Ben Hogan Golf Clubs–A Love Story

I play Ben Hogan Apex 50 irons. They are the Rolls Royce of blades. They have wonderful balance, the solid hits feel great, and they are so beautiful you can take one out and just look at it–just admire it. And now they’re history.

In 2003, I was taking a golf lesson using my Wilson irons from 1962 (!) and the pro said, quite plainly, that I had to get new equipment. Period. That’s a lot of money to spend when I could still hit them, but I suppose he had a point. You should upgrade maybe every 40 years.

So I went to a pro shop and tested about nine different sets of irons. The Hogans felt like they were made with me in mind and they were so beautiful! Modern irons are amazing technological feats, but they look like they were designed by scientists. Not the Apex’s. Such simple elegance in a tool that is so supremely functional.

The set came as 3-E and for some reason I ordered a 2-iron as well. Just had to have one, I guess.

What’s an E? Hogan called his pitching wedge his equalizer since he because he believed the wedge completed or “Equalized” the set.

Every now and then on the course, someone will see them and sigh. A deep sigh. And they’ll say, “I had those once,” as if they wish they still had them.

As for how they play, the ball works in a partnership with the club, and the square hits feel buttery. That’s the only word I can think of, but ask anyone who plays Hogan irons and they’ll use the same word, unprompted. It’s a wonderful feeling in your hands.

There was a period in the early 2000s when the Hogan playing staff was a pretty good set of golfers. Monty, Tom Kite, and Justin Leonard played them, and I think Jim Furyk did, too.

But I noticed that one by one, Hogan staffers were switching to a different brand of clubs. I was reading articles in trade magazines about financial difficulties with the Hogan brand and that the product didn’t appeal to today’s recreational golfer. After all, manufacturers don’t make their bucks from the pros, but by selling their clubs to you and me.

Callaway purchased the Hogan line in 2004, and stopped making the clubs in 2008. These magnificent clubs are now in the past, but you can go on the web and still find new sets of Apex Edge irons for sale. Good luck finding the Apex model.

The Hogan influence is still with us, though. I went to a Nike demo day last summer and the rep asked me what irons I played. I told him the Hogan Apex’s, and he gave a 4-iron and said, “Try this one.”

Amazing. It felt just like my Hogans. When I mentioned this to him, he said, “I thought you’d like it. The guy who designed it used to work for Hogan.”

So if my Apex’s ever wear out, I know where I’ll go for my next set. The trouble is they’ll have the feel, but not the look–that classic look that belongs in a museum of fine art.



Improve Your Putting Stroke

You had a six-footer all lined up and you missed it. You thought you had it in the bag and it just didn’t happen. What went wrong? Did you make a bad read? Was it your stroke? Maybe a bit of both? How do you know which?

Well, you can’t know, but you can make sure it wasn’t your stroke by getting your stroke schooled to the point where every putt directs the ball exactly where you want it to go. Let’s mention a few little things that will help you get it right.

Posture. Stand up to the ball, bent over comfortably at the hips, lower back straight. Hang the putter straight down with the end of the putter grip in front of your left eye. The shaft should cover the ball. This ensures your eyes are directly over the line of the putt.

Aim. Find a no-break putt on the practice green. Lay a club down in front of the ball, pointing at the hole. Lay another club down parallel to it, about a foot away on the side where you’ll be standing. Pick up the first club. Line up your feet and shoulders parallel to the second club. Your stroke is now aimed at the hole.

Alignment. Draw a line around a golf ball’s equator. Put the ball on the ground with the line running right through the pole of the ball, i.e., not tilted to one side. Putt the ball. If the line does not wobble, your putterface was square and aligned at impact. This is a critical point.

Sweet spot. Impact on this spot transfers all the energy of the putt to the ball, in line with the stroke. Tap the putterface with your fingertip rapidly back and forth along the face until you find the spot were the putter does not rotate when tapped. Practice hitting the ball on the sweet spot. When so hit, the ball will leap off the face, your hands will feel no shock of impact, and the ball will make a distinctive sound.

Path. The putter should be swinging along your starting line for short putts. Rock your shoulders back and forth when you putt, and have a feeling of the right upper arm continuing forward on the follow-through.

