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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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Club Junkie

Club Junkie Reviews: L.A.B. Mezz.1 Max Putter

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L.A.B. Golf pushes the limits of putters and putting to try and help as many golfers as they can make more putts. Lie Angle Balanced putters are different because the face of the putter is always pointed towards your target. We all know L.A.B.’s famous Directed Force 2.1 putter. However, a lot of golfers didn’t like the looks and size of it. So L.A.B. developed the Mezz.1 putter that has a more traditional mallet look that so many golfers use, but with Lie Angle Balanced technology engineered into it. This year, the Mezz.1 Max putter was introduced to make a great putter even better. The Mezz.1 Max is 20-percent larger than the original Mezz.1 and offers more forgiveness and stability.

I have played the Mezz.1 this year and think it is a great putter, so to be honest, I wasn’t that excited to try the Mezz.1 Max at first. That changed pretty quickly once my putter showed up. To start, getting fit for a putter is one of the last things we golfers think about. L.A.B. has a very unique and effective remote fitting process if you cannot get to a fitter in person. You email a short video to them using your current putter and they use their internal genius to get your specs processed. The remote fitting video took me about seven minutes from start to submission.

Once you have your putter specs, you can then order a stock or custom Mezz.1 Max. I went down the custom path of various head colors, alignment aids, shafts, grips, and even a headcover to build my putter. My original Mezz.1 is black, and I wanted to go with some color to change things up and, for whatever reason, the cappuccino color kept grabbing my attention. The cappuccino color online looks more gold, and I was pleasantly surprised that in person the color is more brown and muted than I expected. The color goes well with the matte white Accra shaft and Press II 1.5-degree smooth grip.

Headcovers are now becoming big accessories, and the brown headcover I chose is kind of retro-looking while feeling high quality. Overall, I love the look and my Mezz.1 Max stands out without being too flashy and distracting.

As soon as I got the putter out of the box, I rolled a few putts on the carpet here at the office, not expecting much difference. From the first couple of putts, I could immediately tell something was a little different with this putter. The weight and balance through the stroke is more stable and you get an even better feeling of the putter wanting to keep the face pointed at the target. The other interesting find is that I didn’t even notice the 20-percent larger size that the Mezz.1 Max has over its older sibling. Maybe if I had them both side-by-side I would notice the size difference more, but the Mezz.1 Max on its own looks normal to my eye.

The first putts I hit on the carpet were great feeling and the Mezz.1 Max felt like it wanted to stay on its path regardless of how your hands tried to manipulate it. The same feeling was present on the putting green, and it was far stronger to me than the standard Mezz.1 felt. When you put the Mezz.1 Max on a target, the putter just wants to hit the ball at that target. The other interesting note is that, to me, the new Max has a softer and more solid feel compared to the smaller head. The sound at impact was more muted and had a lower pitch to it, even on mishits. Just like the original, the grooved face puts immediate forward roll on the ball and reduces almost all skipping.

L.A.B. says this Mezz.1 Max is 20-percent more stable, and I don’t think that is just some marketing talk. I have been in this putting funk where I have been making contact on the toe of the putter regularly. This miss has caused me to miss more than a few putts this year, and I hit a few with the new putter as well. Those toe misses still went straight and I wasn’t losing much speed. Those putts left the toe of the putter and either came up just short or just missed my intended line by a small amount. Those misses are a great improvement over the traditional blade that has been my gamer all summer. The biggest problem I had with the original Mezz.1 is that it took me awhile to get used to longer lag putts. This wasn’t the case with the Max, as I felt much more comfortable from long range and was able to get putts closer and reduce the 3-putt chances by a good amount.

Overall, if you’re searching for a new flatstick, the new L.A.B. Golf Mezz.1 Max putter is something to check out. You have a putter that can truly help you make more putts thanks to the Lie Angle Balanced technology, additional forgiveness, and stability.

For more information on my Mezz.1 Max putter review, listen to the Club Junkie podcast, which is available below and on any podcasting service.

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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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