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Hole 6: The night Henny Bogan fired me

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This has turned out to be the toughest hole for me to write for so far. It begins, once again, at the TPC Los Colinas at a Ben Hogan Golf Company sales meeting.

If you’ve been following along, you may be wondering why the location has been so popular in my stories. I’ve thought about this as well, and see three reasons why:

  1. Mr. Hogan was there. A story about him would require that component. He also seemed to become more animated and theatrical at these events, and spoke more freely with his team.
  2. Mr. Hogan had a group of people there who loved him and hung on to his every word. This also encouraged more discussion.
  3. Cocktails.

This was one year after his speech about the mystery club. As clear as I can remember several of Mr. Hogan’s speeches, I cannot remember anything about his speech that year. It may have been a great speech, but the ensuing trauma must have erased his words from my brain.

In the year that went by, we made several real club prototypes of the “flyswatter.” In those days, we did not have the rapid prototype tools of today, so each sample took 6-8 weeks to create. Some of the prototypes performed very well, but as suspected none of them had a chance to be USGA conforming. This was also about the time of the “groove wars” between Ping and the USGA, so our management was not interested in getting into a stink about conformance.

We did, however, try to tone down some of the obvious non-conforming features of the flyswatter club. We thought if we dumbed it down, we might have a chance for approval and future production. I was working with a Southern California tool maker and foundry on one last prototype. If this one did not work out, we would have kissed this frog many times… with no magic. We would have to move on to something else.

The prototype head arrived at my office the afternoon of the sales meeting, just before I was to leave for Los Colinas. I was excited to show it to Mr. Hogan, but he had left the Pafford Street Factory and was most likely at Shady Oaks. He would be going later to Los Colinas after that, so I would have to wait until the next day to show it to him.

After the speech, Mr. Hogan sat down for drinks with a number of his salesmen and held court as he liked to do. He told fantastic stories of past major championships. The group looked like a large covey of quail. This covey, however, did not sit looking outward for danger, but faced inward toward the man.

I began at the outer fringe, but as the stories went on I worked my way closer. I remember him telling a story about the 17th hole of the final round of the 1953 Open Championship at Carnoustie. As the night started to wind down, I found myself very near the center of the covey and just to the left of Mr. Hogan. By that point in my career, I knew many things about the man, but I would soon learn two more things.

  1. At a sales meeting, you didn’t go near Mr. Hogan if you weren’t a salesman. This night was for them.
  2. Who Henny Bogan was.

When Mr. Hogan had stopped one story and was about to start another, I leaned in and said this to him:

“Sir, the latest prototype we’ve been waiting on came in today. I will be in tomorrow morning to show it to you.”

He stared intensely at me, and then spoke loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Don’t bother, you are done! I’ve waited too long on that club. Go in tomorrow morning and tell Don Holland (the Ben Hogan Company V.P of Human Resources) that Henny Bogan says you are fired!”

I was stunned, speechless and totally disorientated. Mouths hung open around the covey of salesmen. One of the old timer salesmen actually started to laugh. Others were bewildered and feeling a sliver of my pain.

The fog of unemployment started to grip me. I didn’t know what to do other than head for my Ford Bronco and drive home. Walking to the parking lot, I tried to console myself. I was looking for a job when I found this one, and I would find another. I’d never been fired before, however, let alone by a hero of mine.

I drove the one hour from Irving to my place in southwest Fort Worth. Somewhere on the trip, I started to get mad. I really loved golf. This had been a dream job. How would I ever find a job in the industry after this goes public? Fired by an icon would forever be hanging next to my name.

I did not get any sleep that night, and was the first person at the factory the next morning so I could pack up my personal things. By the time Don Holland arrived to work, I was boxed up and ready to start the rest of my career somewhere else and probably not in the golf industry, I thought. At 8 a.m., I went into the HR area and asked to see Don. When he came out, he asked what I was up to so early.

“Mr. Hogan fired me last night,” I said.

Don could see I was mad. He looked skeptical, however. “Just how did he fire you,” Don asked. “Tell me his exact words.”

I was puzzled. What part of “fired” did Don not understand. It seemed like a simple concept for a VP to grasp.

“He fired me after his speech last night,” I said. “He did it in front of a number of salesmen.” I was getting hot again, reliving the experience.

“Calm down, Tom,” he said. “Tell me exactly what he said.” I explained what happened. When I told Don the exact words — that he said “Henny Bogan” says you’re fired — he broke into a big grin.

“Don’t you know who Henny Bogan is?” Don said.

I’d never heard of him, and assumed that it was a cocktail word slur. After all, Mr. Hogan had a few drinks that night. Don explained that Henny Bogan was the character Mr. Hogan sometimes became when he pulled jokes on people, and he had done this type of thing before.

“I doubt you have real problems with the real Ben Hogan,” Don said. “In fact, if he didn’t like you I doubt he would have had Henny Bogan pull this on you.”

So it was a joke?

No way… It sure didn’t feel like a joke to me last night or early this morning. I thought about the laughing man last night. Maybe that was why he started to chuckle? Don told me to go get my prototype and take it up to see Mr. Hogan. He said I should act like nothing happened. It was hard to do, but what other option did I have?

Before I went to Mr. Hogan’s office, I found Gene and told him what had happened last night and what Don told me to do. Gene had a really good laugh at my expense, and then told me several other Henny Bogan stories. He acted like I should be happy Henny Bogan had pulled a prank on me.

