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The Ben Hogan Collection and More!

I bought The Ben Hogan Collection interactive CD set a couple of years ago. It had been some time since I reviewed it in any detail, so I broke it out a week or so ago and went through all of it again.  I am as impressed now as I was then with the quality of work, archive films, and the analysis of Jim McLean.  The folks at McTee’s Champions LLC have done a wonderful job of putting this together.

The set provides a “Legacy DVD” which is a brief biopic of Ben Hogan, two instructional DVDs (Swing Revealed 1 & 2), and a software CD.  I normally look for things on Amazon.com first and the package can be purchased there for just under $60.00.  Unfortunately, the set is “temporarily out of stock” on the Amazon website.  With a quick google, I found the set on PracticeRange.com for $35.00.  If you are any kind of a golf aficionado then this is a must for your library and continuous review.   

As I re-reviewed it and listened carefully to McLean’s analysis while watching the vintage footage, I had a couple of epiphanies.  One especially enlightening segment for me was in the chipping/pitching segment.  McLean shows the viewer in detail how Ben Hogan pitches the ball with a “mini-swing.”  Interestingly, McLean uses the cigarette, still in Hogan’s mouth, as a reference point for analyzing his head movement through the pitch.  I have incorporated Hogan’s pitching technique to great reward!  (8 birdies in 27 holes yesterday!!!  Won a few “cuts” thanks to Mr. Hogan, Jim, and McTee…)

McTee Champions LLC has some exciting new products out and coming.   Tom McCarthy of McTee –  “Thanks for the compliments on the dvd set.  I worked really hard to get that done over the course of several years and Jim McLean was terrific. 

We have put together a couple of new things recently.  One is the iPad app called Ben Hogan 5 Lessons.  It works on the iPad and Android type tablets.  The spirit of the Five Lessons book is in there plus some!  We are also building and soon to release the Ben Hogan 5 Lessons mobile app that marries the critical information in the Five Lessons book to the V1 instructional software.  It will include some Hogan video clips for swing comparisons. 

Jim McLean and I just finished in January a new book with Wiley & Sons called ‘The Complete Hogan.’  I took old pre-accident footage of Mr. Hogan’s swings and made stills with Jim providing observations and analysis over 30+ frames for each of 3 swings.  Plus, Jim has some incredible additional information in the book.  I am pretty hyped up about it.” 

Whether a seasoned player or a beginner, The Ben Hogan Collection will inform and entertain.  Spend the few dollars and put it in your library.  Also, look for the new McTee products  – I am excited to get the mobile APP and book Tom describes above!

 

 

Review: Golf’s Sacred Journey

I was at the movie theater a couple of weeks ago and learned about a movie coming out soon based on Dr. David L. Cook’s book, Golf’s Sacred Journey – Seven Days at the Links of Utopia. I normally love to watch the previews at the movies, but this time my wife and I finished the “Tub O’ Corn” before the previews were done and I wanted some more. (I know – it’s a pitiful thing…) About the time I was leaving, the preview for the movie Golf’s Sacred Journey was coming on. All I saw as I left was that it was a golf movie and Robert Duvall was in it (I really wanted that popcorn). Afterwards at home, my wife googled the movie and we learned it was based on the book I described above. I immediately ordered the book from Amazon.com. I knew I would see the movie and I wanted to read the book beforehand. I am glad I did.

In one day during a two-leg flight from Norfolk, Virginia to Pensacola, Florida I read the book cover to cover. There is a foreword written by Tom Lehman, acknowledgements, an introduction, the text, and finally an epilogue. As I began reading the text I was thinking, OK, here we go again with another “golf is like life” parable. But, as I moved deeper into it all the while keeping an open mind there were some clear messages that spoke to me. I had some “aha moments” that kept me thinking and the story line itself was interesting and compelling enough to keep me entertained. The messages in the book were really thought provoking for me. I reflected a great deal on them. I will read it again.

Without getting into any details, I will provide some insight into the book provided by the author himself on the cover.

“You never really know when you might meet someone who will change your life. More importantly, you never know when your influence might change another life. This book is about influence. The story is based on thousands of athletes David Cook has counseled, and the great mentors and teachers from whom he has learned, told through the lives of two characters – a rancher with a passion for teaching truth and a young golf professional at the end of his rope.”

As the book’s cover says, it is about influence. Why do we do things? What is important? A notion not from the book, but one I derived in reflecting on the book, is that oftentimes when we want to do something or cause something to happen it is the opposite of that which we initially think of as a solution that is a key in actually making it happen. Like in golf when you want to hit the high shot, you must hit down on the ball. When you want the swing to be correct, you don’t “control it,” you actually have to let it go (a very Hogan-esque idea).

Utopia is a real place. I think the two major characters are real also, only they are a compilation of individuals from the author’s life and work. Oh by the way, since I knew Robert Duvall was going to be in the movie, as I read, it dawned on me how perfect he is for the part. Think of a wiser, tamer Gus from Lonesome Dove.

