Ben Hogan: a Bonafide Golfing Legend

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Ben Hogan Career Retrospective

Ben Hogan was undoubtedly one of the best golfers of all time, but his greatness can be attributed as much to his personality as it did from his ability to play the game. Hogan was known for his unwavering concentration, extensive practice sessions, and most notably for overcoming a near-fatal car accident in 1949 and returning to golf when doctors thought he would never walk again.

AWARDS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
1940, 1941, 1948Vardon Trophy
1940, 1941, 1942, 1946, 1948PGA Tour Leading Money Winner
1941, 1951Ryder Cup (Player)
1946, 1948PGA Championship
1947Ryder Cup (Player and Captain)
1948, 1950-51, 1953U.S. Open
1948, 1950-51, 1953PGA Player of the Year
1949, 1967Ryder Cup (Captain)
1951, 1953Masters 
1953British Open
1953AP Male Athlete of the Year
1974World Golf Hall of Fame

Early Years 

Hogan was the youngest of three children born to rural Texas blacksmith Chester Hogan and his wife, Clara. The family relocated to Fort Worth in 1921, and shortly afterward, on Valentine’s Day in 1922, Chester Hogan shot himself at home, with his wife and children in the house. The Hogan family’s financial situation took a hit following this tragic incident. Clara Hogan went to work as a seamstress, as Royal, Ben’s fourteen-year-old brother, dropped out of school and became a deliveryman. Ben, then aged nine, peddled newspapers after school at a local train station for a while, but a few years later, he learned that he could make far more money working as a caddy at the local country Club (fifty cents or more for each bag carried).

Boys were only allowed to caddy at Glen Garden until they were sixteen. Thus, Hogan was forced to expand his horizons to the area’s more affordable public courses. He, his brother Royal, and a few other friends, including fellow former Glen Garden caddy and future fellow golfing star Byron Nelson, would frequently play together. However, Hogan spent much time practicing on his own too. He skipped his entire senior year of high school, so he had the entire day to hone his skills on the course. Soon, his intense practice sessions paid off as Hogan bagged a runner-up finish in the first amateur tournament he played in, in the summer of 1928 and again in 1929.

The Professional Tour

In February 1930, after the Depression had inflicted another blow to their already-struggling family, Hogan registered as a professional for the Texas Open. He had a shaky start and dropped out of contention after just two rounds. He gave it another try a week later, at a tournament in Houston, but again resigned after only two rounds.

At the time, the professional tour was not a place to get rich, even for the winners, of which Hogan is yet to be one. Finally, In the winter of 1931-32, he finished in the money for the first time in Phoenix, although his prize was “only” $50. Hogan turned broke after playing in a few more opens, even with the occasional yet always small winnings. He decided to return to Texas and worked as a club professional at the Nolan River Country Club, south of Fort Worth. He continued to practice there but also found time to date Valerie Fox, a young woman he met in Sunday school while in Fort Worth a few years prior.

On April 14, 1935, Hogan and Fox were married. They decided to give the professional tour another shot two years later, after purchasing an old Buick and saving $1,400. By January 1938, they were down to $86, but just before going completely broke, Hogan won $285 at the Oakland, California Open. Within a few months, he was invited to his first Masters and was offered a $500-per-year employment as a club professional in White Plains, New York. Hogan bagged his first-ever tournament win that July at the Hershey Four-Ball, which earned him $1,100. He finished in the money in all the tournaments he participated in that year, earning $4,150 in prizes.

Winning Ways

Ben Hogan started to experience some breakthroughs, beginning in 1940. He enjoyed a three-tournament winning streak in March of that year, and even though he only won one other title that year, he was still the tour’s biggest money winner for 1940. He placed first again in 1941, with five tournament victories, and again in 1942. In the spring of 1941, Hogan made a comeback to Hershey as the club’s professional. He had no other responsibilities at that club other than participating in tournaments, creating publicity, and playing the course frequently enough that the members could observe and learn from what they saw. He earned several thousand dollars per year for this gig.

The one thing evading Hogan at this point is a win in a major tournament. The United States’ entry into World War II and the resulting decrease in the touring schedule deprived him of multiple opportunities from 1942 onward. Hogan did win the Hale America Open, held in lieu of the US Open in 1942, but this was not considered a major. Hogan tied Nelson in the first three rounds of the Masters, the year’s only official major, only to lose by one in the playoff round the following day.