“Why did you never tell me these stories before?” I asked Gene. He said I had only worked there a few years, and he would have gotten around to it eventually.

“Now you know,” Gene said, and he laughed some more. He was really enjoying the moment. God love him and I do too, but if this joke is true then I would need to inflict some payback somehow someday.

So I grabbed the prototype and went to see Mr. Henny Bogan. I knocked on the frame of his door, and still wondered if it would be the last time. Mr. Hogan looked up, but didn’t say a word. He just stared at me. It wasn’t the typical stare, and sly slight grin inched across his face. I walked over to the front of his desk. His eyes were still intensely blue but for the first time, something was different. Was he sorry? I don’t think so. Was he surprised I was there? Maybe. I stared back at Mr. Hogan for a little while myself. I wanted him to know that I knew.

Many years later, a friend told me I should have come in that day with the prototype and introduced myself as Sommy Ttites. I wish I had, but I wasn’t that sharp then. After we did a bit of two-way eye balling, I finally just showed him the prototype. He examined it a while and then we pleasantly talked about the next steps. The whole time I was in there he never said a word about last night, but it was obvious I was not fired.

I had been seriously punked by “The Hawk,” who sometimes became Henny Bogan. With that experience, I guess I entered into some sort of club. Much later I was able to laugh, too. Henny Bogan had a strange, warped sense of humor. I should tell you some of the other stories I then heard about Henny Bogan, but I promised in this series I would only share what I experienced first hand. There is another level of writing that is required for passing on second-hand stuff.

Tim Scott has got some other great stories in his book of Hogan humor and pranks. You should check it out.

One the next hole: Mr. Hogan wanted me to find a specific old club. He sent me to see his friend Mattie Reed and to dig through his private collection of 30,000 clubs. I never found it, but I did find something quite special.

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

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. DB

    Jul 15, 2019 at 9:03 am

    Where is the Hole 7 story?

  2. Charlie Zellner

    Feb 8, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Hi Tom – Can you please let us know what is happening with these stories? I’d really love to see some more but it would really be appreciated if you could share why we haven’t seen a new one in about 6 months?

  3. LC4

    Feb 2, 2016 at 8:59 am

    By chance, are we going to get anymore of these stories. These are always a great read and was looking forward to hearing the rest!

  4. Charlie Zellner

    Oct 14, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Hi, I’m loving these stories. When does the next one come out?

  5. Steve

    Sep 1, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    What I am getting out reading these stores about Ben Hogan is just how normal and real John Daly is. And after reading and watching films on Moe Norman it becomes very clear like Moe Norman, Ben Hogan had no idea how to explain what he was really doing with his golf swing, like Moe, Hogan only could tell us what he felt he was doing…

  6. Shallowface

    Aug 28, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Tom, we’d love to see a picture of this club if you have one.
    I am loving these stories! Can’t wait for the next one. Thanks for sharing!

  7. KK

    Aug 28, 2015 at 6:20 am

    Ahaha. Tough night but great story for life.

  8. Philip

    Aug 27, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Correction – not everyone, but a lot of workers have a negative view of executives

  9. Philip

    Aug 27, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    Sycophant – hardly. I was fortunate early-on in my career to work directly for many VPs and Presidents/Owners and the one thing common to them all is that everyone in the company thought of them solely as a$$holes. I knew that they expected perfection from me because they expected perfection from themselves. I learned early on to look them directly in the eyes and never back down. They often expected miracles and I delivered – I loved the challenge, the impossible problem solving at times. Could they be a$$holes towards me – certainly, but there was also a mutual respect developed over time. I choose to stay, work hard (sometimes you cannot leave till the job is done), and it has made my life inside and out of work a lot easier over the long term. Keep those stories coming Tom.

  10. Bob

    Aug 27, 2015 at 2:21 am

    Yet more unpleasant conduct accepted by sycophants.

  11. Ryan K

    Aug 26, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Best one so far! !

  12. Martin

    Aug 26, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    That is pretty funny.

  13. Joe

    Aug 26, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    Hogan was a cruel man. A**H*** comes to mind.

  14. Sean

    Aug 26, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Heck of a “prank” to pull on a young guy. He owed you a night’s sleep at least. 🙂

  15. Philip

    Aug 26, 2015 at 10:00 am

    It was a cruel joke for sure, however, I’m surprised you interrupted him during a fun time telling golf “war” stories in order to interject work related stuff. There is a time and place for everything and to be honest, what you did feels out of place – not that I wouldn’t have done it if I were in your shoes and a lot younger and inexperienced. In a way, it can be perceived that what you wanted to discuss “the prototype” was more important in your mind, than what he was presently doing – or the salesmen he was with. Perceptive can often be more important than fact. Love the stories – keep ’em coming.

    • tom stites

      Aug 26, 2015 at 12:19 pm

      Yep, I was young, stupid and always learning lessons in those days. Still 2 out of 3 these days.

  16. Mac n Cheese

    Aug 26, 2015 at 9:48 am

    I waited a long time for this and still don’t know what this prototype club is. I’m still guessing it is a hybrid, it has to be, or it could be the first of the game improvement irons.

    • tom stites

      Aug 26, 2015 at 12:22 pm

      It was a hybrid concept that went way past conforming.

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