Some Thoughts About Distance and Control

As you know, I am a huge fan of the way Mr. Ben Hogan played the game. I grew up learning from his books, “Power Golf” and “Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf”. And of course, now I am the man responsible for the effort to bring the Ben Hogan legacy back to the golf equipment industry. It’s both an honor and a great responsibility to be able to lead this team to that end.

One of the most fascinating things to me about the way Mr. Hogan played the game was the way he outlined his club distance chart in Power Golf. Now, bear in mind that the ball and equipment were quite primitive to what we have today. For example, his irons were a full inch shorter than the modern “standard”, and his lofts were 5-7 degrees weaker at the short end, but only 1-2 degrees weaker at the long end of the set . . . but that’s another equipment story.

In “Power Golf”, Mr. Hogan shared his own personal distances, and as you would expect, his “Regular” distance with each club was considerably shorter than even most recreational golfers today would report. For example, he listed a “Regular” five-iron to be 155 yards. Again, as you process this, understand that the loft and length of his five-iron was about the same as your seven, or even weaker than that, depending on what brand of irons you play.

But here’s the amazing part of that. For each club in this chart, Mr. Hogan also listed his “Minimum’ and “Maximum” distance. The former was 10 yards shorter than his “Regular” distance, but his “Maximum” was 25 yards further! So he played the game with a full 25 yards in the tank as a reserve for every club in the bag.

Who plays the game that way anymore?

Even more remarkable, for his driver, Mr. Hogan listed the “Regular” at 265 and the “Maximum” at 300 yards. Think about hitting driver 300 yards with 1948 clubs and ball!

But maybe, just maybe, that was why he was noted for just dominating a golf course from tee to green. When you are swinging every iron approach shot like it was a nice soft wedge distance, and even your driver that far below your capability, your ball-striking consistency just has to improve, right?

Maybe there is something to be learned from this exercise in analysis of Mr. Hogan’s approach to distance. He was one of the longer hitters on tour, but held back that power most of the time, only calling on it when it was absolutely necessary. The old political saying of Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind . . . .

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Mr. Hogan certainly did both.

Glorious Independence Day

[With respect for my international readers, please allow me to pontificate on the most important American holiday this morning.]

July 4. The day we celebrate the most courageous and inspiring event in all of world history. When a small group of colonists took on the most powerful army in the world . . . and won. Why did they pledge “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor?”

Because man is meant to be free. No more complex than that. Man is not meant to be bonded by another. We are not meant to only be able to do what another, more powerful man or entity requires us to do. Our forefathers realized this dream, and placed their very lives on the line to bring this dream to reality. What do you think would have become of each and every signer of the Declaration of Independence had the British Army prevailed? They all realized that it would mean certain execution . . . yet they acted on their faith and conviction anyway.

Now these guys are what I would call the first true heroes of American History.

And here we are, 238 years later, enjoying life in the most wonderful and fruitful nation on the earth. That is a lot to accomplish in such a relatively short time. And while we have our differences in what we believe government should and should not do, what leaders are good, great and not-so-hot, we still are blessed to have been born here in the good old U.S.A.

I read recently that a ridiculously small percentage of high school graduates can name the century that the Declaration of Independence was signed, or which century the Civil War was fought. Or which countries were our enemy in World War II. That is amazing and very sad to me. If we forget our history, we are doomed to relive it, it has been said.

If you have children, please make sure they learn these very important facts about how we came to be. Make sure they know the dark periods of the American journey, as well as the brightest moments. Make sure they know how this country was designed to work, and how only men and women of great moral fiber and character can ensure that it does indeed work that way.

And vote. Each and every election . . . vote. Local, school board, state, national . . . all of them are important and our ability to choose is the single greatest piece of the American experiment. So vote.

It has been working for 238 years, but our time, like many more before, can be said to be the pivotal time, in our history. Do we choose to continue to create, or return to, a government that is supposed to serve OUR will, or do we want one empowered to tell us what we can and cannot do?

Ball Striking vs. Shot Making

We often hear these two terms used to describe a given golfer’s particular skills, and sometimes they are used interchangeably. Today I would like to discuss the difference and then pose a question to all of you to weigh in on, if you would please.

Reading through the dialog out there, here’s how I would define each and explain the difference:

“Ball striking” refers to a golfer’s ability to make extremely solid contact with the ball shot after shot, club to club, with remarkable consistency. It is the core essence of the game, actually, because until you get reasonably consistent in making solid contact in the center of the face of the club, you really don’t know what the ball is going to do.

