Ben Hogan: The Most Important Club Is…

Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book

In Harvey Penick’s iconic Little Red Book, there is a section entitled “Three Most Important Clubs.”

Harvey Penick’s View

Mr. Penick tells a short story about how famous golf writer Herbert Warren Wind (the man who coined the phrase “Amen Corner” for Augusta National’s 11th through 13th holes) saw him at the Champion’s Club in Houston.

Wind asked Penick what he thought the three most important clubs were, and Harvey said, in order, the putter, driver, and wedge.  I would bet that most golfers would agree.  The putter is used far and away more often than any other club.  Being proficient with the putter will save more strokes than any one other club, and as Penick says in his book,

A 5-foot putt counts one stroke, same as a 270-yard drive.

And it may or may not be a coincidence that Harvey Penick was the lifelong coach of one of the best putters of all time- Ben Crenshaw.  Having the putter at the top of Mr. Penick’s list isn’t surprising.  There are many logical and sound arguments to be made that the putter is the most important club in the bag.

Ben Hogan’s View

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However, there is more to the story.  Wind told Penick that he had asked Ben Hogan the same question, and Hogan had changed the order just slightly:  Driver, Putter, Wedge.

There is no right answer here.  This is a “What is your favorite color” kind of debate.  Green isn’t better, or worse, than yellow.

But I am in Ben Hogan’s camp, and here is why:

  1. The drive sets the tone for the hole.  A solid drive that ends up in the fairway allows all kinds of options to be in play that are not in play when it isn’t.  On a par-4, you certainly have a reasonable-to-excellent chance of being on the green with a birdie putt awaiting.  On a par-5, you may have a chance to go for it in two, with a resulting eagle possibility; or, you have an option of laying up to a comfortable yardage that allows the third shot to be hit in tight.
  2. A drive in the rough eliminates most of those options.  First of all, the lie is problematic and being on the green in regulation may or may not be an option.  How the ball will come out of the rough is a guess even for the pros.  Hitting an extra club is usually a given- and sometimes it takes more than just one extra club.
  3. A drive more wayward than the rough means, automatically, that bogey, or worse is in play.  Is it findable?  Is it behind a tree, or trees?  Is a punch-out the only sane option?
  4. You miss a putt for two reasons:  You misread the break or speed, or you pushed or pulled it off the clubface.  Therefore you can hit a pure putt, well-struck, and still miss due to no fault of the strike.  You can slightly pull or push a putt and the margin of error is razor thin as to whether it lips in or out.  The point is- you can putt well and still miss.  If you just slightly pull or push a drive, you are still in the fairway and are not penalized for being just a little off.
  5. You can’t putt a ball out-of-bounds.  Well, ok, I guess you could (you’d be more likely to putt it into a hazard), but hitting a tee shot out-of-bounds is a real possibility on any hole that has o.b. on the perimeter.  In other words, there is much more risk off the tee then there is on the green.  Bottom Line:  The tee shot is tougher to execute than a putt.

Personal Experience

For another angle on this subject, you can read One Club Sets The Tone here.

I have started to track my rounds with more detail than I usually do.  And although I inherently knew this, I have learned, through data, that the more fairways I hit with my tee shot, the better my score.

Even if I have the same, or more, putts per round.

That’s the telling statistic for me.  Since I’m not Ben Crenshaw, I’m going to three-putt a few holes a round.  But if the three putts result in a bogey, I can live with it and move on to the next hole knowing I played the hole well.  If the three putts result in a double bogey or worse because of a bad drive, I now have a slew of negative thoughts in my head as I approach the next tee.

Standing on the tee with a driver in hand, knowing I just hit a driver in the woods (or worse, o.b.) on the previous hole doesn’t fill me, or probably you, with a sense of comfort and confidence.

I’m not going to lie:  I’m pretty proud of my punch-out-from-the-trees shot.  I’ve hit it so often this year that I can get that low 4-iron pretty close to where I’m aiming.  But I’d much rather not be as proficient, and in fact lose the ability to hit it well due to the lack of opportunity.


Putting is Important

I’m not a good putter, and I would love to eliminate the three-putts I invariably have in every round of golf.  However, if it has taken me five or six strokes to get to the green in the first place due to an errant drive, even if I  one-putt every hole, I’m not going to feel good about the round.

That five-foot putt that Harvey Penick mentions is important and does count the same as a drive.  However, more than anything else, what determines if that putt is for a birdie, or a bogey, is whether or not the driver was hit well and straight in the first place.

If you’re like Fred Funk, or the late Calvin Peete, or the LPGA’s Mo Martin, who made headline news when their tee shots were NOT in the fairway, then this isn’t relevant.  But if you’re like most of us, I suggest seeing just how important playing from the fairway is.

I’ve struggled with my driver most of the year.  Yesterday was the best day of driving I’ve had in quite a while.  It wasn’t perfect and a couple of drives were off the grid but for the most part I played from the fairway.  And I had one of my best scoring rounds of the year on a very wet and somewhat unfamiliar course.

Even though I didn’t putt particularly well.

That’s not a coincidence.

So what are your thoughts?  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know- I’d like to hear which club you have at the top of your own personal list.  You can comment on the home page of or can email to

Thanks for reading, and enjoy Shooting Your Age!



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