples of his enormous passion and love on the following subjects: his country, the U.S. military, the game of golf and those who play it at all levels, his family, his company, his products, his employees, Texas, and even stray dogs. Those are the things that for me caused his first impression as a crusty, demanding man to chip and melt away.

There is no doubt, however, that Mr. Hogan was a fiery competitor. He drove himself hard to be his best and demanded no less from those around him. I doubt anyone he led ever worked harder or faced bigger obstacles than he did. If you have ever played for a tough coach or experienced the pressure of a military drill instructor, you know that it is not always pleasant. You also know that from the pressure you became a better player, a better teammate or a better solider because you were challenged and driven hard. That was Mr. Hogan. He didn’t coddle his employees, but he did instill team loyalty and an extreme sense of accomplishment.

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about something I saw him do in 1988 — or maybe it was 1989 — that offers insight into how his mind worked. You’ve probably heard his quote about golf: “The best part of the game is improving.” He talked of that many times.

Anyways, here’s the story.

Mr. Hogan always made a point to be with his troops at the yearly Ben Hogan Company sales meetings. Company salesmen and management folks from across the country and the world would gather each year to celebrate successes and map out the plans and products for the next year. The year of this story, we had the most successful and hottest product in the industry: our “Edge” irons. On the night of our formal awards dinner, Mr. Hogan was to speak. Guys and gals were pontificating all day as to what would be his subject, and we knew that he was very creative over the years in how he would address the group. 

When the doors to the banquet hall opened for dinner, roughly 40 full-grown golf geeks in suits jockeyed for the seats near the main table to get as close as they could to Mr. Hogan. I was pretty aggressive and wiry quick in those days, so I’m proud to say I got one of the prime seats. I would be near enough to catch it all.

Mr. Hogan came in the room and was seated at the head table with Jerry Austry (our president) and the mucky muck VPs. Mr. Hogan had a reputation of not being much for chit-chat, but he seemed to be having a good time discussing whatever the head table subjects were during dinner. After chow and a number of presentations for sales awards, Jerry got up to introduce our very rare speaker. Doug McGrath (one of the VPs) went over to shut down the drink waiters and bartender; he did not want anything to distract from Mr. Hogan’s address.

After Jerry’s introduction, Ben Hogan rose and stepped to the podium. He was in his late 70s at the time. Mr. Hogan gripped his left and right hands on the podium furniture, and slowly turned his head left and right and scanned the room. He had no notes with him. The silence he invoked was loud. Ben Hogan was a true master of the pause and could use silence like no one I’ve ever encountered since. All eyes that night watched and waited. If Elvis had crawled out of his grave at Graceland and entered the room’s side door, I doubt if anyone would have cared. We were Ben Hogan’s team and our leader was about to speak. 

The silence was finally broken when Mr. Hogan leaned into the microphone, and I’ve transcribed what he said to the best of my memory. 

[quote_box_center]

Men, (pause). A few nights ago I had a dream. It was Masters Sunday. All the greats were there and I was in the last group. I stepped to the first tee and hit the greatest drive of my life. The ball flew like a rocket. I hit my second shot near the pin and tapped in for my birdie. I was happy.

I stepped to the second hole and hit my drive. It set up perfectly for my approach shot. My third was at the flag and trickled near, and I tapped in for another birdie. After two holes I was 2-under. I went to the third tee. Same thing there, birdie. Now I’m 3-under for the day.”   

[/quote_box_center]

Mr. Hogan continued shot by shot, describing 14 more dream holes at Augusta National, each of which resulted in a birdie. He had many times during his career said that there should be no reason a golfer could not make a birdie or better on every hole. It seems his dream was a round just like that. It took a good while for Mr. Hogan to describe all these holes, but the room was mesmerized and locked into his story.

[quote_box_center]“Then in my dream, I found myself looking up the hill standing on the tee at 18. I was 17 strokes under par for my final round. It was the best dream of my life. I hit my drive up the hill on 18 with the same rocket trajectory as the first hole. My second hit the green and tracked towards the pin. After it came to rest, I had a makeable putt for my birdie. I then rolled that putt at the hole. It was tracking perfectly. At the last moment, the ball lipped out around the cup and left 6 inches for par and a final-round score of 55.”[/quote_box_center]

Everyone in the room started to laugh uncontrollably… everyone but Mr. Hogan, that is.  He kept a stern face and squeezed both sides of the podium as if he wanted to break it.   After he let us hoo and haw for a few seconds, Mr. Hogan raised both arms high in the air. The room went silent. He had complete command again and gruffly said:

[quote_box_center]You guys might think that lip out was funny, but I didn’t!”[/quote_box_center]

There was a long pause.