Outbreak of War 

In 1943, the tour was officially placed on hold, and in March of that year, Ben Hogan got drafted.  He trained to be a flight instructor, then attended Officer Candidate School and eventually became a captain. He still played golf as often as he could, including a round with his base commander every week. When professional golf resumed in 1944, Hogan competed in a few tournaments, and when he completed his tour in August 1945, he rejoined the tour almost immediately.

Post-War 

Nelson had been crowned champion in 1944 and early 1945, with many other players off to war. Despite not being able to practice with the usual zeal for over two years, Hogan quickly challenged Nelson for the top spot. However, a majors championship remains elusive. But, he won thirteen of the thirty-two tournaments he participated in on his way to becoming the PGA of America champion and the top money-winner in 1946.

From 1947 to 1948, Hogan enjoyed continued success in his game. Although he did not win any majors title in 1947, he did win the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open in 1948. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine on January 10, 1949. Less than a month later, he figured in a catastrophic incident that threatened to end his career prematurely.

Career-Threatening Disaster

A significant turning point in Hogan’s life occurred on February 2, 1949, while traveling through West Texas with his wife, Valerie.  A Greyhound bus, swinging out to pass a truck on a country road about 150 miles east of El Paso, collided with Hogan’s car head-on. The force of the collision pushed the engine into the driver’s seat and the steering wheel into the back seat. 

While Valerie sustained only minor injuries, Hogan suffered a shattered clavicle, a smashed rib, a double pelvic fracture, and a broken ankle.  He’d go on to suffer from permanent circulation issues and other physical limitations. His doctors even told him he might never walk again, let alone play competitive golf. Finally, on April 1st, 59 days after the accident, he was released from the hospital.

The Major Comeback

That summer, Ben Hogan was too frail to swing a club, let alone walk far. But, miraculously, he was competing in the Los Angeles Open by January of the following year, which astounded the sporting world. He was playing well, too, finishing tied for first with Sam Snead before losing the playoff. 

It was clear that his left shoulder still caused him much pain. His putting, which has never been his strong suit, was hampered by a partial loss of sight in his left eye caused by the dashboard slamming into his face. However, he was determined to go back into competitive play.

Amazingly, Hogan won the US Open at Merion in Pennsylvania, barely 16 months after his near-fatal accident. In 1951, Hogan retained his U.S. Open title at Oakland Hills in Michigan, winning by two strokes, thanks to a final-round score of 32 on the back nine. He also won his first Masters with a then-record score of 274.

Hogan was even better in 1953 when he won five of six tournaments, including three majors – the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the British Open (in his lone appearance in this tournament) – at the age of 41. In the same year, Hogan founded his golf equipment company, the Ben Hogan Company, which is an incredible feat considering the kind of season he’s having.

In 10 years of competing in the U.S. Open (from 1946-1956), Hogan’s record of four firsts, two seconds, a third, a fourth, and two sixth-place finishes was simply extraordinary. 

Hogan finished his career with 64 tournament victories and nine professional major championships. Only Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Walter Hagen, with 18, 13, and 11 majors titles, respectively, have won more in their careers.

Later Years

After winning the British Open in July 1953, Hogan never won another major tournament but soon ventured into a new and lucrative career: manufacturing golf equipment. Hogan and MacGregor inked an endorsement contract for about twenty years, but they had a public falling out around the time of the 1953 U.S. Open. After establishing the Hogan Company, Hogan worked a two-hour day from 10 in the morning to noon, then spent the afternoon playing golf. He competed in tour events until 1971, winning his final tournament, the Colonial National Invitation, in 1959.

When the Shady Oaks Country Club, owned by Marvin Leonard, whom Hogan had caddied for at Glen Garden and became friends with, opened its doors in Fort Worth in 1959, it became Hogan’s home course and would remain so for the rest of his life.

Hogan passed away in Forth Worth in 1997 after battling Alzheimer’s and colon cancer at the age of 84.

Hogan’s Legacy

In 1957, Ben Hogan co-wrote “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” with Herbert Warren Wind. Over 10 million copies of the book have been sold and remain a best-seller nearly 50 years later. It’s widely regarded as one of the most effective instructional manuals on the game of golf ever published.

Other golfers studied not only Hogan’s writings but also his actual swing. Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus both modified their golfing approaches after watching Hogan. Also, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods both admitted to spending hours studying old films of Hogan’s playing.

In 2003, Callaway Golf Equipment acquired Ben Hogan Golf Equipment and started to sell Hogan’s line of products under the Callaway brand. Callaway still sells Apex irons (see below), which Hogan created in 1972 and were among the most famous irons on Tour in the 1970s.

Callaway Apex 21 Iron Set

Callaway Apex 21 Pro Iron Set

Callaway Apex DCB 21 Iron Set

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