Ben Hogan was one of the greatest golfers of all time, but his greatness stemmed from his personality as much as from any innate skills at golf. Hogan was known for his icy concentration, for his marathon practice sessions, but most of all for battling back from a near-fatal 1949 car crash and returning to golf when the doctors said that he would never walk again.
Hogan was one of three children of rural Texas blacksmith Chester Hogan and his wife, Clara. The family moved to Fort Worth in 1921, and shortly thereafter, on Valentine's Day 1922, Chester Hogan shot himself, in the family home, with his wife and children in the house. After Chester Hogan's death, the Hogan family's life became financially precarious. Clara Hogan took a
job as a seamstress, and Hogan's fourteen-year-old brother, Royal, quit school and became a deliveryman. Hogan, then nine, sold newspapers at a nearby train station after school for a time, but a few years later he discovered that he could make much better money working as a caddie at the Glen Garden Country Club: fifty cents or more for each bag carried.
Boys were only allowed to caddie at Glen Garden until they were sixteen, so at that point Hogan was forced to broaden his horizons to the affordable public courses in the area. He, his brother Royal, and some other friends, sometimes including fellow former Glen Garden caddy and future fellow golfing star Byron Nelson, would often play together, although Hogan spent much time practicing alone as well. He had dropped out of high school during his senior year, so he had all day to work on his game. Soon his obsessive practicing began to pay off: Hogan placed second in the first amateur tournament he competed in, in the summer of 1928, and achieved another second place in the summer of 1929.
The Professional Tour
In February of 1930, after the Depression had dealt another blow to the already-struggling Hogan family, Hogan registered for the Texas Open as a professional. He had a poor beginning and quit after the first two rounds. He tried again a week later, at a tournament in Houston, and again quit after two rounds. Hogan went home and worked at odd jobs for a year while continuing to practice whenever possible in preparation to give the tour another try in 1931.
The professional tour was not a place to get rich in the Depression years, even for the winners, and Hogan was not yet one of those. He finished in the money for the first time in Phoenix in the winter of 1931-32, but that win only provided $50. After a few more opens, with occasional but always small winnings, Hogan was broke. He returned to Texas and took a job as the club professional at the Nolan River Country Club, an hour south of Fort Worth. There, he continued to practice, but he also found some time to date a young woman named Valerie Fox, whom he had first met in Sunday school in Fort Worth several years before.
Hogan and Fox were married on April 14, 1935. Two years later, after buying a used Buick and saving up $1,400, they decided to give life on the professional tour one more try. By January of 1938, they were down to $86, but then, just before they went completely broke, Hogan won $285 at the Oakland, California Open. Within months, he was offered a $500 a year job as a club professional in White Plains, New York, and he was invited to play in his first Masters. That July, Hogan had his first ever tournament win, at the Hershey Four-Ball, which paid him $1,100. He finished in the money in all of the remaining tournaments of the year, for total winnings of $4,150.
|1912||Born August 13 in Stephensville, Texas|
|1921||Hogan family moves to Fort Worth|
|1922||Hogan's father commits suicide|
|1930||Turns professional in February|
|1935||Marries Valerie Fox April 14|
|1938||Wins first professional tournament, the Hershey Four-Ball|
|1943||Drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps in March|
|1945||Discharged from the military in August|
|1948||Wins first major tournaments|
|1949||Involved in near-fatal car accident|
|1951||Follow the Sun is released|
|1954||Founds Hogan Company|
|1971||Retires from competitive golf|
|1989||Ben Hogan Tour for aspiring professionals launched|
|1990||Hogan Award, honoring the top U.S. college golfer, first awarded|
|1997||Dies at his Fort Worth home July 25|
|1999||Room dedicated to Hogan opens at the USGA Museum|
Hogan came into his own starting in 1940. He had a three-tournament winning streak in March of that year, and although he only won one more that year he was still the tour's leading money winner for 1940. He was on top again in 1941, with five tournament wins, and again in 1942. Also, in the spring of 1941, Hogan returned to Hershey as its club professional. At that club, Hogan had no responsibilities to give lessons or otherwise interact with the fellow members: all he had to do was play in tournaments, provide publicity for the club, and play the course often enough that the members could observe him and attempt to learn from what they saw. For this, he received several thousand dollars per year.