Interestingly, Tom Lehman won the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek in Alabama this past weekend. It is a Champions Tour major and his third win this year. He believes in what Dr. Cook writes in this story. In his foreword he states, “Only you know your character, the person you see when you look in the mirror. Your reputation is who people think you are. Don’t confuse the two. Dr. David Cook is a man of character. I have learned from him. You will too.”

I took the messages from the book to heart and to the course last Sunday. In first application on the golf course I think I did okay shooting 74 at my home course. I found myself straying from what is really important a couple of times and the score on these holes reflected it. More importantly, I am also incorporating the messages into my life. I have made some major changes in my life in recent years and this is important I think.

The book: is it a story of golf with parallels to life or is it a story of life using golf as its form? It is all of the above. I highly recommend it. The movie: I’ll let you know.

“The Match” and Harvie Ward

He’s arguably the best golfer you have never heard of…or at least the best one I have never heard of anyway.  It’s probably a little presumptuous of me to say that you have never heard of him, but before reading “The Match” I hadn’t and I’ve a pretty good knowledge of golfers and golf history.  His name is Harvie Ward. 

I read “The Match” a couple of months ago.  A friend gave me the book to read knowing I would enjoy it.  And I did enjoy it, very much – so much so that I bought a copy after returning the book to my friend.  Mark Frost documented the true story and he does a terrific job of framing the title match between the professionals, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, and the amateurs, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, by weaving the match hole by hole with a biographical treatment for each golfer.  It is a once in a lifetime meeting of two of the greatest professional golfers of all time, albeit in their waning years with Nelson having already been retired from tournament golf, and two of the best and most promising amateurs.  It is the moment and the vehicle for illustrating the inevitable transition from the heyday of amateur golf to the world of professional golf we know it today.  Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi were among the best amateurs in the world at a time when the game was still searching for a replacement for Bobby Jones – long since retired.  Harvie Ward could have been that man, but for the ascendency of professional golf and associated growing purses and notoriety it garnered with the public – and some heartbreaking setbacks caused in part by actions taken by the USGA attempting to maintain a firm line on the rules of amateur status.  The outcome of the match?  Read the book, but I bet you can guess.

I, of course, know Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan – again, two of the best professional golfers who ever walked the links.  I also know Ken Venturi, but as the professional he ultimately became, winning the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional in a storybook manner, PGA Player of the Year in 1964, and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the year in 1964 and several other professional titles.  He was also a regular golf commentator throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s with CBS.  I learned of his amateur prowess in the book.  I had never heard of Harvie Ward. 

Harvie Ward had an impressive amateur career.  He won the North and South Amateur at Pinehurst in 1948, the NCAA Championship in 1949, the British Amateur in 1952, and the Canadian Amateur in 1954.  He also participated in three Walker Cup teams (1953, 1955 and 1959) and won many city, state and regional amateur events.  His presence was also felt at many U.S. Open and Masters tournaments finishing high in both on several occasions.  Then the USGA challenged his amateur status and the bottom fell out for Harvie.  “After losing his amateur status, Harvie Ward spent the better part of twenty years, by his own admission, wandering in a wilderness of sorrow, confusion, and loss.”  (The Match, 2007)  He resurfaced years later, ultimately becoming a teacher and legend in Pinehurst, NC. 

Harvie’s story is compelling, I searched for more information on him, there isn’t much out there.  There are some obituaries and he is mentioned in some books I have yet to read, but not much more.  This story introduced me to him and I am glad I know him now.  Read the book, it is entertaining whether a golfer or not.  But, if you are a golfer, it is a must read.

Hogan Part Deux

I have read Hogan’s FIVE LESSONS twice now.  I still find brilliance in his analysis and descriptions and marvel at the drawings and their clarity.  I can visualize almost all of what he is saying, but it is so difficult to translate some of it to the golf course – or even the driving range.  After reading it the first time and writing about it here, I began applying his instruction.  I saw some immediate improvement.  In fact, two weeks into practicing I shot a round of 74 (with a double bogey – not a lot in the book about the short game).  Excited as I was about this, I knew it was but one round.  I have been here before…remember, I often rebound from brilliance to buffoonery.  My pattern has not changed.

I found particular help with his instruction on the grip, the elbows, shoulder to the chin, and the mindset that the hips are the engine and if set up correctly all else will follow.  I find particularly distracting the section on wrist supination.  If the idea is to “trap the ball” with the iron face on the way down, then I got it.  But the discussion is confusing – and obviously confusing to many others.  I googled this concept and found endless discussions on it.  My takeaway from this additional research is that if all else is as he describes, then supination will occur.  That part of the swing happens too fast to try and manipulate the wrists; doing so will only cause unspeakable anomalies that further confuse.  They did me.

Hogan mentions subtle adjustments to his foundational instruction based on physical makeup.  Of course, not all of us are the same and so, we may require a slightly or subtly different set up or position of fingers or…well you get the picture.  Dangerous area is this!  Offer me the opportunity to subtly adjust and I will!  Too much thinking!

So, I have begun to backslide into my pattern of overburdening myself with techniques and tips.  Let’s look at Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, review “The Little Red Book,” power point some professional swing sequences, etc… I need to focus.  FOCUS.  But, that’s not easy. 

