Ben Hogan's club specifications

May 15, 2020

For the golfer who has likely been studied more closely than any other, surprisingly little information is available about the specs of Ben Hogan's clubs. The USGA has several drivers and two iron sets in its collection, but hasn't published anything that I'm aware of. As far as I know, all that is readily available is from the book Afternoons With Mr. Hogan; in it, Jody Vasquez published what he claims were the specs of Hogan's clubs in the mid-1960s during the period Vasquez was working in the bag room at Shady Oaks:1



Jody includes some insights from Hogan's personal club maker, Gene Sheeley, and adds some details, including the bounce on the sole of the irons, which ranged from negative with the long irons to none at all with the shorter clubs; the reminder under the standard size cord grip set at 5 o'clock; and an odd claim that the heel of the irons were ground in a way that caused them to sit five degrees open at address.2  But Vasquez also admitted that the clubs he was able to examine in the bag room were prototypes from Hogan's club company that Hogan was evaluating, and the gamers were kept separately.3

In 2012, the USGA issued a press release announcing it had received as a donation a Hogan driver from his 1953 season, and noted that it had the heaviest swingweight the USGA had ever measured, E2. That was pretty far from what Jody Vasquez described, D2.5, so, intrigued, I contacted the USGA museum in Far Hills, New Jersey, not far from my home in Manhattan, and asked if I could come out and inspect the new acquisition. A date was easily arranged.

I met the collection curator in the museum library, and he had four drivers for me to inspect. Sadly, the one that was said to be from Hogan's 1953 season was a bust: it was a Ben Hogan Company driver and could not have been used by Hogan that season: the Ben Hogan Company did not produce clubs until 1954. It seemed that whoever donated the club gave the USGA bad information. And, even more curiously, the curator was unaware of the alleged E2 swingweight. 

Of the four drivers, three were Ben Hogan Company models and one was a MacGregor. Much to my surprise, the USGA had not measured any of these clubs, so I was forced to form my impressions by look and feel. According to the curator, the USGA testing group was "too busy" to measure clubs in the museum's collection.

Two of the Hogan company drivers had a full cord grip, but only one of those had a reminder underneath set at around 5 o'clock, like what Vasquez observed, which required a grip with the left hand that would only show one knuckle. Both grips felt to me as if they were maybe one or two wraps oversized. The so-called "1953" Hogan driver had a rubber grip with the same reminder, and the MacGregor Tourney Eye-O-Matic had a leather grip with no reminder. All four had typical bulge and roll, and none appeared to have a face angle set open to any significant degree.

I was able to grip and waggle all four, and there was nothing unusual about the "heft" of any of the clubs that I was able to detect. Nothing I saw or felt was inconsistent with the specs published by Vasquez, or those included in Curt Sampson's biography Hogan, attributed to Hogan's personal club maker Gene Sheeley: 

"Hogan's driver was forty-two and seven-eighths inches long and stiff as a goddamn pole," Sheeley recalls. "Very big block, heavy. Eleven [inch radius] bulge, twelve [inch radius] roll. He went to a forty-four inch driver after 1967."4

Unfortunately, the lighting in the library was very difficult for shooting clear pictures with the camera I had with me, so I only have barely presentable pictures for two of the drivers. Based on the sole plate, this is the earliest of the three Ben Hogan Company drivers; it had a True Temper X shaft, with the first step about 8 inches above the sole: 

Here is a second Ben Hogan Company driver, finished in brown, the alleged "1953" driver, which is obviously a later model than the black one. The shaft was not labeled, and the first step was about two and a half inches farther up than on the black driver:

The amount of wear on the shaft where it rested against the divider in the bag suggests this club was in play for quite awhile:


There was also a Hogan driver finished in red, with an Apex 5 shaft (on the far right below). It was about half an inch longer than the other two. The MacGregor driver, with an unusual grey finish (second from the right), was the shortest and most upright of the four.

Finally, there was also a fifth driver in a display case that I was not able handle. It was a bit unusual because it had some strips of lead tape along the leading edge of the crown. Since the added weight would move the club's center of mass closer to the face, this driver had less bulge than the others:

In addition to being allowed to inspect the drivers, the curator gave me the few measurements taken of the two sets of irons in the museum's collection. One set, which were MacGregor irons, was said to be from Hogan's 1953 season; the other, an early set of Ben Hogan Company irons, was dubbed the "practice" set. 

Here are the lie angles for the "1953" set:


Length, loft, lie angle and swingweight for the "practice" set:


The shaft lengths of the "practice" set are a half inch shorter than the specs listed by Vasquez, and the swingweights are two to four lighter, other than the 9 iron. All other things being equal, a half-inch shorter shaft drops the swingweight by three. The "practice" set lofts are also weaker by varying amounts than the Vasquez specs, from one degree weaker for the 3, 6 and 7, to a surprising 6 degrees weak for the 9 iron.

When I first published the specs in 2012, Rich Hunt of Hunt Golf Analytics calculated "effective lie angle" differences for the "1953" set (assuming the same shaft lengths as the "practice" set) relative to a "standard" set based on a 5 iron with a length of 38 inches and a 61.5 degree lie angle. Richie found that the irons became progressively flatter than standard as the clubs got longer, starting at 2.5 degrees flat for the 9 iron, and reaching 6 degrees flat with the 2 iron.

I have no useable pictures of the irons, however, this set of MacGregor irons, auctioned in 2014, are claimed to be similar to the "1953" set at the USGA:5


1. Jody Vasquez, Afternoons with Mr. Hogan, 2004, page 41.

2. Jody Vasquez, Afternoons with Mr. Hogan, 2004, pages 42 through 46.

3. Jody Vasquez, Afternoons with Mr. Hogan, 2004, page 42.

4. Curt Sampson, Hogan, 2002, page 208. Curiously, Sampson quotes Sheeley as expressing bulge and roll in degrees, when they are typically expressed in inches of radius, as I have done.

5. Jonathon Wall, Hogan's '53 Iron set up for auction, PGATOUR.COM, May 28, 2014.
https://www.pgatour.com/equipmentreport/2014/03/28/ben-hogan-historic-1953-iron-set-auction.html

 

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