The one thing lacking for Hogan was a win in a major tournament, and the entry of the United States into World War II and the accompanying decrease in the touring schedule deprived him of several chances from 1942 on. Hogan did win the Hale America Open in 1942, which was held in lieu of the U.S. Open, but this was not technically a major. At the Masters, the only official major to be held that year, Hogan tied with Nelson in the first three rounds, only to lose by one during a playoff round the next day.
The tour was officially suspended in 1943, and in March of that year Hogan was drafted. He trained to become a flight instructor, went to Officer Candidate School, and eventually became a captain. He continued to play golf as often as he could, including a weekly round with the commander of his base for a time, and in 1944 when professional golf resumed Hogan made it to a few tournaments. He was discharged in August of 1945 and rejoined the tour almost immediately.
Nelson had not been drafted because of a medical condition, so he had spent the war years working on his golf full-time, playing war-benefit exhibitions in 1943 when there was no tour. With so many other players off to war, Nelson had been the undisputed champion in 1944 and early 1945. Although Hogan had not been practicing with his usual ferocity for more than two years, he quickly challenged Nelson for the top spot. Although the major championships again eluded him, he won thirteen of the thirty-two tournaments he entered, becoming the Professional Golfers' Association of America champion and the top money-winner of 1946.
Hogan went on to repeat his success in 1947 and 1948. "I've found the secret," he told one sportswriter in 1947, although he never told the sportswriter, or anyone else, what exactly that secret was. Hogan again lost at the majors in 1947, but in 1948 he won both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open. On January 10, he was on the cover of Time magazine. Less than a month later, it looked as if his career was over.
Hogan and Valerie collided head-on with a Greyhound bus on bridge in rural Texas on February 2, 1949. Just before impact, Hogan threw himself across Valerie to try to protect her. It worked—Valerie suffered only scratches and bruises—and saved Hogan's life as well. The steering wheel of the Hogans' Cadillac shot into the passenger compartment and impaled the empty driver's seat, fracturing Hogan's left collarbone on the way, while the engine crushed Hogan's left leg, fractured his pelvis, and caused severe internal injuries. After two weeks in the hospital, he started developing life-threatening blood clots in his veins. Hogan was operated on by the best vascular surgeon in the country, who tied off the large vein that returns blood from the lower body. This prevented blood clots from reaching Hogan's lungs, where they were most dangerous, but it also hampered circulation to his legs, leading to problems walking that would last for the rest of his life.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1940-42, 1946, 1948||Won Varden Trophy|
|1941, 1951||Ryder Cup (player)|
|1946||Professional Golfers' Association Tour|
|1947||Ryder Cup (player and captain)|
|1948||Professional Golfers' Association Championship|
|1948, 1950-51, 1953||U.S. Open|
|1948, 1950-51, 1953||Named Player of the Year|
|1949, 1967||Ryder Cup (captain)|
Related Biography: Golfer Byron Nelson
Byron Nelson got his start in golf the same way that Ben Hogan did, working as a caddy at the Glen Garden Country Club. Nelson, born John Byron Nelson on February 4, 1912, was notable among the caddies for lacking their usual vices, most notably smoking, swearing, and fighting, and for his unusual level of skill at golf. Nelson just barely edged out Hogan in Glen Garden's caddy tournament in December of 1927. The next year, when the boys became too old to caddy, Nelson was honored with a junior membership in the club. This gave Nelson a competitive advantage over Hogan, since Nelson could enter the many members-only tournaments in which Hogan, who was relegated to public courses, could not compete.
After high school, Nelson originally took a job clerking for a railroad company, but when he was laid off because of the Depression he turned professional and tried to make a living at golf instead. For the next thirteen years, Nelson consistently out-golfed Hogan, although the two became close friends. Nelson's wife Louise and Valerie Hogan got along very well, often sitting together in the clubhouse while their husbands competed, and the Nelsons and the Hogans often caravanned together when touring.