[quote_box_center]”My best dream ever had become a nightmare! I was so damn mad it woke me up and I haven’t slept since.”[/quote_box_center]

I didn’t think it possible, but Mr. Hogan found a way to scowl at us even more. We didn’t know how to react. Was he serious? For a moment, I wondered if the nightmare had been real and it and sleep deprivation had melted his mind. But at the apex of this newly imposed silence, Mr. Hogan’s icy stare slowly morphed into a sly grin, and then a real smile. A few seconds later, he topped off the smile with a millisecond “I gotcha” wink.

He stepped away from his pulpit and sat down, and everyone in the room leaped to their feet. We were ape like berserk with cheers, applause and gut-wrenching laughter.

It was a priceless moment of Ben Hogan being Ben Hogan.

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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.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Ray Moore

    Aug 5, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Excellent Data. Is the waiter that served Mr. Hogan still alive I think his name was Charles at Shady Oaks CC. I heard a story that Mr. Hogans wife was sending Mr. Hogan in town to be fitted for a new suit or two which he did not like to do and he told the waiter if I’m going you are going also would you be able to verify. Thank you

  2. Sara "Gene" Crawford

    Aug 3, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    These were great men. Thank you Tom, for showing the world just pieces of my “paw paw” !!

  3. Pingback: Ben Hogan “I had a dream” | Bringing you all the news from around the world

  4. M.

    Jul 12, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    How far the game has come from it’s gentlemen like beginnings to the half wit trolling offspring of today… go find another sport to heckle douche bags!

  5. Christosterone

    Jul 12, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Tom,
    I LOVE golf history….in fact, my wife is always telling me to delete all the 60s and 70s “Open Championship” episodes from the DVR.
    Your articles are quickly climbing the ladder in my rankings…
    And though I am not a Hogan fan, his place in history is unarguable and your articles invaluable..
    Please keep em’ coming….
    Thanks
    -Christosterone

  6. BD57

    Jul 11, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Tom,

    Keep telling the stories, knowing the folks who know their history and respect the game appreciate it.

  7. Big Tony

    Jul 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Thankfully Ben Hogan did not have a Twitter account. The canyon-esq divide between his pretty golf swing and basic social decency is so sad it could make tennis fans out of all of us. Where are you Sam Sneed?

  8. Josh

    Jul 10, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Some of you are just pitiful. The guy is sharing an inside glimpse of one of the most noted golfers of all time and all you can do is come back with snarky comments about everything.

    If you hate Hogan so much why are you even reading the articles?

    Tom, great stories keep them coming.

  9. Slimeone

    Jul 10, 2015 at 5:24 am

    Sounds like Hogan was the life of the party.

  10. Jake Anderson

    Jul 10, 2015 at 4:52 am

    seems like this hogan person was very unlikable. and he wasn’t even a very good golfer, so why bother?

    • Me Nunya

      Jul 11, 2015 at 12:37 am

      I wish they would just moderate the obvious trolls.

  11. Nolanski

    Jul 9, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Love it! Keep em coming.

  12. Chuck

    Jul 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Well, if he made a three (drive-“approach”- one putt) on the second hole at Augusta on “Masters Sunday,” that would have been an eagle. Not that I would have been counting, listening to Ben Hogan. Maybe it was a Masters Sunday where Ben, in his seventies, was playing at Shady Oaks and not Augusta.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Jul 9, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Chuck, the story has been corrected. He was describing his third shot on No. 2.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A Tale of Two Misses

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It seems like I somewhat “touched a nerve” with last week’s post ‘A Defense of Blades’, based on the scoring you all gave my take on that controversial topic.

I do appreciate it when you take the time to score your reaction to my work, as it keeps me tuned in to what you really want me to pontificate about. Before I get into today’s topic, I request that any of you who have a subject you’d like me to address please drop me an email at [email protected], OK?

