I don’t know if this is true or not but if you’re a fan of golf and know anything about Ben Hogan, it probably is.
Spectator: “Hey Ben, I’ve been playing for awhile and would like to know how to improve my putting. Got any tips?”
Hogan: ”Yeah, try sticking your irons a lot closer.”
I don’t think you need to be a fan of golf to see the wisdom in that statement or to see the kind of character that Ben Hogan possessed. As golfing legends go, he ranks right up there at the top.
Born William Benjamin Hogan on August 13, 1912 in a little town called Dublin, Texas, life wasn’t easy for young Mr. Hogan. His father killed himself when he was only nine years old and the family soon re-located to Fort Worth.In order to make ends meet, Hogan took to selling newspapers. By the time he turned twelve, he discovered that there was more money to be made (65 cents a round!) caddying at the local club than there was in peddling newspapers and it wasn’t long before he took up the game.
In what was to become indicative of his “I can do it” attitude (more about that later), Hogan turned pro when he was only seventeen and managed to get his tour card when he was nineteen. To say things didn’t work out would be an understatement. For any of you familiar with golf, you know that once you pick up bad habits, they are pretty hard to cure. Well, Hogan had a hook that he couldn’t control and was forced to leave the tour. He tried again two years later with the same results.
Rather than just give up, Hogan returned to the practice tee where he hit golf balls by the thousands in an effort to correct his swing. It must have worked because he re-joined the tour in 1937 and started playing respectfully. A couple of years later, he started showing up on leader boards and wound up being the tour’s winning money leader in 1940, 1941 and 1942.
With the advent of World War II, Hogan enlisted in the Army and was eventually discharged in 1945. The next year, 1946, he won his first “major”, the PGA Tour. He followed that up a couple of years later by winning another PGA and US Open Championship.
As a matter of fact, Hogan won an incredible 37 tournaments between 1945 and 1949. Say what you will about Jack and Tiger being the best of all-time but I don’t think their records come anywhere close to that number. All was looking good until disaster struck
On the evening of February 2, 1949, Hogan and his wife were driving through his native Texas. They were about 150 miles outside of El Paso when a Greyhound bus, coming in the opposite direction on the two-lane highway, tried to pass a truck. The result was a head on collision. Accounts say that Hogan dove across to the passenger seat in order to try and protect his wife from the impact and she escaped with only minor injuries. Hogan wasn’t so lucky. He suffered a broken collarbone, smashed ribs, a double fracture to the pelvis and a broken ankle.
To complicate matters, while he was recuperating, doctors discovered a blood clot in one of his legs and had to perform an operation that tied off the vein and prevented the clot from moving to his heart. It looked like Hogan was through.
I’m gonna interject my personal opinion here. Anybody that tries to tell you that golf is not a sport and that walking the course isn’t that hard is full of shit. I consider myself in “reasonably” good shape for an old man and I gotta tell ya, after walking a relatively flat course in 90 degree heat, I’m whipped. As much as I love the sport of golf, I can't imagine doing it four days in a row. They’d probably have to scrape my carcass off the eighteenth green when all was said and done. What Hogan accomplished after his injuries borders on the impossible.
The extents of Hogan’s injuries left him too weak to even swing a club nevertheless walk 18 holes. By some kind of miracle and lots of practice he entered his first tournament a mere 11 months later. The golfing world was rocked when he finished in a tie for first with another golfing legend by the name of Sam Snead. He eventually lost in a playoff but the stage was set.
The same year, he once again won the US Open by pulling off one of the most memorable shots in golf history. A 1-iron ( I don’t even carry one of those suckers!) on the last hole put him in a put him in a tie for the lead. He won a three way playoff the next day by shooting a 69.
Part of the “Hogan mystique” was his demeanor both on and off the course. Never friendly towards his fellow competitors, Hogan had a look and feel that distinguished him as a cut above the others. It’s said that his stare was enough to intimidate anybody that got in his way both on and off the course. A man of few words and uncomfortable in the spotlight, Hogan made few friends during his remarkable career. One of them, Jimmy Demaret, a fine golfer in his own right had this tongue in cheek remark about Hogan's personality.
"I don’t understand how come people say he’s so unfriendly on the course. He always talks to me when we play together. On every green he turns to me and says, 'You’re away.'"
Those of you familiar with golf will see the humor in that.
So how good was he? Consider this you golfing aficionados, he entered only 16 majors and won 9 of them. His record includes 4 US Opens, two PGA’s, The Masters twice and, the only time he showed up at the British Open in 1953, he won. Six of those major victories came after his career/life threatening accident. Infreakincredible!
By the time Hogan had retired he had 63 tournament wins. This puts him in some pretty elite company in the golfing world. Only Sam Snead with 81 and Jack Nicklaus with 70 are ahead of him. Tiger Woods will probably have something to say about that in the near future but as it stands right now, when it comes to
"major victories", only Nicklaus (18) and Walter Hagen (11) stand ahead of Hogan.
After he retired from playing golf, Hogan concentrated his efforts on business end . He started and ran an equipment company that still bears his name, the Ben Hogan Company. He also co-authored what was considered to tbe the bible of golf when it comes to ones swing, "Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf."
Ben Hogan was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1995. He was also suffering from Alzeimher’s disease and finally passed away at his home in Fort Worth on July 25, 1997. The golfing world mourned his loss.