Stroke. If you think of the putting stroke as a movement back and a movement through, that’s two things, and your mind can stop in middle. Even though the stroke changes direction, think of it as one movement, not two. This is calming to the mind and body.

One Correction. I see golfers all over breaking their left wrist in the follow-through. None of ‘em can putt worth a lick. Enough said.

After you get your stroke fixed up, getting the ball in the hole is up to your read and the vagaries of the imperfect ground the ball rolls over, but that’s another lesson.

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How To Hit Crisp Iron Shots

There’s a difference between the iron shots that very good amateurs and pros hit, and the ones the rest of us hit. Our irons shots lift off the club face like they were thrown off it, and make a lazy arc through the sky. At least the good ones do.

Those other iron shots, the ones we don’t hit, seem to take off like they were shot from a gun and fly toward the green like a pin-seeking missile.

That’s not a shot we have to admire from afar. You can hit your irons like that, too. The whole idea is for the clubface to still be moving downward as it contacts the ball. Hit the ball first, the ground second.

You might have heard about hitting down with your irons. That can be interpreted as making the downswing more vertical, as if you were chopping wood, but that’s not what hitting down means. Rather, it means to hit the ball with a swing that bottoms out after the ball has been struck.

When you hit a golf ball you have to aim at something. I don’t mean the green ahead of you, for example. I mean something on the ground, something right in front of you that want the clubhead to hit.

Most people aim for the back of the ball. When you aim there, the downward arc of the swing will bottom out at that point so the clubface momentarily travels parallel to the ground. The club sweeps the ball into the air and the result is one of those lazy fliers we think are good shots.

To hit that crisp iron shot, do two things.

First, shift the swing arc forward so it bottoms out at a spot in front of the ball. An easy way to accomplish that is direct your attention to a spot about one inch in front of the ball once you’re ready to swing. Ignore the ball, and aim your strike for that spot.

Second, make sure your hands get to the ball before the clubhead does. The idea of dragging or pulling the club through impact is helpful.

To be avoided is the thought of pushing the clubhead through the ball with the right hand. That is what makes the hands slow down. Impact becomes a flicking motion, with rarely leads to a clean strike.

Having done both these things, you’ll catch the ball cleanly, trapping the ball between the club and the ground as the club heads down to the bottom. The result will be that breathtaking ball flight, straight, high, and far.

Take some time to work this out at the range. You might start by aiming for a point directly underneath the ball, and as you get the idea, gradually move the aim spot forward until you find the spot where you get the best results.

As far as leading the clubhead though with your hands goes, that starts the moment you bring the club down from the top of the backswing. Keep your hands and wrists in the position they’re in until the momentum of the swing releases them.

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“The average golfer’s problem is not so much a lack of ability as it is a lack of knowing what he should do.”

Ben Hogan

“To improve your golf the first stage is not necessarily to change your swing, but to learn to do your best swing more often.”

Vivien Saunders

“It is true that if you cannot putt you cannot win, for no hole is won until the ball is down—but good scores are only made possible by good play up to the green.”

Percy Boomer

“I can outhit many men, much to their embarrassment, for suddenly they are pitting…their strength against mine. That’s foolish. They aren’t competing with my strength; they’re competing with the efficiency of my swing.”

Mickey Wright

“The average golfer’s chances of developing good judgement are better than his chances of radically transforming his golf swing.”

Raymond Floyd

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Tour Tempo

In an earlier post I talked about the importance of tempo in your golf swing. Most instruction books mention tempo, but go no further saying they’re in favor of it and end up wasting two or three pages with contentless blather that teaches you nothing useful about making good tempo part of your game.

John Novosel explains, in his book, Tour Tempo, how he discovered through video analysis of elite golfers’s swings that the golf swing consistently breaks down to 3 units of time going up, to 1 unit coming back down to impact.

He also noted that while different golfers have different swing speeds, they all swing with this same 3:1 ratio between the backswing and the forward swing.

Novosel then developed a program of instruction so golfers can learn to swing with this 3:1 characteristic. This program is contained in a disc that comes with a book that and video and audio tracks. Let me recommend this book to you with several caveats.

