Connect with us

Opinion & Analysis

Stites: The greatest golfer I’ve ever known

Published

on

Sorry gang, but I need a break from the Hogan nine. Can we call this a rain delay, or maybe an extra hole? My mind is on something else right now.

The greatest golfer I’ve ever known has been ill and is struggling. He is not Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus or even Tiger Woods, nor is he one of the 200+ touring pros I’ve known and worked with over the years. He didn’t even play on a professional tour, but what a game he had. I’ve never seen anyone greater.

Like many of my stories, he is an old timer. He was born in 1929. Some folks call him Junior. He had six brothers and three sisters (most gone now), but Junior is the only golfer who came from his country family.

This is no excuse for breaking the law, but times were tough in the 30s. So Junior’s father and two of his uncles made moonshine in the Oklahoma Ozarks. They called it Three Brother’s Whiskey. They even had their own logo and labels for the bottles.

Junior’s mother had a special petticoat she wore under her long dress that had pockets for the pints of whiskey to sell. Deep in the hills, the brothers made whiskey during the week, and then would travel on the weekends with Junior’s mother to the streets of Fort Smith, Ark., to sell it. The cops wouldn’t frisk women in those days, so if Junior’s mother would stand still with the whiskey in the petticoat pockets, the inventory was safe until the boys had made a sale.

Junior’s mother would then deliver the goods from under her dress when the cops weren’t looking. When the petticoat was depleted, she would go back to the truck to restock. In the 40s and 50s, Junior’s father would become a lawman. This is all a true story, and I’m not kidding. The moonshiner turned deputy sheriff was very colorful and very popular.

Junior didn’t help in the moonshine business, but he did grow up plowing behind mules and doing tough farm work. During World War II, the family moved to Point Richmond, Calif. Junior’s older brother went off to war, but Junior was a few years too young to fight. So at the age of 14, he got a job alongside his older sisters, as well as thousands of women, old men and teenage boys building warships at the Kaiser Shipyards. Most all of the fighting age healthy men were off to war.

Junior became a first-class welder early in his teenage years, making warships during the day and attending high school at night. After the war, his family went back to the hills of Oklahoma, but another war was coming and Junior would be of prime age for that one.

When the Korean War heated up, Junior got his notice from the local draft board. That war would be his introduction to the wonderful game of golf.

As a new infantry solider, Junior boarded a train to California. The train was to take him to the troop ship convoy bound for Korea and the shooting war. A major rain delay (one different than we experience in golf) put the trains off schedule and canceled several connections. When he finally arrived and reported in California, he assumed the army would have another way for him to get over to the fight. While waiting there, a first sergeant learned he had been a shipyard welder and had him transferred to Panama to work salvage and underwater welding in the structures and ships of the Canal. They said it was easier to teach a welder to dive than to teach a diver to weld. So at 22 years old, Junior then was off to Panama, where he later told me he found mosquitoes and the Fort Davis golf course. Before this assignment to Panama, he had never been near a golf club or golf ball.

Life must have been boring at times there, so Junior checked out that golf thing. He was a great athlete — I heard he once scored seven touchdowns in one high school football game in ’47 — and he quickly learned and loved the game of golf. He played as much as possible while in Panama after a few soldiers took him to the course for the first time. He said he may have never found golf without the war, the Army and his special army golfing buddy for life, Jack. I’m so glad those two became friends, and I’m so glad Junior found golf… for so many reasons.

After Panama, Junior brought his new game and clubs back to Oklahoma and the family farm. The only real golf course in the county was a not-so-groomed 9-holer, but Junior didn’t mind. He stayed connected with his new game as he worked on the rest of his life. The G.I. Bill, college, a new family and his love of learning led him to become a math teacher and then later a high school principal. He taught and led more than 4,000 kids over the years.

After his school years, he won a seat in the state legislature and became a truly honest politician. There are not many of those. Junior’s life as a true servant made him the most revered and loved man in his county. Some even have called him “our George Bailey” after the beloved Jimmy Stewart character in Frank Capra’s Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And all the while the rest of life was happening, Junior kept smacking his Spalding’s and playing the county’s little 9-hole course.

Most of Junior’s real golf was played on that country 9-holer, but for one or two weeks each year Junior played a very special place. When the time was just right, he would cut hay on a small section of his family ranch. After the bales were hauled off, the lush Bermuda grass meadow was perfect farm turf. Isn’t that how golf got started in Scotland… goats and sheep eating off the fairways along the seaside links?