“Shot making” on the other hand, is the golfer’s ability to make the ball do what he or she wants. Shaping shots to move the ball around – fades and draws, high and low, take a little off of it, amp it up a bit, etc. – these are the skills that define the highly accomplished player.

In discussions of “ball striking”, the same names come up time and again, obviously most of them successful tour professionals – Hogan, Nelson, Tommy Bolt, Lee Trevino are maybe the most noted. One of the more common is also the legendary Moe Norman. It was said by those who had the opportunity to see him that he almost never mishit a shot, and every one took off on the same trajectory and flight. It was said that Mr. Norman never achieved financial fame on the golf course, and I have read it was because of his nerves and quirky nature. Nevertheless, he is the subject of countless legends.

Moving on to “shot making”, again we see many of the same names, with the addition of Tiger Woods, of course, who has shown us some remarkable imagination and execution of shots most wouldn’t even have the ability to see. It was said about Ben Hogan that he was one of the very few that combined both skills. Ben Hogan was noted for this insightful piece of advice about how to approach a pin location:

”You work the ball toward the flag. If it is in the right side of the green, you hit a fade, and hit a draw to any left flag location. Pins in the front require a high shot with spin, and those toward the back of the green require a lower shot with less spin. You always work the ball flight from the center of the green toward the edges.”

Now that’s serious insight into how the game can be played . . . at least if you have complete control over the ball flight. Or at least want to. And that brings me to my question today, to which I would like for all of you to weigh in;

I would like for as many of you as possible to chime with your answer to this question:

Do you ever try to hit various shots – draws, fades, high, low, “carve it”, etc. – and how often? Only when necessary, frequently, often. Please also indicate your handicap with your answer, OK?

Let’s have some fun with this.

A Tale of Two Opens

I have been looking forward to this week for most of the year – a chance to watch the best women golfers in the world tee it up right behind the men at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst #2. And they certainly did not disappoint in the first day.

Stacy Lewis takes the early lead with a masterful display of ball control. She hit 13 of 14 fairways and 17 greens yesterday to put together a pretty workmanlike 3-under-par 67. I loved her remark in her press conference that it was “easy” out there. She wasn’t talking about Pinehurst being easy at all, but rather that the game is much easier when you have 17 attempts at birdie. That means very little bogey tension, of course.

Overall, the leaderboard after Day One looks pretty much like the men’s did last week. One stellar ball-striking performance takes the early lead, a bunch of good players staying close and most of the field somewhat beat up by the golf course’s difficulty because they didn’t hit fairways and control their approach shots.

What the U.S. Open reveals almost every year is the golfer most in control of their game and emotions. You simply cannot chip and putt your way to a U.S. Open crown, with very few exceptions. Yes, a good short game is imperative, because of the traditional difficulty. But a review of history shows that in most cases, the golfer who ends up on top late Sunday afternoon was the one who made it the least “dramatic”. Kind of reminds me of a Lee Trevino remark from many years ago . . ..

“Two things that don’t last long are dogs that chase cars, and tour pros that putt for pars.”

I’m pretty opinionated that the LPGA players give us all more to learn than the men do. Watch these ladies this week, taking on the same golf course the men just played, albeit under slightly different conditions. The greens might be a tad slower, but the USGA is trying to get the ladies hitting the same clubs into the greens as the guys did on most holes. And the ladies are dealing with much higher temperatures than the guys – the forecast is for it to stay in the mid-90s all week, which takes a toll as all you southerners know.

So, settle back and enjoy the show, readers. It promises to be a good one, hopefully more dramatic than last week’s runaway.

Of course, I’m sure Stacy Lewis would like it turn out the same, huh?

P.S. The Ben Hogan Story Unfolds

As all of you know by now, EIDOLON Brands will be introducing the Ben Hogan brand back to the golf equipment industry in early 2015. This is beyond a dream come true for me . . . to honor my singular golf hero by leading a team to deliver on Mr. Hogan’s ideals and penchant for precision and quality. As you might imagine, since this announcement only a few weeks ago, our emails, LinkedIn accounts and phones have all almost ‘blown up’.
Obviously, it will take us a while to ramp up to full production of the new Ben Hogan irons when we get started, and our early production capacity will be stretched. So we are offering our most loyal followers – SCOR4161 owners, and you, my blog readers, an opportunity to reserve a priority preference to have the first opportunity to get a set of Ben Hogan irons when they are ready. There is no obligation to purchase at this time, but if you would like to get on the list to have the first crack at a set, please visit www.benhogangolf.com/reservemyhogans and register so that we can let you know when that time comes.

