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Hole 5: Ben Hogan’s “Prototype” Fly Swatter

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One year after Mr. Hogan’s “I had a dream” speech, we gathered for another annual company sales meeting. It had been another good year for the Ben Hogan Golf Company, with sales of our Edge irons going strong and the GS (Gene Sheeley) model under development for the future.

Mr. Hogan’s speech to the sales force that night at TPC Los Colinas was quite memorable, but it only lasted two minutes. In that two-minute address, however, he tipped over the first in a line of dominos that would give me my greatest golf trophy. One year later, that same line of dominos would create a very long and sleepless night for me.

Here’s how it went down. Mr. Hogan once again addressed his worldwide sales force and the corporate leaders from our headquarters in Fort Worth. Like years past, he was impeccably dressed in a suit (we all were) and he was quite stoic. To the best of my memory, here’s what he said:

[quote_box_center]”Men, we are going to make a new golf club. It will be better than our successful Edge. I believe it will change the game of golf. It will help make those golfers who now shoot 100s shoot 90s.[/quote_box_center]

He paused. 

[quote_box_center]”It will make those who now shoot 90s shoot 80s.”[/quote_box_center]

There was another long pause.

[quote_box_center]”It will make those who now shoot 80s shoot 70s. It will be so damn good I may just take it back out on Tour.”[/quote_box_center]

With that, he stepped away from the microphone and sat down. The crowd was not quite sure how to respond, but soon they were giving Mr. Hogan a rowdy round of applause. His speech did not invoke the same response as the year before, but it didn’t take much to please this crowd. If Mr. Hogan had got up and said his ABCs or just counted to 100 everyone would have cheered and been glad they saw the man do it.

The second Mr. Hogan announced he was going to make a new club, I found many eye balls around the room looking at me. New clubs were my thing at the Ben Hogan Golf Company, so they assumed I knew what he was talking about. As soon as the spiller of the beans sat down and the formal part of the night was over, a number of them (including our president) asked me to fill them in on the specifics of the club Mr. Hogan had heralded. More than one jaw dropped as I told them I had no idea what he was talking about.

Maybe Gene was working on something secret with Mr. Hogan, I told them. Gene was not at the sales meeting, so we would be waiting a few hours before we knew what he knew.

I went and saw Gene the next morning and told him what happened. He was confused as I was. Neither of us knew about Mr. Hogan’s secret, and possibly imaginary club! I found company president Jerry Austry, and told him that Gene didn’t know what Mr. Hogan was describing last night. Jerry told me I’d better get up to Mr. Hogan’s office and figure it out.

With no idea what I was walking into, I went into Mr. Hogan office. “What?” he said, as I knocked on the frame of his office door.

[quote_box_center]”Mr. Hogan, you told the company last night you had a new idea for a great club,” I said. “Do you want us to get to work on a prototype? If you will tell me what you have in mind we will get right on it.”[/quote_box_center]

He looked at me for a bit, and then started to describe a low-profile utility club that had everything. To call it a hybrid would not do it justice. This was a time before these types of clubs were in vogue. I’m going to hold out two features, but what I can tell you is that Mr. Hogan’s dream club had a very long, yet lightweight hosel. It also had a heavy keel, turf-riding sole, and the low-profile body had a very low CG. It would shaft up with an extreme offset and inset, and would even have a bent shaft.

flyswatter3 (1)

An artist’s illustration of Ben Hogan’s famed grip on a fly swatter.

At this point, I made a big mistake and talked. I told him that the club he was dreaming up might be non-conforming. He looked at me with those drilling, bright blue eyes and told me that I had better worry about him right now, not the USGA. Just build it and see if it works. We would worry about the USGA later.

He was right. The man known for classic blades was very creative. He knew real innovation requires risk and taking chances. We should prototype early and often. We could learn from the mistakes and move on. And we should never miss a chance to make something better for everyone. Let’s kiss all the frogs and hope a few will turn into something good!

Mr. Hogan knew all these things, and he made sure I understood them that day. It was a way of living and thinking I then chose for the rest of my career. I don’t know from whom or how he got that creed, but he had it and he knew how to pass it on.