Nelson took third in the first professional tournament he entered, in 1932, and was winning tournaments by 1935. His most spectacular season was 1945, when many but by no means all of the other top-level golfers were unable to compete because of the war. (Nelson, who had mild hemophilia, was considered medically unfit to serve.) That year Nelson won eleven straight PGA tour events, as well as seven others for a season total of eighteen. Both figures are records that still stand, as is Nelson's record of finishing in the money in 113 consecutive tournaments.
In 1946 Nelson retired from touring full-time and settled down back in Texas on the Fairway Ranch, which he bought with his winnings from the 1945 season and where he still makes his home.
Hogan was discharged from the hospital two months later, and before the end of the year he was well enough to captain the United States' Ryder Cup team on its trip to Britain. His left shoulder still caused him great pain, and his putting, never his strong suit, was hampered by a partial loss of sight in his left eye caused when the dashboard smashed into his face, but he was determined to make it back into competitive play. In January of 1950, less than a year after the accident, he did, losing the Los Angeles Open to Sam Snead in a playoff. Then he went on to win the U.S. Open that spring. The story of Hogan's comeback was so compelling that in March of 1951 a movie about it, Follow the Sun, was released.
The year 1951 was also a strong one for Hogan. Just weeks after the premiere of Follow the Sun he won his first Masters ever, and later in the season he won the U.S. Open for a second year in a row. 1953, though, was Hogan's best year ever. He won the U.S. Open for a fourth time and the Masters for a second, breaking the former tournament record for the Masters by five shots. He also traveled to Scotland to play in the British Open, the only time he would ever do so, and won.
The fanfare that accompanied Hogan's trip to the British Open in July of 1953 was intense. The Scots, who dubbed him "The Wee Ice Mon" (Hogan stood five-foot-eight and never weighed much over 130 pounds), turned out to give him the largest audience in the history of the Open. A train that ran by the first hole even made an unscheduled stop to watch him tee off for his first qualifying round. The Americans, for their part, gave him a ticker-tape parade on his return to New York City on July 21. "I've got a tough skin, but this kind of brings tears to my eyes," the notoriously composed Hogan said in a speech in New York that afternoon.
Hogan never won another major tournament after the British Open, but he soon started on a new and profitable career: manufacturing golf equipment. Hogan had had an endorsement deal with MacGregor for about twenty years, but they had a very public falling-out around the time of the 1953 U.S. Open. Days after returning to the United States from Scotland, Hogan was hard at work setting up his own club and ball factory in Fort Worth. Once the Hogan Company was established, Hogan worked a two-hour day, from ten to noon, and then spent the afternoon playing golf. He continued to compete in tour events until 1971, winning his last tournament, the Colonial National Invitation, in 1959.
Marvin Leonard, a department store magnate whom Hogan had caddied for at Glen Garden and become friends with, built his own golf course in Fort Worth in the late 1950s. When the Shady Oaks Country Club opened its doors in 1959, it became Hogan's home course and would be for the rest of his life. He and Valerie even built a new home near the course. Hogan had a private, reserved table in a corner of the clubhouse, overlooking the eighteenth hole, where he ate lunch alone many days even after he stopped playing golf in the late 1980s. Hogan died in Fort Worth in 1997, after battling colon cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
Golf's Self-Made Master Passes On
"No one ever played the game like Mr. Hogan, and no human has ever come as close to controlling the golf ball as perfectly as he did. He was relentless in his pursuit of perfection. Ben Hogan defined the inner will that lives within us. The Hawk's shadow will be felt upon the game forever."
Source: Fellow Texan and professional golfer Ben Crenshaw, quoted in Maher, John, Austin American-Statesman (July 26, 1997): A1.
