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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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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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