The club Mr. Hogan was describing to me that morning was hard to put into words at the time. He could see my confusion and he got frustrated that I didn’t see it as clearly as he did. He needed something to use as an example, so he spun around to his credenza and came back with a very old fly swatter. It looked like the one my grandfather used. He then told me to “come here.” I had to step around the corner of that huge desk, a place where I had only seen Gene go. I never expected to go back there. When I did, he gave me the fly swatter and told me to “grip it and address the ball.”

[quote_box_center]Huh? I thought. What? What ball? Address it with a fly swatter?[/quote_box_center]

He was dead serious. With Mr. Hogan sitting in a chair two feet in front of me, I gripped the bug weapon and stood there frozen, pretending that his right knee was the ball.

“Is that your grip?” he asked.

By the way he asked the question, I knew I was in trouble. He reached up with an open right hand and swatted my hands on the swatter. It wasn’t hard enough to constitute an assault, but hard enough to get my attention. It was like one of the times my football coach would slap the side of my helmet, grab my face mask and pull me in face to face so I could experience up close his booming voice and a few sprays of screaming spit as he coached me up to be and play better. Mr. Hogan was a great coach, so the shock effect worked for him, too.

There must have been something about my grip he just couldn’t stand, and he was determined to fix it before we could go on. Those super strong hands of his came up and pushed, pulled and repositioned my hands on the swatter’s wire handle. I was getting a hands-on grip lesson from the Wee Ice Mon, Mr. Ben Hogan. Wow oh wow!

After he had my hands to a minimum acceptable grip, he told me again to address the ball. “Yes sir,” I said. I went into my pre-shot routine, shifting my weight from foot to foot as I waggled the pretend club a few times. I then glanced down the imaginary fairway, which was the north wall of his office. I didn’t want to screw up again, and I settled into what must have been an acceptable address position.

Mr. Hogan then went to the neck of the fly swatter I was gripping and started to twist and shape the wires — the imaginary shaft and hosel — the way he wanted the new club to be made. If these bends were put in a real club it would help promote a natural closing rotation at impact, I noticed. I didn’t think it would help someone who had a tendency to hook the ball, as Mr. Hogan did, but for those who hard cut or sliced the ball it would be cool feature. Mr. Hogan had the physics right, but I still doubted the USGA would go for it. I kept my mouth shut, however.

“Do you understand what I want?” Mr. Hogan asked. “Yes, sir,” I said.

“Now, just go do it!” he said.

Mr. Hogan probably didn’t realize what he had just said, but my future Nike brothers and sisters would have been proud.

Without changing my hands or taking them off the high-speed insect whacker, I walked out of his office gripping the world’s most unique prototype golf club. This one was hand crafted by Ben Hogan himself. I did not want to let go of my new grip, so I shoulder bumped all the doors open on the way back to my office. When I got there, I sat down to think about what had just happened.

It wasn’t until I went to lunch that I released my new Hogan grip on the wires. I never gave the swatter back to Mr. Hogan, and he never mentioned it. I used it to describe to the design team what we would build and prototype, and I’ve still got it. It’s old, rusty, and bent out of shape, and it will never kill another fly. I know it wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else but me. Through the last three decades, I’ve kept hundreds of keepsakes and clubs — even some clubs played and hit by major champions — but that old fly swatter is by far my favorite trophy.

Over the next 12 months, we would build several prototypes based on that fly swatter. One of those prototypes would be at the center of a memorable, sleepless and wild night. On the next hole I will tell you what happened.

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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.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. FredWomble

    Aug 19, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Great series. I was afraid reading it.The Hogan mystique came through in this story!

  2. Steve Thomas

    Aug 19, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Tom:
    Can you make this a 72 hole tournament? I can’t get enough of these stories!

  3. Zach Mayo

    Aug 18, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Keep us dangling for installment # 6. !!!!
    Like Ive said before Mr Stites….. your story telling matches the quality of the clubs you’ve made . SPECTACULAR.
    The first 5 holes were birdies on my scorecard..keep it up and you could have the perfect round of 18 birdies that was the dream of the man whose stories you engage us with.

  4. Wiley

    Aug 16, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Definitely will need an emergency nine!

