William Benjamin Hogan was my hero as a boy… as for many golfers, he took on a mystical presence in my life… stories told by my father and others of Hogan’s rounds in US Opens. I first experienced him as an eleven year old caddy, with a copy of 1949’s “Power Golf” as my guide to the game. Next came seeing the movie “Follow the Sun”.
Later, working in the golf shop as a 14 year old boy, I was given a copy of Hogan’s “Five Lessons…” from the Head Pro, Don Barber. I was told to go do like Hogan… go practice and “dig it out of the dirt.” Actually, for me, it was mostly on rainy days that I played, as the Pro let us off work when it rained. So maybe I tried to dig it out of the mud. It was the most fun I ever had…
Henry Ford was also my hero as a boy, both for his writings (his My Life & Work was the first book I read on industrial issues, in Junior High, before beginning as a junior drafter in my first non-golf job) and his connection to my grandfather, a toolmaker for Ford from 1919 to 1959… and Ford still is my example of genius grounded in common sense and justice, after seeing his wisdom played out (more ignored than followed) in over thirty years of an engineering career in many industries.
“Mr. Ford” had definite ideas about many things. Mostly, he learned them through hard experience… as he didn’t study under management gurus or college professor mentors. He did like Ben Hogan did… he dug it out of the rocks of applied industrial combinations… materials, men and machines.
What both men had in abundance, was robust common sense, a love of work, a drive to improve, and the humility of a monk who adheres to his chosen endeavour for it’s own sake, instead of the accolades it may bring.
Hogan enjoyed practicing with nobody watching… a 4 iron shot’s perfection for it’s own sake, even after winning Five US Opens.
Ford enjoyed working with his toolmakers on solving problems, or discussing steels and tool designs, even after becoming the wealthiest of Industrialists (I know this from Grandpa’s experiences).
From that combination of qualities and the outlook of focusing on work over recognition, their common idea of “Continuous Improvement” stands out… and both may rightly be considered the best examples of what a focus on “CI” can do. It makes us all better off… Improvement.
Now, sometimes, a long stretch of Continuous Improvement happens because of a catalyst. New materials science is usually the cause… a breakthrough in properties, processes, or production, or even pricing, changes the way all previous examples of engineering should be re-evaluated. Use of Vanadium-alloy steel by Ford helped him make lighter and better vehicles. Titanium processing advances in aerospace made modern golf clubhead advances possible.
Metal (first steel, then eventually titanium) drivers took a while to get as good as they are, we can use that example… it took twenty years for drivers to get 10% better, when you strip the ball effect out. Twenty years of Continuous “Driver” Improvement was pretty much needed to get where we are, and the USGA setting limits on COR, MOI, and CC volume brought that period to a happy closure (players don’t need to change their equipment as often now, as in the recent past… and that’s a good thing for golf, though the manufacturers surely enjoyed that period… have you got 5 or more drivers in your closets?). It cost billions of dollars in products that were soon obsoleted, however. Advances are usually costly to the early adopters.
But sometimes, a new push on the CI front comes from a breakthrough in design due to a period of absolute blindness to a fundamental physical reality. Take for example the car industry in “automotive vehicle design” and the reaction of the market to the Chrysler Mini-Vans… suddenly “Station Wagons” (named for taking persons and luggage to a train station) became obsolete nearly overnight. Auto Designers needed to sharpen their pencils, and innovate upon the platform of what the market now expected. So-called “Soccer-Mom-Mobiles” became the new game changer for Detroit. Designers had to start thinking of what their customers really wanted. Station Wagons were uncomfortable and cramped… Mini-Vans were roomier and more comfortable and versatile. One just flat out out-performed the other where it counts… in the mind of the user… usually a Mom.
Now, Ben Hogan & Henry Ford weren’t perfect… they were human. But what was perfect about both was the idea that you can never stop improving. Here’s some of their wisdom in practice, distilled…
Ford (My Life & Work)… “If we have a tradition it is this: Everything can always be done better than it is being done.”
Hogan (Five Lessons)… “Every year we learn a little more about golf. Every new chunk of valid knowledge paves the way to greater knowledge.”
That brings me to Putters, and Putting.
For decades, Putter Designers have repeatedly focused on the marketing aspects of slight modifications in “look” and “feel” parameters, while wholesale ignoring the fundamental “physics” and “geometry” factors. All to your detriment, if making putts is the goal.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Henry Ford.
Now, I loved classic shaped golf clubheads. 8802. Bullseye. MacGregor Eye-O-Matic. Tommy Armour 693. Wilson Staff or Hogan Apex forged blades. Beautiful. But do you see many of them on courses anymore?
But you see millions of knockoffs of the 40+ year old Ping Anser. Is it because they perform in superior fashion? Not really. It’s because the golfing public was fed a steady diet of them, because they are cheap and easy to make, and the designers didn’t design putters to “Make Putts”, they designed putters to “Sell Putters”. They turned “look” into the goal… not making more putts. Any one of those low priced “Anser-Inspired” models works about the same as any other one, or an original. Or “Two-Balls”. Or any other style.
Why? Because designers completely missed that the products they were putting in shops were defective in two fundamental ways. They were brutally unforgiving, and they did not putt the ball in the direction they appeared to aim. Not because of some “optic” flaw, to be fixed with a trick… but because of fundamental geometry.
So… in the spirit of Henry Ford’s robust common sense, and Ben Hogan’s pursuit of perfection… you may now learn about, putt with, and win with… Putters Designed to Make Putts. And They Do. The Proof is in the Putting.