Junior would set up his farm holes and tee boxes. Until the grass, the mama cows and their dung piles took over again, the hay meadow was his own private “country” club. Only very special people were invited to play there. That cow pasture is where I first saw Junior hit a golf shot. I lived very nearby, and one day he invited me to come out to the hay meadow and play. Junior was so long, and I was mesmerized when he hit the ball. How did he do that? Wow! I’ve got to do that just like him.

Junior helped me grip the club and gave me my first few lessons. A few weeks later, I joined him when he played the real 9-holer. He was very patient, and wanted me to know what he knew. He was my hero. I was young and absorbing everything. Later, when the cows came back into the meadow, I learned the meaning of a really bad lie.

Junior had an Arnold Palmer-style, herky-jerky finish, so I tried to do the same for years. Only after I saw Tom Purtzer and Fred Couples years later did I appreciate a smooth, fluid finish. Until then, I thought Junior’s violent “Palmer The King of the Army” form was the best. Maybe it still is, but my shoulder now likes something closer to Purtzer.

Back to Junior.

Because I grew up and lived so close to that pasture, I was blessed to learn the first part of my game there from him. That hay pasture was where I first saw a glimpse of the game. Life has never been the same since, because that’s when I fell in love with golf. That love and the many rounds that followed would lead me to seek a job with Mr. Hogan, which made Junior proud. Ben Hogan was an army veteran, too, and served during WWII. Junior had been an avid fan of Hogan, and vividly remembered the ‘53 slam. He was happy that one of his students was working for Bantam Ben.

Junior came to visit me several times in Fort Worth. He loved the factory and Ben Hogan’s Shady Oaks. I showed him Hogan’s locker, and the place I first met Mr. Hogan, too. Junior beamed.

These last few weeks have been tough for Junior. It is really hard to watch such a strong man struggle and grind so hard. I’ve never known a man or golfer who has changed more lives for the better than my hero, Junior.

The really old timers who called him Junior are mostly gone now. Most people today call him J.T. My brother and I call him Daddy. My kids call him Papa. He is the greatest golfer and man I have ever known. No one is even close. His steady, guiding hands and humongous giving heart have guided me and many in life. That guidance and his long ball swing I watched way back then in that pasture sent me in search of other life courses and people that love the game too. That has made all the difference.

Thanks Junior. You gave me the game and so, so, so much more!

Related

Your Reaction?
  • 236
  • LEGIT29
  • WOW57
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK15

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.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Hawks

    Sep 23, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Tom, you are quickly becoming my favorite writer to read on WRX. I look forward to the Hogan stories and was pleased reading your latest. It is a great story, and I’m glad he avoided a war that allowed him to be such a great teacher of life and golf. I hope the best for your dad.

    • Gorden

      Oct 3, 2015 at 2:01 am

      Tom is very good, but sure miss Barnie Adams stories about the ins and outs of the OEM golf companies..

  2. Ryan

    Sep 22, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    What’s Junior’s real name ? Would love to read more about him. I think there was a Golf Digest article about him a while back.

  3. Zachary jurich

    Sep 17, 2015 at 1:35 am

    Inspiring is really the only way to put this. He sounds a lot like my dad & I can’t imagine that loss. I hope he’s painless soon and thank you for sharing his story, it’s greatly appreciated.

  4. Sam

    Sep 15, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    As of this comment 12 people are heartless evil people hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. Please show me the person that would sit through a story of someone talking about the life story of their ailing dad and would say “meh, that sucked” to their face.

    Tom my best wishes go out to you and your family.

    • tom stites

      Sep 15, 2015 at 4:56 pm

      Thanks Sam. I appreciate you and the call out. This WRX group (when considered as a whole) is a wonderful caring and great community. We share a love for the game and for golfers. Wouldn’t trade you guys and gals for anything.

    • HG Wells

      Sep 16, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      Indeed, 12 miserable souls who clicked that button to get just a tickle of self-satisfaction out of their wretched day. For some reason these pitiful creatures do seem to love the internet, and always seem to pop up like roaches wherever something positive or inspiring is being said!

  5. TinWhistle

    Sep 13, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Best wishes Mr Stites. My brother and I had our dad join us last week, as he has for the past 10 years, at my member guest event. He’s slowing down but we’re blessed he can still join us on the links.