So, in somewhat of a follow-up to last week, let’s talk today about misses. Those too frequent shots that move your scores in the wrong direction.

Early in my life, I was always part of “the group” of low-handicap players who had various kinds of “money games”, but that put me in touch only with other low-handicap players who were highly competitive. Just as I was getting fully engaged in the golf equipment industry in the early 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of a group at my club called “The Grinders”. We had standing tee times every day…so if you could get away, you played. There were about 35-40 of us who might show up, with as many as 6-7 groups going off on Fridays and Saturdays.

These guys sported handicaps from scratch to 20, and we threw up balls to see how we were paired, so for twenty years, I had up close and personal observation of a variety of “lab rats.”

This let me observe and study how many different ways there were to approach the game and how many different kinds of mishits could happen in a round of golf. As a golf industry marketer and club designer, I couldn’t have planned it any better.

So back to a continuation of the topic of last week, the type of irons you choose to play should reflect the kinds of misses you are hoping to help. And the cold, hard truth is this:

We as golf club designers, engineers and fitters, can only do so much to help the outcome of any given shot.

Generally, mishits will fall into two categories – the “swing miss” and the “impact miss”.

Let’s start with the former, as it is a vast category of possibilities.

The “swing miss” occurs when the swing you made never had a chance of producing the golf shot you had hoped to see. The clubhead was not on a good path through impact, and/or the clubface was not at all square to the target line. This can produce any number of outcomes that are wildly wrong, such as a cold skull of the ball, laying the sod over it, hard block to the right (for a right-hand player), smother hook…I think you get the point.

The smaller swing misses might be a draw that turns over a bit too much because you rotated through impact a bit aggressively or a planned draw that doesn’t turn over at all because you didn’t. Or it could be the shot that flies a bit too high because you released the club a bit early…or much too low because you had your hands excessively ahead of the clubhead through impact.

The swing miss could be simply that you made a pretty darn good swing, but your alignment was not good, or the ball position was a bit too far forward in your swing…or too far back. Basically, the possible variations of a “swing miss” are practically endless and affect tour pros and recreational golfers alike.

The cruel fact is that most recreational golfers do not have solid enough swing mechanics or playing disciplines to deliver the clubhead to the ball in a consistent manner. It starts with a fundamentally sound hold on the club. From there, the only solution is to make a commitment to learn more about the golf swing and your golf swing and embark on a journey to become a more consistent striker of the golf ball. I would suggest that this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the game and encourage anyone who loves golf to go down this path.

But today’s post is about “mishits”, so let’s move on the other and much smaller category of misses…the “impact miss”. As a 40-year golf club designer, this is the world in which I function and, unfortunately, to which I am limited.

The “impact miss” is when most of the elements of the swing pretty much fall into place, so that the club is delivered pretty accurately to the ball…on the right path…face square to the target line at impact…but you miss the sweet spot of the club by just a bit.

Finding ways of getting better results out of those mishits is the singular goal of the entire golf club industry.

Big drivers of today are so much more forgiving of a 1/8 to ½ inch miss than even drivers of a decade ago, it’s crazy. Center strikes are better, of course, with our fast faces and Star Wars technology, but the biggest value of these big drivers is that your mishits fly much more like a perfect hit than ever before. In my own launch monitor testing of my current model driver to an old Reid Lockhart persimmon driver of the mid-1990s, I see that dead center hits are 20-25 yards different, but mishits can be as far as 75-80 yards apart, the advantage obviously going to the modern driver.

The difference is not nearly as striking with game improvement irons versus a pure forged one-piece blade. If the lofts and other specs are the same, the distance a pure strike travels is only a few yards more with the game improvement design, but a slight mishit can see that differential increase to 12-15 yards. But, as I noted in last week’s article, this difference tends to reduce as the lofts increase. Blades and GI irons are much less different in the 8- and 9-irons than in the lower lofts.

This has gotten a bit longer than usual, so how about I wrap up this topic next week with “A Tale of Two Misses – Part 2”? I promise to share some robotic testing insights that might surprise you.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: World Long Drive! Go Mu!

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In this week’s podcast we discuss Wisdom In Golf Premium, new ways to help and fun talk about rules and etiquette.

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Opinion & Analysis

Vincenzi: How the 2022 Presidents Cup actually grew the game

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As fall approached, the world of professional golf was drowning in a sea of continuous division and animosity.