All this seems to be, in the final analysis, an endeavor to control my swing.  So much so, as Hogan would tell you that I hope to create a repeatable swing that will serve me well under pressure.  But how do you “control” it?  Epiphany – as I write this – epiphany!  Perhaps, like much in golf, to control the swing is to let it go.  Perhaps it’s not really about control per se, but about setting the conditions in your swing habits that allow for consistency when you let it go.  Now that I think of it, Hogan seems to say that to us in his pages.   Build the basics so you can then TRUST the swing.  Perhaps control is born of fear.  Fear of hitting the ball in an unintended way.  When, in the end, if I use my brain to visualize and then just swing, I might like the result.  But, I have to have the basics first.  Reintroduction to Mr. Hogan…and my local pro?

Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons

Wouldn’t it be great if there was such a thing as a “golf whisperer?”  Someone out there you could visit who, by merely suggesting a few things, could completely turn your game around and get you on the right track to improvement.  There are a lot of people out there who would imply to be such a person, but unfortunately there’s a lot more noise than there is music where golf instruction is concerned.  I just finished reading Ben Hogan’s  FIVE LESSONS and there seems to be a lot of music in there.

I have been playing golf since I was given my first set of irons by my then future father-in-law back in 1984 or 5.  In the time since, I have had one paid lesson (in the early 90’s). Most of my instruction has come from my former father-in-law, observation, reading the tips in publications like Golf Magazine and Golf Digest, and finally, a lot of “pissin’ on the electric fence.”  I have perused many books on golf and even own a few that I have acquired through the years – Seve Ballesteros’ book, Greg Norman’s book, etc., but never really read them as a serious student.  I tend to be attracted to the funny and anecdotal books.  Over the course of the last couple of nights, I read Mr. Hogan’s book as a student and for the first time and there are a few things that struck me as I read it.

First, the book is small, the font is large, and the illustrations are beautiful.  That, my friends, is a winning combination right off the bat in my world of 12 pounds of to-dos for my 5 pound to-do bag.  Mongo like a quick read.  Mongo like pictures. And these pictures, drawn wonderfully by Anthony Ravielli and “closely supervised” by The Hawk for accuracy, alone provide a great pocket guide to fundamentals without ever reading the text.      

Next, I found solace and hope in Mr. Hogan’s words in his introductory chapter, The Fundamentals, regarding the average golfer and what is possible:

“I see no reason, truly, why the average golfer, if he goes about it intelligently, shouldn’t play in the 70’s – and I mean by playing the type of shots a fine golfer plays…THE AVERAGE GOLFER IS ENTIRELY CAPABLE OF BUILDING A REPEATING SWING AND BREAKING 80, if he learns to perform a small number of correct movements and conversely, it follows, eliminates a lot of movements which tend to keep the swing from repeating.  In these lessons we will certainly not be attempting to cover all of golf or even one-hundredth of that almost inexhaustible subject.  What we will be concerning ourselves with are the facts of golf which have proved themselves to be the true fundamentals – fundamentals that can be checked and not simply left to the imagination or to guesswork.  This is all that is really needed.”  

These are words not from a self-proclaimed “golf whisperer” trying to sell you his 3  DVD set for a mere $149.95, but a legend who’s reputation and ethos precluded saying anything but what he believed to be the absolute truth about his business and his passion.  These words are promising!  A few fundamentals, followed closely, is attractive to the “left-brain” part of me and, if promise holds true, will allow the “right-brain” part of me play the game

Finally, as I finished the book, I realized how simple and few the fundamentals are as described by Mr. Hogan.  They are easy to comprehend and conceptualize.  I also recognized myself in some of his descriptions of what not to do and how not to do it.  In these years of “pissin’ on the electric fence” and trying the quick-fix tips found in magazines and videos, I have managed to get my handicap down to a low of 2 and now hover at a 5.  Pretty good, except my handicap is built on lots of golf course buffoonery with the occasional brilliant round.  We all know that the handicap system is built to grab onto those brilliant rounds and keep them in the system like the words of the ten commandments on the stone tablets.  Therefore, I may be a 5, but usually I play in the low to mid 80’s.  My desire, like I am sure it is for all, is to minimize the buffoonery and maximize the potential for brilliance – always break 80. 

Is Mr. Hogan a “golf whisperer?”  No, I don’t think so, but he does give us the benefit of his many years of hardnosed self-evaluation and experimentation with the golf swing.  His personal results are undeniable.  The sub-title of his book is The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.  Since the original copyright is 1957, it’s not so modern anymore.  Who cares?  It’s still a ball and it’s still a club.  Professionals still revere his swing.  I think his fundamentals are likely timeless.  Will his instruction make us as good as he?  No, unless you have the nearly fanatic work ethic for practice and talent for striking the ball that he had.  Can he make us better with his instruction – intuitively, I believe that to be true.  His instruction hit my ah-ha button too many times to doubt it altogether, but I reserve final opinion until I go through the training myself.  I have already begun and have already seen positive results. 

So, I will ensure my cup is empty, maintain an open mind, and keep my expectations realistic…sorry, that’s another book I am reading – Zen Golf.   Maybe there really is a “golf whisperer,” only he wears leather sandals, meditates, and drinks green tea…