A Question About The Arms

I received a question from a reader the other day that had me pondering a bit about how to answer. Jonathan C. asked about the relationship between the arms, and suggested that, as a lefty, he needed to work on his left arm through the release at impact. That made me go “Hmmmmmm”, but here is my advice, Jonathan . . . and anyone else who might be thinking about this aspect of the swing.

I’m a firm believer that the lead arm – your right as a left-handed golfer, Jonathan – has to be the leader through impact. A firm lead arm is the only way to ensure consistent control of the clubhead path, in my opinion. The human body is a remarkable thing in that your inner ear and other magical parts will keep you from falling over. If you get into golf posture and have a friend push against your chest and then the small of your back, you will see that it only takes an inch or so of movement to rock you onto your toes or heels. So why is that important?

During the swing, this magical quality of balance will keep you from falling over, quite simply. You will swing around a centered, balanced pivot, no matter how fundamentally sound or not-so it might be. So, if you keep your lead arm firm throughout the swing, you have the best chance of returning the club to its starting position – which was at the ball. Make sense?

Now, about the trailing arm. I am also a firm believer, because I have viewed thousands of swing sequence photos and videos, that the trailing arm HAS TO BE UNDERNEATH THE PLANE OF THE LEAD ARM. If the trailing arm – your left that has you concerned, Jonathan – gets “on top” of the lead arm, only bad things can happen. The clubface will likely (but not necessarily) be shut, and the swing path will be way outside to in, which produces a slice. The path will be too steep, which sucks away power. And the relationship between the body core and lead arm will be compromised, which prevents impact consistency.

So, Jonathan, I hope this gives you some perspective on the relationship between the arms. But there is one more thing. If you study Mr. Ben Hogan’s book, Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, you will see his guidance that the forearms should stay somewhat connected throughout the swing. In other words, the spacing between them stays pretty consistent.

Thanks for writing in for some input, Jonathan, and good luck in getting those arms working together and improving your golf.

That Saturday in April

Today’s post is about one of the more memorable days in my childhood, one that has been relived in my mind many times over since we began working on bringing the Ben Hogan brand back to the golf equipment sector. It was that Saturday in April, 1967, when Ben Hogan torched Augusta National for a 66 at fifty four years of age. I had a phone conversation with a gentleman from Atlanta this week who was there that day with his father watching the drama unfold right in front of him. Man, was I envious of that man’s experience.

For me, I was sixteen years old and out on the little 9-hole course where I grew up, like I was every Saturday afternoon. I distinctly remember seeing my father’s 1954 Ford tearing up the service road between our #6 and #7 hole, and wondered what was going on.

“Get in the car”, he said excitedly. “Mr. Hogan is on fire at the Masters.” That was all Dad had to say and I threw my clubs in the back seat and jumped in. When we got back to the little clubhouse, a crowd was hovered around the small television and the drama was high. It was exciting to watch him carve up Augusta on that back nine.

For those of you who weren’t around to watch Mr. Hogan play, or haven’t really read that much about it, consider this: In 18 holes that day, Mr. Hogan missed not one green as I understand it, three-putting the third for his only bogey. More remarkable is that he hit the green on the par-five eighth and three-putted once again for a par. A two-putt par on the ninth allowed him to make the turn in 36 strokes.

Then the magic began.

The balky putter came through for a birdie on the tenth. He hit his approach shot on 11 to a foot for a second birdie, and made a 12-footer on 12 for his third in a row. His 4-wood approaches on 13 and 15 carded two more two-putt birdies, and after two-putt pars on 16 and 17, he rolled in a 20-footer on 18 for a 30 on the back nine, 66 for the day.

Think about this for a moment. Ben Hogan carded a six under 66 with 33 putts! He ‘beat’ the golf course from tee to green with another 33 shots. That borders on the unbelievable. I read the other day that only 35 rounds on the PGA Tour this year were played with every green in regulation. That’s out of over 12,000 played since the season began last October.

I’m unabashed in my admiration for how Mr. Hogan played the game. With exacting precision, strategic caution and almost absolute ball control. Those are the qualities we will embrace as we introduce the new Ben Hogan irons in early 2015. We are highly inspired by our namesake; his legacy and high standards drive us to pursue perfection in golf clubs.

Stay tuned for more of the story. But for next week, we are going to talk about driving the ball for strategic advantage.