  6. Dennis Clark

    Sep 12, 2015 at 6:56 pm

  7. Karen Hiser

    Sep 12, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    Tommy, Your dad has always had a special place in my heart. He and my mom (Ruth Knight), butted heads a few times at school, but it was always in the best interest of the kids. They had great respect for each other, and spent lots of time together outside of SHS as personal friends along with your sweet mom. Thank you for a side of “Junior” that most of us never saw. Enjoy your stories. Will keep you and Kirk and your dad in my prayers.

  8. michael

    Sep 12, 2015 at 1:24 am

    My father and grandfather both introduced me to the game of golf. I was very lucky to have them both teach me the game. I lost my grandfather before I finished high school and lost my father 4 years ago. I still remember the lessons that he taught me not just golf but about life too. I always have them with me when I play.

  9. Sean

    Sep 11, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    You are a lucky man.

  10. Steve Grimmer

    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    I lost my “Junior” 11 years ago; he taught me the game, he taught me about life, and he showed me how to die. I try, and fail, to be him every day. Thanks for sharing your story, Tom. You and your father are in my thoughts and prayers.

  11. Ryan

    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Great story! Good twist at the end.. honestly didn’t see that coming. All the best to you and your family Tom!

  12. Gordy

    Sep 10, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Great article, my father is no longer with us, he passed away when I was 21(im 28 now). He taught me the love for the game and he’s the greatest golfer I ever saw as well.

  13. Gordy

    Sep 10, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Great article, my father is no longer with us, passed away when I was 21..i am 28 now. But he taught me the game, taught me the love for the game. He’s the greatest golfer I ever saw as well.

  14. Mike

    Sep 10, 2015 at 8:43 am

    awesome story……very well put together. Your very luckly to have found Junior in your life! most are not that lucky!

  15. Philip

    Sep 9, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    Very special moments – thanks for sharing and all the best to Junior.

  16. Tim McCarty

    Sep 9, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Praying for Junior and your family, Tom. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Christestrogen

    Sep 9, 2015 at 10:55 am

    “Leader of the Band” by Dan fogelberg should auto load with this article…
    Excellent story….junior sounds awesome.

  18. Tim Timpsy

    Sep 9, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Wow…lump…throat…

    • Ian

      Sep 9, 2015 at 11:13 am

      Agreed… Nobody would dare vote “Shank”

  19. Glen Koeske

    Sep 9, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Now that’s a great “golf” story. Tom, thanks so much for your stories on Ben Hogan – and especially for this one that’s not. I hope Junior all the best and of course, “get well soon.” All GolfWrxers will be thinking and praying for him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Opinion & Analysis

A golfing memoir in monthly tokens: March (belatedly)

Published

on

Editor’s note: All latency on the publishing here is the fault of the Editor-in-Chief.

As some might say, if you don’t take the plunge, you can’t taste the brine. Others might not say such a thing. I’m taking the plunge, because I want to taste the brine.

Here you’ll find the third installment of “A Golfing Memoir” as we trace a year in the life of Flip Hedgebow, itinerant teacher of golf. For January, click here. For February, click here.

Absolutely. Meet me up north (and, to himself, what have I got to lose?)

No sense in putting the cart before the horse, as the old pro used to say, as cirE “Flip” Hedgebow used to ignore. As March came to a close, as cirE locked the pro shop for the last time until November, he took a leap of faith. How big of a leap? Let’s get through March, and find out.

Speaking of carts and horses, March for Flip always came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion. That ran contrary to the folklore but, all things considered, there was always a 50% chance of things running contrary.

No, the best reason for topsy and turvy in March, for Flip, was explained by his birthday. Being born in the middle of the month might suggest balance to some; for him, it was a constant reminder of the chaos that led up to his earthly arrival, tempered only by the madness that ensued. If that’s balance, you can have it.

In Flip’s world, March was about the arrival of the most seasoned of snowbirds, the ones with more than five years of retirement under their growing-shrinking belts. Some were expanding, as they had given up on fitness; the rest were shrinking, as the truest effects of age caught them up. In each case, this pod arrived with military precision, knowing where and when nearly every penny would be spent. No frivolity remained in their schedules, no ambiguity survived from younger, budgeting days. No longer minnows, they recognized that uncertainty stalked them, and that all of their remaining wits needed to center on a small and precise target. The smaller, the more precise, the better…for the women.

Like all men, the old guys appreciated the consistency and precision their wives brought to their worlds.

Like all men, the old guys detested the ever-encroaching, loss of control over their own destinies.