Hogan's most lasting contribution to the sport of golf may be his 1957 guide Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, which became a handbook for thousands of weekend golfers and aspiring professionals. "Never has there been a golfer who influenced the swing more than Ben Hogan," PGA Tour Hall of Fame inductee Johnny Miller told Jimmy Burch of the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. "I still study his book as if it's true scripture." Other golfers studied not just Hogan's writings, but his actual swing; Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus both changed their golfing styles after watching Hogan, and Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods have both admitted to spending hours studying old films of Hogan's playing. Presumably, knowing this would make Hogan very happy: "Hogan wanted the standards he left for the game to speak more eloquently than his words," Nelson wrote in Sports Illustrated, shortly after Hogan's death.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY HOGAN:
Power Golf, New York: Barnes, 1948.
The Complete Guide to Golf by Ben Hogan and Others, New York: Maco Magazine Corporation, 1955.
(With Herbert Warren Wind) Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, New York: Barnes, 1957.
Sampson, Curt. Hogan. Nashville: Rutledge Hill, 1996.
Alexander, Jules. "Hogan: One of a Kind." Sports Illustrated (fall, 1992): 42-51.
Arkush, Michael. "1940s: Byron Nelson." Golf World (December 17, 1999): 44.
Blount, Terry. "Golfing Legend Ben Hogan Dies." Houston Chronicle (July 26, 1997): 1.
Burch, Jimmy. "Ben Hogan's Impact on Golf Reached from One Era into Another." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (July 26, 1997): 726K3093.
Burch, Jimmy. "Hogan Award Receiving New Distinction, and Other Notes." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (July 25, 1997): 725K2859.
Burch, Jimmy, and Piller, Dan. "Legendary Golfer Ben Hogan Dies at Age 84." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (July 25, 1997): 725K2859.
Curtis, Gregory. "Golfer of the Century." Texas Monthly (December, 1999): 148.
Goodwin, Stephen. "Ben Hogan (1912-1997): He Changed the Game, and How We Play It, Forever." Golf Magazine (October, 1997): 68-70.
Hanna, Vincent. "Memories of a Morose Master of Golf." Guardian (London, England) (September 18, 1996): 24.
Heaster, Jerry. "Ben Hogan Stood for Everything His Fans Revered." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (July 31, 1997): 731K4267.
"Hogan Room Opens at USGA Museum." Florida Times Union (June 11, 1999): D-3.
Huggan, John. "Hogan's Command Performance." Golf Digest (July, 1999): 108.
Kindred, Dave. "Golf's Greatest Shotmaker." Sporting News (August 4, 1997): 8.
Maher, John. "Golf's Self-Made Master Passes On." Austin American-Statesman (July 26, 1997): A1.
Nelson, Byron. "The Mystique Lives On." Sports Illustrated (August 4, 1997): 26-29.
Rushin, Steve. "Hogan's Golfing Heroes: Ben Hogan's Company Has Funded a Tour for Pros Aiming at the Big Time." Sports Illustrated (May 7, 1990): 59-60.
Sirak, Ron. "1950s: Ben Hogan." Golf World (December 17, 1999): 48.
Skidmore, Roger. "Hogan the Hero Will Live in Carnoustie's Memory Forever as Open Prepares for New Champion." Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England) (July 18, 1999): 92.
"Texas Classics." Texas Monthly (December, 2000): S32.
Verdi, Bob. "The Grillroom: Byron Nelson." Golf Digest (July, 2000): 228.
Sketch by Julia Bauder
Frequently revered, yet often misunderstood, Ben Hogan (1912-1997) carried a mystique and popularity in golfing circles experienced by few others. He became a phenomenon in the 1940s and 1950s, taking considerable numbers of Professional Golfers Association (PGA) events. Hogan gained a reputation for hard work and excellence both on the links and off.
Hogan was born in Dublin, Texas, on August 13, 1912, to Chester and Clara Hogan. Hogan's father, a blacksmith, took his own life when Ben was nine. His mother moved the family to Fort Worth shortly after her husband died. Hogan went to Fort Worth schools but never finished high school, opting for work instead. He sold newspapers at the train station and would caddy at Glen Gardens Country Club in Fort Worth whenever he could get the work. Jerry Potter, writing for USA Today, said that sometimes Hogan would save two newspapers and make a bed in the bunker near the 18th green. He would sleep there, so he would be first in the caddie line the next morning.
