February 23, 2018
I love watching Bubba Watson hit a golf ball.
It’s even more fun now that the television coverage regularly includes replays that graphically show how much the PGA Tour star curves the ball with his well-timed hand action. His methods are a throwback to a time not that long ago when U.S. Open winner Corey Pavin moved his ball right, left, high, or low to make the most of his short-hitting repertoire.
Watson and Pavin share something else in common. Both won the PGA Tour’s Los Angeles Open on multiple occasions, all at the Riviera Country Club’s historic layout.
This course puts a premium on the player’s ability to plot their way to specific locations to give themselves the best chance to hit the tiny but firm greens. Those who can shape their shots have a distinct advantage.
During this year’s tournament the announcers mentioned that Watson’s 2017 Tour performances were disappointing, with no wins and few highlights. They also highlighted the fact that Watson had been using a Volvik golf ball he endorsed, but its performance characteristics fought against his swing style. That ball is designed to promote a straight ball flight, and that’s not something Watson normally does.
This year Watson switched back to the Titleist Pro V1x, a ball he used to twice win the Masters along with several other triumphs. During this year’s Los Angeles event, the difference was remarkable.
Making a good choice of which golf ball to use is equally important for amateurs. Visit with a local golf pro to talk about your game and your best ball options.
Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company
I last wrote about Ben Hogan golf clubs after the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show, where I looked into the company’s VKTR hybrids. I liked the club’s neutral set-up and the four adjustable weight ports.
I also appreciated Hogan’s unique approach to club labeling that showed the actual loft and the 4-degree differential between each club in its iron sets, for two reasons. In my opinion, having each club identified by its actual loft (such as 34 degrees for a seven iron), was a great way to help golfers make the best club decisions for their game. In addition, the fact that some current 6-iron lofts are the same as 5-irons from several years ago was far too similar to the vanity sizing issue that plagues women’s fashion.
Apparently I was in a distinct minority. The club loft labeling was not a hit with most of the golfing public. That problem combined with more traditional business challenges such as undercapitalization to force Hogan into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization just before the 2017 Show.
Scott White, a golf industry veteran, had been brought in as a consultant to the Hogan owners some time before that filing. As part of the reorganization to come out of bankruptcy, the company made White its President and CEO.
Last summer, Hogan announced its post-Chapter 11 reincarnation, the main feature of which was a clean break from its dependence on green grass shops and other outlets. Instead, Hogan now uses direct-to-consumer marketing via the Internet and social media, along with steep cuts in product pricing. For example, a graphite-shafted set of PTx irons (4-PW) is only $770, almost half the 2016 price.
That discount was plenty of incentive for me, and I bought a PTx set late last summer. I am very pleased with their performance.
When I met White at the 2018 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando last month, therefore, I was both a golf columnist and a real fan of the Hogan line.
White is pleased with his company’s performance with its new business plan. “So far, so good,” he said. “We had a great fourth quarter, and we’re working now to prepare for the spring push.” White credited his customers’ buying savvy. “They’re far more experienced and comfortable with using the Internet.”
I asked about the market’s reaction to the lower-cost pricing and internet-only sales decisions. White said, “We had an immediately favorable response. In fact, the orders came in so quickly that we had trouble filling some of them.”
Last summer, buyers could only purchase stock sets, but since then Hogan expanded their options. It now offers customization for length, lie angle, and grip size, among other details, with no upcharge for graphite shafts.
White also talked about the new Trade-Up program. “We’re trying to make the game more affordable. Our customers send in their clubs and after setting a value for those, we knock down our price on our clubs. We’ve had a pretty overwhelming response. As for what they send in, we keep some, give others to the Fort Worth [TX] First Tee program, and others go to a reseller.”
White said the PTx forged cavity-back irons are Hogan’s current best sellers, but they are not resting on their laurels. “We are getting new inventory, and developing some new products that we’ll be coming out with soon. We have a great window of opportunity right now.”
Let’s hope it works.