First, Novosel uses the word tempo to refer to two different things. Tempo is the overall pace of your swing, which varies from player to player. The 3:1 ratio he found is the rhythm of the golf swing. Because of his emphasis on it, the book should have been called Tour Rhythm

Second, the audio track ratio is 2:1, not 3:1. The sound tracks on the disc are precise 2:1 intervals. Watch the videos to learn the exercises, but don’t listen. You’ll get the wrong rhythm in your head.

Third, the sound tracks coach you through only three discreet tempos. If the tempo that feels right for you and lets you hit the ball the best is between two of these tempos, you won’t be served by using the disc as a training guide.

Keeping those things in mind, this book has had and continues to have an enormous impact on my game. I worked hard to find the tempo that is right for me and to maintain it. I hit the ball really well when I swing at my tempo with the right rhythm. When I start hitting poor shots this is the first thing I check, and getting back to my preferences is usually all it takes to start hitting the ball well again.

Building the correct rhythm and tempo into your swing, will be the best thing you ever did for your golf game.


A Paean to Putting

Recently I was watching the PGA tournament on television. One of the players hit a terrible drive into a thicket of trees, just like you and I do. He hacked out into the fairway just like you and I do. He pitched onto the green to ten feet, just like you and I (sometimes) do. All similarity ends there because he sank the putt for his par.

A good putt washes away our sins. It forgives us our trespasses. It leads us beside still waters. There is no reason not to become fiendishly good at it.

Yet, when I go to the range, it’s full of people hitting one worm burner after another with their driver and no one is on the putting green. I’ll spend an hour there, and maybe three other people will wander on, knock the ball around for ten minutes, and leave, thinking they’ve practiced their putting.


Let’s say you take 38 putts per round. Probably fifteen of those putts are tap-ins under one foot. That means you have 23 putts that you have to pay attention to. That’s about one-quarter of the strokes you make.

So do you devote one-quarter of your practice to putting? Actually, I think you should practice more than that. Try this. For every ball you hit on the range, spend one minute on the practice green. Do you buy those big buckets of ninety balls? Friend, you’ve just signed up for an hour-and-a-half of putting practice when you’re done.

Study putting, try different things that might work better. Take putting lessons! My pro tells me that out of the thousands of lessons he gives every year, less than one hundred are for putting.

Swing technique is hard. We’ll never have a great swing. Putting technique is easy. There is no limit to how good we can get.

I read in a golf magazine about some amateur who wanted to get as good as he could at putting. He did. He’s under 30 putts per round routinely. Once had a round of 18 putts, and twice he’s had rounds of only 19 putts.

Putting is our salvation, our chance to shine. I sing a song of praise to putting. Join the chorus.

Keep Playing, Don’t Quit

I have to admit I have a tendency to quit trying for a bit after I hit a bad shot. Especially when things have going well for a good stretch of holes. But no more. I finally learned my lesson.

In one of the last rounds I played before the autumn rains came, I was cruising. I never pay attention to my score after about the fourth hole, so I didn’t realize until the round was over that I had parred eight holes in a row. All I knew was that I was playing well.

So on a par 5 hole, with a 9-iron third into the green, I cold topped it, the ball disappearing into a waste area that fronts the green. Words were spoken inside my head.

Now the waste area is marked as a water hazard, but instead of walking up to the hazard and having a 70-yard pitch into the green, I dropped another where I was and hit another 9-iron. By golly, I was going to prove to myself that I could hit that shot.

The ball got over the hazard, but went way left and it took me three to get down from there. That’s an 8 if you’re counting.

On the next hole, a par 4 that slopes down to the left, I popped up my drive. 150 yards tops. Maybe not even that. Leaves me about 210 from the hole. So I get up to the ball and figure this round has been trashed, and I might as well try hitting my 2-hybrid to see how close I can get it to the green because I’ve been working on that shot and if it doesn’t work out, big deal, since the round has been ruined anyway. But a little voice said, “No. Take another look. See if you can still get a par from here.”