Potter quoted former PGA Tour player Gardner Dickinson, a Hogan student: "Ben was a little bitty fellow, so they'd throw him to the back of the line," Dickinson said. "That's how he got so mean." While some would call Hogan mean, others would say he just kept to himself. There is no question that, while polite on the course, Hogan was often brusque at other times, developing an enduring reputation as a tight-lipped competitor. It could be argued that his demeanor simply illustrated his penchant for action instead of words. Hogan was certainly not a natural when it came to golf. He would diligently work on his game, striving for perfection.
There could be only one reason for Hogan's perseverance: he loved the game. In 1929, 17-year-old Hogan turned pro and began playing in PGA tournaments full time two years later with little more than pocket change. According to Potter, his early efforts were totally frustrating. "He had a long, loose swing that produced shots that were wild," explained Potter. "First he hit a big hook, then he hit a big slice." Hogan would not win a PGA tour event until 1938, seven years after turning pro.
In 1931 and again in 1937, Hogan attempted major tournaments without success. John Omicinski, writing for Gannett News Service, said that Hogan's game did not improve until he switched from a right-handed to a left-handed swing in the late 1930s and got "some rather simple grip tips from friend Henry Picard." He then "lost his duckhook and start smashing shots of such purity that people came from miles around just to watch them fly."
In 1937, Hogan and his wife, Valerie (whom he married in 1935), were down to their last $5 when he won $380 at the PGA tournament in Oakland, California. Although he only placed second, it was the incentive Hogan needed to keep at his game. Asked why he worked so hard, Hogan once explained to Potter: "I was trying to make a living. I'd failed twice to make the Tour. I had to learn to beat the people I was playing." Hogan claimed he never had a golf lesson, instead learning everything he could be watching experienced golfers at their game. "I watched the way they swung the club, the way they hit the ball," Hogan explained to Potter. Hard work on the practice green has become commonplace in a touring pro's regime, but it was unheard of in Hogan's day.
Money Board Leader
Hogan was the leader on the money boards in 1940, winning the PGA's Harry Vardon trophy for his $10,656 income that year. Between 1939 and 1941 he finished in the money in 56 consecutive tournaments. In the PGA Oakland Open in 1941 Hogan tied the course record at the time with a 62. He was leader on the money board again in 1941 and in 1942, but had a two-year break from golf when he was inducted into the Army Air Force in 1943.
Hogan came on strong after his release from the Army. Some of his earliest wins after returning stateside were paid in war bonds. Hogan had a bout with influenza, however, that set him back, and he suffered through a serious putting slump. Jamie Diaz, writing in Sports Illustrated, said, "In 1946, Hogan suffered what some consider to be the most devastating back-to-back losses in major championship history. At the Masters, he had an 18-foot putt to win his first major PGA tournament. Hogan ran his first putt three feet past the hole, then missed coming back. Two months later at the U.S. Open at Canterbury in Cleveland, he was in an identical situation on the final green. Hogan three-putted again. Instead of ending his career, Hogan went on to the PGA Championship at Portland Golf Club and won, beginning his never-equaled hot streak in the majors."
Hogan was again the top money winner in 1946, and two years later became the first golfer to win three majors in the same year: the Western Open, the National Open, and the U.S. Open. He had finally hit his stride. Hogan would win nine of the 16 majors he entered from the 1946 PGA through the 1953 British Open. Still, Diaz claimed, "because of his inscrutable manner, there was always a sense that he carried something deep within that was even more interesting than his talent."