The Presidents Cup, which should have been a silver lining in the most tumultuous time in the history of the sport, had suddenly become a pasquinade.

The Internationals had always been an underdog and had just one win in fourteen tries against the Americans.

In 2019, the scrappy Internationals led by Ernie Els gave the United States team led by Tiger Woods all that they could handle at Royal Melbourne. The United States retained the cup, winning the competition 16–14, but the Els’ team fought to the end. The future was bright for professional golf on the world stage.

In 2022, things were different. The Internationals had just lost arguably their two best players in Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann, plus a handful of other Presidents Cup shoe-ins including Louis Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer.

The International players who had joined the controversial LIV Golf series were deemed ineligible to participate in the competition, which resulted in the decimation of what should have been a deep and competitive team of Internationals. By the time the event started, the United States had ballooned to a -900 favorite.

One phrase that’s been repeated ad nauseum over the past few months has been “grow the game”.

After a bleak opening few days at the Presidents Cup, we caught a glimpse of what “growing the game” looked like over the weekend.

There are plenty of ways to potentially grow the game of golf. One of those ways unfolded in real time at Quail Hollow thanks in part to a spirited group of Asian golfers who refused to let their team go quietly into the night.

First, there was the budding superstar, Tom Kim.

Kim scored two points for the Internationals, but the impact he had on the event dwarfed his point total. The South Korean hijacked the event with his charisma, energy and determination to help his team succeed. Golf fans were treated to memorable moment after memorable moment whenever the 20-year-old was on their television screen.

Kim had already had a handful of moments that will live in our memories for many Presidents Cups to come, but the most memorable came on the 18th hole of Saturday’s afternoon foursomes. Facing a seemingly invincible duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, Kim put a 2-iron to less than six feet of the hole. He then sunk the clutch putt to knock off the fourth and fifth ranked players in the world.

Tom wasn’t the only “Kim” to leave a lasting impact at the 2022 Presidents Cup. Fellow South Korean Si Woo Kim had his share of memorable moments as well.

Going into Sunday singles, the Internationals were trailing 11-7 and in need of a historic day. Typically, the trailing team will “frontload” their best players to attempt a comeback. When United States captain Davis Love III called the name of Justin Thomas to lead off in the first match of the day, many expected the international team captain Trevor Immelmann to call the name of Hideki Matsuyama or Adam Scott. Instead, he called the name of Si Woo Kim.

Si Woo did not disappoint. Kim took out the de-facto leader of the United States team 1-up. The 27-year-old didn’t shy away from the spotlight, and matched Thomas both in his ability to sink clutch putts and to bring energy with his animated style of play.

Tom Kim and Si Woo Kim provided some of the most memorable moments of the Presidents Cup, but it’s Sungjae Im who’s been the best player for the Internationals in both 2019 and 2022.

Back in 2019, Sungjae tied with Abraham Ancer for the leading points scorer (3.5) for the Internationals during their narrow defeat in Australia. He was a rookie then, but this year he was depended upon to go against some on the United States best teams and delivered, scoring 2.5 points and knocking off young American star Cameron Young in their singles match.

As influential as the performances by the trio of South Koreans were, the overall impact of Asian golfers cannot be discussed without mentioning Hideki Matsuyama.

The 2021 Masters Champion has long been rumored to be interested in joining LIV Golf, but he was at Quail Hollow competing alongside his International teammates.

Stars were born at the 2022 Presidents Cup, but Matsuyama has been “growing the game” for what feels like a lifetime. Labeled from an early age as the savior for Japanese golf, Hideki has delivered time and time again. The former young prodigy has slowly but surely turned into a pillar of global golf and leader of the Internationals.

After a slow start, Hideki was able to grind out a win and a tie to help the Internationals remain competitive throughout the weekend.

While the Internationals were eventually defeated 17.5-12.5, a more important mission that cannot be measured by wins and losses was undoubtedly accomplished.

Amongst all of the turmoil and strife in the world golf, it’s easy to forget how much the game means to so many people.

Countless young golfers across the world went to bed on Sunday night and dreamt of being the next Tom Kim, Si Woo Kim or Hideki Matsuyama.

That sounds like an excellent way to “grow the game”.

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