Taking a close look, I saw that if I hit 4-hybrid, I could put the ball at the front right of the green in a good position to pitch into a sharply sloping green for a par putt. And since I have both the 4-hybrid shot and the pitch in my bag, my attitude changed just like that. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “I can do this,” and I was in attack mode again.

You know what happened? I put the 4-hybrid on the front right, just where I wanted to, pitched on to three feet and made the putt.

I will never quit on myself again. Promise.

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How To Take a Golf Lesson – Part 2

During a lesson, be committed as a learner. This means:

1. When the teacher is talking, listen. Don’t trade ideas on swing theory unless the pro asks you about it. You’re there to listen to someone who knows (the pro), not someone who doesn’t (you).

2. When the pro says to do “this,” then do “this” to the best of your ability. It might feel uncomfortable, but new movements are uncomfortable – that’s part of learning.

3. Take yourself out of the lesson. If you do what you’re told, but add something else of your own, you won’t know what caused the results you get.

4. When you don’t understand, speak up. Ask briefly for clarification or for a demonstration. But then listen to the explanation and watch the demonstration. Focus on being able to do what the pro wants you to do.

5. When you learn a new movement you’ll probably hit some clinkers. That’s all right. Keep trying to do what you’re being asked to do and let the pro be the one who decides what, if any, corrections to make.

6. When the lesson is almost over, ask for a few drills that you can use to practice the points you have been working on, if the pro hasn’t given you some already. Drills are vital to learning new movements. You’re retraining your subconscious mind to make a new movement correctly. Drills isolate that movement so you can repeat it until it’s learned.

7. After the lesson is over, there should still be some balls in front of you. Hit them all. Work on what the pro taught you. Work on your drills. Work on getting the ideas you were given into your head and into your body while the instruction is still fresh. Practice again every day for a week or so in order to remember what you learned. Without constant practice, you’ll ease back into the old habit you’re trying to replace.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it completely in your half-hour lesson. It might need several lessons on the same point for you to learn what to do. When we have a habit, our mind pulls us in the direction of that habit regardless of our best intentions. That’s why lessons are hard sometimes, and need to be repeated.

Finally, remember that in a lesson the pro just points the way. The responsibility for improvement lies with you.


How To Take a Golf Lesson – Part 1

The smartest thing you can do to improve is take lessons. Here’s how to get the most out of one.
First, be smart about scheduling it. The worst time to schedule a lesson is if you’re going to play later that day or even the next day. Taking a lesson detaches you from one habit and attempts to attach you to another one. When you’re adrift between habits, count on your score going up until you are comfortable with the new ones.

I once had a lesson where the pro pointed out that my right shoulder was too far forward at address (a common fault for the recreational golfer). I worked for a few days on squaring up my shoulders, but it still felt odd because it was not my habit.

Two days later I played 18 holes and every shot I hit off the tee was phenomenal. Irons, however, were a different story. I just couldn’t find the ball when it was on the ground. I hit only one good iron shot all day. But that was OK. I expected there would be something that wouldn’t work and I played the best I could, knowing that when I finally got the new address position figured out, I would start hitting every shot much better.

When the lesson begins, the pro will ask you what you want to work on. Have an answer, the more specific the better. That way, your pro can start looking for the answer to your problem from the very start and make the most of the half-hour you’re going to be together.

I had a lesson once to solve an annoying problem. The way I was playing at the time, my 9-iron was money, my 6-iron was OK, and my driver was this thing in my hands. The question? How do I hit each club as well as my 9-iron? The pro gave me the answer and the problem cleared up in a half-hour because I told him exactly what I wanted to know.

Arrive for your lesson about 15 minutes early to pay for it and warm up. Hit some balls so you’re ready when the pro steps up to the tee to help you. Resist any urge to start fixing the problem yourself during the warm up. All you’re doing is getting loose. You want the pro to see how you normally swing.

Tell your pro how you learn best. Do you want the pro to demonstrate or are verbal descriptions sufficient? Do you want technical explanations or do you want to hear how the right move feels? Every pro has a teaching style, but you have a learning style. Don’t be shy about bringing this up. A good teacher will allow you to take the lead in these matters.

See also How To Take a Lesson – Part 2

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Little Differences That Make a Big Difference in How Well You Play