A Devastating Accident
Perhaps it was Hogan's equanimity in defeat that so impressed the gallery. He possessed a grace and resilience that are emulated by many even today. Or perhaps it was his childhood poverty and his diligent effort to master his game that served to strengthen his character and his resolve. One of his most challenging bouts with adversity came early in 1949, a year that had started with Hogan winning two of the first four events of the season. On February 2, while he and his wife were driving his Cadillac back to Fort Worth, Hogan was hit head-on by a Greyhound bus. To protect his wife, Hogan threw his body over to the right, avoiding the steering column that could have easily crushed him. Instead, he suffered such severe injuries that doctors predicted he would never walk again. Hogan had another near brush with death before surgeons operated to stop blood clots from entering his heart.
Hogan not only taught himself to walk again, he also taught himself to play golf again. In rehabilitation treatment for ten months, some have claimed that Hogan practiced his swing until his hands bled. A mere 16 months after the head-on collision, Hogan walked through excruciating leg cramps to win the U.S. Open at Merion. As a testament to his dogged determination, Hogan was named Player of the Year in 1950. Sam Snead had earned the money title, won 11 events, and set a scoring-average record that clearly entitled him to the honor. But according to Diaz, "Snead was a golfer, and a great one. Hogan, because of his dedication and courage, was a hero."
The Hogan Mystique
His fabulous on-the-course performances coupled with his silent, often aloof behavior created a mystique around Hogan that lives on today. He was often portrayed as stoic and severe, even downright rude by some. But Hogan actually preferred his actions to speak louder than his words. Often cutting young golfers off before they could complete a sentence, he would refer those seeking tips to one of his books. Hogan was always the consummate professional, never showing emotion on the course or suffering from distraction. His unwavering focus and ability to place the ball precisely where he intended contributed to the almost eerie presence he brought to the greens.
There are countless stories of his kindness to kids, his affability with some reporters, and his integrity and personal code of honor. Some say the harrowing experience of actually witnessing his father's suicide deeply impacted Hogan's ability to get close to people. Even players like Byron Nelson, who drove with Hogan to tournaments and grew up with him in Fort Worth, would say that they had a hard time keeping in touch. But his regard and admiration for his wife was widely known. Hogan's reputation as a superb athlete and the mystery of his subdued persona made him appealing to the masses. In 1951, Glenn Ford stared in Follow the Sun, a biographical film about Hogan and his wife.
Won Three Major Tournaments
Hogan won six major championships after his car accident. In 1948, his book, Power Golf, a collection of golf do's and don'ts, was published; it was followed in 1957 by the best-selling Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, co-authored with Herbert Warren Wind. In 1953, he won the Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open-returning to New York City for a ticker-tape parade. The same year, he started the Ben Hogan Co., a golf club manufacturing business.
Despite his success, the auto accident had made walking the courses particularly difficult for Hogan. Although he limited himself to seven tournaments a year since the accident, chronic pain would impede his future golf efforts. After his win in the 1953 British Open at Carnoustie, Diaz notes that Hogan "endured bitter disappointment in pursuit of a record fifth U.S. Open title."
Hogan's final PGA title victory came at the 1959 Colonial Open. In 1960, Hogan sold his golf-club company to AMF. According to Ron Sirak of the Associated Press, Hogan "tied for the lead in the 1960 U.S. Open until, gambling for the pin, he hit a ball that spun backward off the green and into the water on the next-to-last hole. Arnold Palmer won the tournament, with 20-year-old Jack Nicklaus finishing second. Hogan had passed the title of Greatest in the Game to a new generation."
Hogan became even more reclusive in his later years, and was rarely seen in public after his last PGA event in 1971. He retired to his hometown of Fort Worth, where the Colonial Country Club still bears a statue of his likeness at the entry plaza. Hospitalized for two months with pneumonia in 1987, Hogan dropped 30 of his scant 140 pounds. In 1995, he underwent emergency surgery for colon cancer and never really regained his previous vigor. His wife remained his constant companion and caregiver, even after Hogan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Hogan died on July 25, 1997 in Fort Worth, Texas, after suffering a major stroke. He was 84 years old.