Do You Really Love Golf?

Last Friday night I lost my best golf buddy, so I write with a heavy heart.

What brought us together was that Alan had the most genuine love for the game of golf of anyone I have ever known. He constantly told me I was the luckiest guy in the world to be able to make my living in this business, around this game. And when I told him I was working on the Ben Hogan deal many months ago, he was ecstatic for me, and lived this story as it developed, as if it was his own. He was a fan, a best friend, a confidant and I’m not hesitant in the least to tell you I genuinely loved this big old Teddy bear.

I rode in the passenger side of our cart almost every Friday for the past five years, and to be out there on the course was a high point of his every week. He toiled in the emergency room from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., went home and showered, took a short nap, and came out to the club by 10:00 or so. It was a thrill for him to spend time putting, hitting chip shots, going to the range and finally the first tee for our noon game.

He cherished each and every moment he spent at the club. He loved everyone, from the golf buddies, to those we never actually teed it up with, to each of the employees. He spoke to everyone as if they were the most important people in the world. And to him, at that moment in time, I believe they were.

What dawns on me as I prepare to speak at his service tomorrow is that I never once saw him get angry on the golf course. He dealt with his bad shots with a simple “Oh, Alan”, followed by an intensified focus on the next one. And he approached that recovery shot after a bad swing with an obvious joy at the thrill of being able to pull it off. Wow. What can we all learn from that?

As for me, I’m going to try to approach every round of golf from now on . . . every single shot, whether on the course or on the practice grounds . . . with the joy and excitement that Alan exhibited. By nature I’m wound up pretty tight, but I’m going to try to honor Alan by lightening up a bit and ‘smelling the roses’ of just what this game has given, and continues to give to me.

I don’t really have any words of wisdom for you today, but maybe this story of genuine love for the game will help all of us understand that we are extremely fortunate to be able to tee it up, however often or seldom that might be. We are blessed to have been introduced to this wonderful game by a father or friend, mentor or casual acquaintance.

In my life, it was my father, who also was my hero. And I now reflect on how Alan in effect, re-introduced me to this wonderful game. I’m just sorry that it took losing him to realize what he taught me.

I love you Buddy, and I’m going to miss you.

Shot to a Spot

A few weeks ago, I wrote about golf’s entering the statistical era with the help of ShotLink. As more and more data is being analyzed, more is being written about which parts of the game are most important to scoring and winning out on tour. It started out with “strokes gained-putting” as maybe the best indicator, but of late, we are reading more and more about ‘strokes gained-shotmaking’, which is the measure of a golfer’s ability to keep it in play and hit greens in regulation. That was the topic of the April 18 blog, where we looked at the impact on your scoring by hitting a few more greens in regulation.

Very simply, hitting 2-3 more greens per round does two things for you. 1) It gives you that many more birdie tries, which you will have to make some, and 2) it takes that much heat off your scrambling. If the best players in golf get up-and-down less than 75% of the time, for the average golfer a missed green leads to a bogey or worse at least twice that often. Think about that.

I saw the other day another interesting statistic. On the PGA Tour, greens-in-regulation percentage drops by almost half on shots from the rough over shots from the fairway. If that doesn’t hammer home the importance of hitting fairways, I don’t know what will. But with the 25-year obsession with distance, my bet is more fairways are missed these days than even back in the days of persimmon drivers.

In that era – which I’m sure many of you completely missed – the driver was for positioning the ball in the right part of the fairway for an approach shot, not for just blasting as far “that way” as possible. Those top players of the era hit their drives to particular spots that allowed for the best approach to the green, and they didn’t let it “all out” all that often. Ben Hogan, for example, in his 1949 book “Power Golf” listed his ‘regular’ distance with a driver as 265, but his ‘maximum’ as 300. Who keeps 35 yards in reserve for only those times when you really need it?

So, here’s a little experiment for you the next time you can get out for a “practice nine” in the afternoon or early morning. Each time you hit a drive in the rough, walk it out to the best side of the fairway for the approach and then back 15 yards. See if that correct positioning doesn’t make every hole play a little easier.

And then think about how much better you might hit your driver if you thought of each drive as a nice controlled shot to a spot, rather than just “hit it that way as far as I can.”

Just something to change the game a bit and keep in interesting.

Is Golf Too Hard?

There is a huge amount of discussion going on about growing the game and how we are not attracting new golfers, and losing old ones by the thousands. One of the areas receiving lots of attention is that the 4-1/4” hole makes the game too hard. Is that really it?