  5. Philip

    Aug 13, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    Great story telling. Don’t forget that there is always the 19th hole, and that one never ends …

  6. Ken

    Aug 13, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    When it comes to the wisdom of Mr. Hogan, maybe we could play 36? Great article. Thanks.

  7. Tom Wishon

    Aug 13, 2015 at 11:49 am

    TS, keep these up because I’m really enjoying these as well. And when you finish 18, think about creating a second 18 as well !! Hope all is well with you these days.

    • tom stites

      Aug 13, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks Tom. Hope to see you again soon.

    • rymail00

      Aug 13, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      Yup agree with Mr. Wishon. I really hope to read more stories after this 18. I’m sure your time at Nike could fill a book (which would be very cool too). If there’s one I really hope there’s another 18 to help past the wait. We’re equipment junkys and I believe that’s why reading yours, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Wishon articles are so interesting.

      Keep them coming.
      Ryan

  8. Howard

    Aug 13, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Tom, These stories are great and this one is the best so far. I never grow tired of reading about Mr. Hogan. One of my most treasured mementos is a letter I received from him about a week after I wrote him to tell him how much Five Lessons had improved my golf game. I’ve been hooked ever since.

  9. Ronald Montesano

    Aug 13, 2015 at 7:35 am

    Also, Did Anthony Ravelli draw the image you used of grip and fly swatter?

    RM

    • tom stites

      Aug 13, 2015 at 8:30 am

      The art was done by a good friend of mine who happens to be a very gifted illustrator and artist. I asked him to help me tell the story. There are just no photos on the internet of someone golf gripping a fly swatter. He did a great job. I can say however we were both inspired by the great works of art in the Five Lessons Book.

  10. Ronald Montesano

    Aug 13, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Tom, I simply cannot wait for each successive installment. You are gifting all of us with rare insight, the type that we would never be able to acquire on our own. Thank you.

    RM

  11. gvogel

    Aug 12, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    What?!!! I have to wait until hole number 6?!!!!!

    Aghhhhh.

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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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Opinion & Analysis

Why the 2022 AIG Women’s Open is a momentous week for the women’s game

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The 47th Women’s British Open, currently sponsored by AIG, is unquestionably historic.

Not only is the purse a record $7.3 million, but this week’s venue has a darker, less inclusive past than it would like to be remembered for.

Despite holding 16 Open Championships, the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and a Curtis Cup, in 2016, the membership controversially voted against permitting women to join the club.

Having then courted controversy and after receiving a ban from hosting The Open, they predictably reversed the decision, and three years later allowed their first ever female members.

It’s been a long time coming but, from now on, things are definitely on the up.

Tournament director Zoe Ridgway told Women & Golf that, “Along with our partners at AIG, we have a real ambition to grow the AIG Women’s Open. We are creating a world-class championship for the world’s best players and, as such, we need to provide them with the best golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland to compete on.”

She continued, “Muirfield is certainly one of these and it will be a historic moment when the women tee off on the famed layout for the first time. That is a moment which we hope becomes iconic for golf and encourages more women and girls into the sport.”

2009 winner, Catriona Matthew, hit the historic first tee shot yesterday, the two-time winning Solheim Cup captain symbolically teeing off alongside another home player, 22-year-old Louise Duncan.

From one stalwart and veteran of the tour to the fresh face of Scottish golf, Duncan won the 2021 Women’s Amateur Championship before becoming low amateur at the Women’s British Open at Carnoustie, 12 months ago.

Duncan turned pro recently, missing her first cut at the Women’s Scottish Open last week, but bouncing back in today’s first round, a 4-under 67 leaving her in third place, just two off the lead.

There is something particularly special about links golf, and certainly when it hosts a major, but this week seems to have additional sparkle about it.

Yes, there are the practicalities. For example, this year will mark the first time the players have their own all-in-one facility, available previously to the male competitors.

Ridgway explained, “It will have dining, a gym, physio rooms, locker rooms, showers, and everything that they need to prepare for a major championship.”

This week is momentous in so many ways. It will be tough, windy and cold – links courses are – and there will be a very deserving winner by the end of the 72 holes, but the event is summed up by Visit Scotland CEO Malcolm Roughead:

“It sends the signal that the women’s game is being taken seriously.”

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