I learned this about Ben Hogan when I tried to reconcile the number of degrees on a personal wedge Gene Sheeley was making for him. That same wedge design and specs would later need to be forged and duplicated at a Chicago factory.
Sometime long before I came along, Mr. Hogan, Gene and previous engineers developed a unique fixture to measure the loft and lie angle on irons and wedges, which you can see below. It was a rotation turret table pitched at an angle with some extra engineering measurement features welded on. With this fixture, one could fix or press the face of the club to a plate and turn the turret handle until the butt of the club pointed at a target lie measurement scale (in the shape of a sweep radius). After the club was aimed correctly, one could site out and read the lie of the club on the scale radius. At the same time, the loft could be read on the turret gauge.
With no engineering or formal physics schooling, Mr. Hogan knew instinctively that the loft and lie of an iron combined to determine the launch vector.
He must have come to realize these specifications were synergistic while “digging his game out of the dirt,” and Mr. Hogan and Gene had come up with this ingenious fixture. It was very creative thinking for its time. After they built that one fixture and it was used to set and gauge all of Mr. Hogan’s clubs — both his personal clubs, and his company’s clubs. It became the only standard for Hogan touring pros, the factory and all things Ben Hogan.
Years later, Gene gave me this historic fixture.
I have since donated it to the Ben Hogan Museum in Dublin, Texas, where it is on display. I think Gene and Mr. Hogan would have wanted that. I would implore anyone who loves Hogan lore (or his real clubs) to make a trip there some day. The museum is full of Mr. Hogan’s things and is a wonderful tribute.
Back to 1988 in Fort Worth. The one problem with the ingenious loft and lie machine was that the fixture did not travel. It was massive — about the size and weight of a modern washing machine. And while Mr. Hogan’s loft and lie fixture was very consistent and the products of this machine fit his eye and expectations, it did not read in true engineering degrees. That’s right, when Hogan thopught his machine was 56 degrees it was not really 56 degrees. Hogan degrees were about 1-to-2 degrees different!
As the head of the product development team in Fort Worth, I needed to communicate the actual and accurate degrees and dimensions of irons and wedges to vendors in California and Chicago, so I was in a box. As a side note, Mr. Hogan was a patriot and would require all clubs and components under his name to be 100 percent made in the USA. I will give you more detail in a story of how I know this a little later.
Ben Hogan Had His Own Personal Math for Club Specs!
Earlier in my engineering training, I had learned engineering standard measurement technique for machined parts that required a sine plate and a Bridgeport-type mill.
Yes, the same sine as you might have learned in high school trigonometry. Early in this club degree dilemma I tried to have a discussion with Gene about it, but he didn’t see a problem. As far as he was concerned, he, Mr. Hogan and their bulky fixture were right and the trigonometry and engineering worlds were wrong. “Case closed,” Gene said, and he would never bring it up with Mr. Hogan. I considered pushing the math matter higher up the company food chain. If I did, however, it might appear to embarrass Gene and Mr. Hogan. I also had to consider the fact that sometimes the messenger with bad news is killed, or in my case, let go!
Only recently during one of our jaunts up to his office had Mr. Hogan shocked me by asking me a question. Mr. Hogan asked me how much hook I saw in a wood Gene was showing him. Without knowing when, I must have crossed over a trust line and paid the final installment of my dues.
“It does look a bit hooked,” I stammered.
That was a safe response, because Gene had told me Mr. Hogan sees everything a couple of degrees more hooked than it measures, and I’ve run across many elite players over the years who see face angles the same way. With Mr. Hogan actually talking to me now, I wasn’t ready to blow up the new trust by telling him and Gene his machine “lied” consistently by a couple of degrees. With that, I quietly developed a chart and formula that would convert all Sheeley/Hogan fixture degrees to true engineering sine-plate calibrated degrees. With this secret formula and chart, I was able to do my job properly and those two incredible and historic men of the club I loved could stay happy.
A bit later, however, I made an eror and got bit in the butt. By this point, I could go in and see Mr. Hogan alone. One morning I went in there to show him one of Gene’s new prototype models. I don’t remember where Gene was. When I got to his office, Hogan dropped the wedge to the floor and eye balled it like he always did. Just a few seconds later, he told me it was 0.75 degrees too weak.
I’m sure Mr. Hogan could see my skeptical reaction and read my thoughts. In my head I was saying to myself:
Read on to find out whether Hogan was correct on that lie angle.
Source: Golf Wrx Tom Stites
Pictures: Ben Hogan Museum in Dublin, Texas
Thanks for reading Ben Hogan Had His Own Personal Math for Club Specs!