There have been some tournaments conducted recently with a 15” hole, but is that really “golf”? What do you all think?

We had a lively dinner discussion the other night about just what is it about golf that is running off some believers and making it less appealing to “newbies”. The conversation ran through the usual culprits – it costs too much, it takes too much time, etc. But is that really it?

In a marketing research presentation I attended a few years ago, the researchers presented the notion that the game loses players, or fails to capture them, when it ceases to be FUN. That can mean lots of things. But when it fails to be FUN, you’ll find other places for your money and time.

But does relaxing the gentleman’s dress code or rules of decorum add fun? Or does it tarnish the game for those of us already devoted to it? Call me old-fashioned, but it does bother me a bit to see guys on the course in all manner of disheveled dress and behavior – shirt tails out, music playing, etc.

And I really have a difficult time with the current fashion trend of PGA Tour players “going to work” without shaving. It just looks disrespectful to me. Disrespectful of the sponsors, the fans and of themselves. Their hosts at these fine clubs – who make it possible for these guys to play for millions of dollars – show up in blazers and ties, to watch tour players not even bother to shave.

But I digress. I do think the game has gotten too hard for too many. This infatuation with high-speed greens makes the last one hundred feet more daunting than the first 4-500 yards. Is that really golf? Should the chip, pitch or putt be more challenging than the drive and approach shot that got you there?

I played a very simple little golf course in Fort Worth the other day, and had a delightful time. There was a good mix of long and short approaches, and challenging drives. I put a 4-iron or longer in my hands on six holes. But what made it fun was that this course didn’t beat you up trying to save pars and keep it down to two putts per hole. And that was a change from my own club, which is extremely demanding with our undulating 11-12 Stimp greens.

And this club was very kid- and beginner-friendly, too, because every hole had a run-up approach possibility, which many “championship” courses lack.

I might have rambled here, but ask yourself if the course you play is really friendly to a beginner or kid. It takes a long time to develop the short game and putting skills to deal with super-fast greens and deep greenside bunkers and rough. If it isn’t fun, that kid or beginner won’t last long enough to get there.

That Big Story I Mentioned

By now, I’m assuming that most of you have seen the news of the “big story” I mentioned last week. Yes, it is true . . . we are bringing the Ben Hogan Company back to the golf equipment business. And this is not just a dream come true . . . because I would never have let myself dream this big . . . but a platform from which we can honor a legacy and change golfers’ fortunes we believe.

I have been inundated with interview requests since this broke on Tuesday, and have guested on Brian Katrek’s and Matt Adams’ shows on PGA Tour Radio. There are a number of articles up already, and you might have seen this on GolfDigeSTIX digital publication, on Mike Johnson’s Golf Digest blog, or elsewhere. A Google search of “Ben Hogan Returns” will give you the scoop.

Our entire team has been together in Fort Worth the past couple of days, deep into planning meetings covering products, marketing, sales and organizational efforts that are before us. We all feel a deep sense of obligation to Mr. Hogan’s legacy and efforts to do things in this industry that he saw as representative of opportunity to help golfers play better. We share that mission and commitment.

I can’t tell you what the new Ben Hogan irons will look like, as they are early in development, but I can assure you that they will be true to Mr. Hogan’s principles of design, quality and performance. If you would like to follow this story as it develops over the coming months, we have a starter website up at benhogangolf.com. Just choose to sign up to “Follow The Story”, and you will be the first to know each time we share a milestone in this journey.

We also will be looking for the ‘best of the best’ talents in all areas of business, and there is a place for you to upload a resume and cover letter if you would like to be considered for a position in this effort.

In the meantime, we are continuing to make powerful impressions with our SCOR4161 line of precision scoring clubs. The technologies we have incorporated into these clubs have been proven to reduce shot dispersion patterns by up to 75-90% over conventional wedges and set-matched cavity back short irons. I invite you all to put them to the test – compare them to what is in your bag now, regardless of brand. You’ll see what we mean and find that they are simply just more accurate and forgiving than anything else in the category.

As I begin this journey to honor Mr. Hogan, I could never allow myself to dream this big. I want to thank all of you for allowing me to pontificate every week, sometimes getting kudos and other time ruffling feathers. It is something I look forward to each week, to share my thoughts and insights with you.

Now this really gets fun and even more serious, as we have a legend’s name and legacy to honor. Stay tuned and tell us how we’re doing on that mission, OK?