They would enter the pro shop, grab the latest hat like a modern-day Judge Smails, and set it at a rakish angle, atop their sleek domes. Flip learned quite early on that the only way to ensure the sale was cash. When the wives invariably came to complain and demand a refund, Flip could “only” offer a pro shop credit, guaranteeing that something would be purchased. If they bought it on account or on a card, the sale was irretrievably lost.

Flip expected these purchases from his March gam: the cheapest golf balls, when their supply of northern culls ran out; the attire from last fall, or even the previous summer, ready to be shipped back to the manufacturer when March 20th arrived; and some odd or end that the pro had overlooked, lost to some sort of missionary of time. The only thing stronger than the will of the spouse, was the desire of the old guy to make some sort of purchase, to re-establish some semblance of power and control, for at least a moment.

How did you get your name, and why is the last letter, and not the first, capitalized?

(silence. he rarely heard the first question, as everyone knew him as “Flip;” he never heard the second one, as no one paid attention anymore.)

Two stories are a lot to tell. Let’s save both answers, even if it’s just a little while.

(silence. she wasn’t satisfied)

If the red hair caused his eyes to move from the mundane nature of packing and sealing boxes, everything else physical compelled him to put down the tape gun, sense that his throat was dry, know that he would not clear it without a squeak, turn away for a bottle of water, take a swig for lubrication, and, finally, turn back with his finest Axel Foley smile, and greet her with: How long have you been retired?

It was an incalculable risk. There was a 90% chance that she would react with an I’m not that old sort of affront, turn on her heels, and march out the door. There was a 5% chance that she would get the joke, and would stick around for another exchange, before smiling awkwardly and departing. There remained a 5% chance of something else. On this 21st day of March, that final 5% wafted in.

Wafted in, in the guise of a lesson he thought that he had planned. Planned for one of the wives, a late-sixties model whose swing was frozen in time: the unlikely combination of a forward lurch of the torso, a reverse pivot of the feet, and right in the middle, an impossible heave of the hips in one of four unpredictable directions. If anyone were to discover a fifth cardinal point, it would be Agnes Porter. Until this moment, Flip Hedgebow gave thanks that the world was blessed with just one of her; more than one might have tilted the globe off its axis. Now, he offered up a different type of gratitude, thanks to the visage of her granddaughter, who bore no resemblance to the matriarch, beyond the title of Agnes Porter.

They write that a story may be deemed worthy for its inerrant language, or for its compelling events. The story of Agnes Porter the way-younger and Flip Hedgebow benefitted from both, along with an overdose of peripeteia.

 

Artwork by JaeB

Your Reaction?
  • 1
  • LEGIT0
  • WOW0
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK0

Continue Reading

Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Srixon ZX and TaylorMade SIM2 Max fairways and My top 3 drivers!

Published

on

Masters hangover week is here! I have had the new Srixon ZX fairway out on the course and it is underrated as you would imagine. Reshafted the SIM2 Max 3w and it has been super consistent and comfortable. Talking about the top 3 drivers I have been hitting this year.

 

 

 

Your Reaction?
  • 1
  • LEGIT0
  • WOW0
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK0

Continue Reading

Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

Published

on

I believe one of the big differences between good amateurs and those who are not-so-good—and between the top professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—lies in the consistency of their pre-shot routine. I read an interesting account on this subject after the final round of the 1990 Masters when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Greg Norman. I know that was 30 years ago, but the lesson is just as relevant today.

This particular analyst timed the pre-shot routines of both players during the first three rounds and found that on the final day that Norman got quicker and quicker through his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

Anytime you watch professional golf—or the better players at your club—you’ll see precision and consistency in the way they approach all of their shots. There is a lesson there for all of us—so, here are my ideas of how the pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land, and roll. It is certainly realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches, and putts, as they are all very different challenges. As you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

On any shot, I believe the best starting point is from behind the ball, seeing in your “mind’s eye” the film clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight path it will take, and on greenside shots, just how it will roll out. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and take as many practice swings as it takes to “feel” the swing that will produce that visualized shot path for you.

Your actual pre-shot routine can start when you see that shot clearly and begin your approach the ball to set up. From that “trigger point,” you should work hard to do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. When you are out there “banging balls,” don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot.

So, guys and ladies, there’s my $.02 on the pre shot routine. What do you have to add?

 

 

Your Reaction?
  • 126
  • LEGIT15
  • WOW2
  • LOL6
  • IDHT1
  • FLOP1
  • OB1
  • SHANK12

Continue Reading

WITB

Facebook

Trending