With 63 victories, nine major championships, four U.S. Open titles, the career Grand Slam, and the winner of three professional Grand Slam events in a single season, Hogan enjoyed a stellar professional career that spanned five decades. Before Hogan there was little concept of the driving range. But Hogan's dedication to practice changed all that. He epitomized determination and courage. Although the game has moved on, Hogan's reputation for perfection and perseverance remains.
Dallas Morning News, November 6, 1998.
Detroit News, July 30, 1997.
Gannett News Service, June 24, 1996.
Shawnee News-Star, July 26, 1997.
Sports Illustrated, August 4, 1997; June 27, 1955.
USA Today, July 28, 1997.
"About Ben Hogan," http://www.benhogangolf.com/about.html (February 27, 1999). □
Hogan, (William) Ben
HOGAN, (William) Ben
(b. 13 August 1912 in Stephenville, Texas; d. 25 July 1997 in Fort Worth, Texas), legendary golfer with sixty-three career wins, including all four of golf's major championships.
Hogan, the youngest of three children, was born into a hard-working, poor family. His father, Chester C. Hogan, was a blacksmith and mechanic; his mother was Clara (Williams) Hogan. Hogan's father committed suicide in 1922, when Hogan was nine, and his mother, who had been a homemaker, went to work as a seamstress at Cheney's, a small dress shop on Main Street in Fort Worth. The family had moved by then to Fort Worth, Texas, where Hogan attended public school. He quit Central High School before graduation. Schoolmates remembered him as bitter, taciturn, and aloof.
Hogan assumed responsibility for his family, selling newspapers at Fort Worth's Union Station, but at age twelve, he discovered he could earn more, 65 cents a round, as a caddie. He began his golfing career, walking seventeen miles to work as a shop boy at Forth Worth's Glen Garden Country Club. Hogan was driven by three needs: "I didn't want to be a burden to my mother. Two, I needed to put food on the table. Three, I needed a place to sleep." The caddie yard was like reform school. Newcomers were bullied, and skinny little Hogan was stuffed in a barrel and pushed down a hill. As he said later, "For a new caddie to break in, he had to win a fistfight with one of the older, bigger caddies. So they threw me in against one of those fellas, and I got the better of him."
Hogan was left-handed but, unable to afford left-handed clubs, mastered a right-handed grip. He turned pro in 1929 at age seventeen, and joined the tour two years later. He spent sixteen years overcoming a pull hook, replacing it with a slight fade by gripping with his right hand on top with the V pointing to his chin. These changes resulted in a higher, straighter ball flight than the leftward hook, and allowed a more consistent high fade. Hogan got distance by the use of his body and favorable hand action at the moment of impact. He weighed only 137 pounds, yet became one of the longest hitters the game has ever known.
Hogan married his hometown sweetheart Valerie Fox on 14 April 1935; they had no children. The couple traveled together to tournaments on such a limited food budget that they once lived on purloined oranges for two weeks. Hogan finally started winning in 1938, and by 1940 was considered a serious contender. He placed second in six consecutive tournaments and won Pinehurst's North and South Open. He was golf's leading moneymaker in 1940 ($10,656); in 1941 ($18,358); in 1942 ($13,143); and earned a gross income of almost $90,000 in 1943.
At the peak of his form, Hogan served in the Army Air Corps for two and a half years, from 1943 to 1945, and was stationed in the United States. During the war, Bobby Jones played with Hogan in a Chicago tournament. He said, "Ben Hogan is the hardest worker I've ever seen.… He thinks only in terms of birdies. His goal is never the green. It's the cup."
After an honorable discharge as an Army Air Force lieutenant, Hogan returned to the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tournament schedule. He shortened his backswing and adopted "the Hogan stance." He won the Portland Open in 1946 with a 27-under-par, 72-hole score of 261. Averaging 65 strokes over 18 holes, Hogan set a PGA record. Fred Corcoran, PGA director, called this round "golf's masterpiece." Hogan again was the tour's leading moneymaker for 1946 and 1948. In 1947, while walking out to the practice tee in Fort Worth, he suddenly realized, "I've learned to play golf."
Before Hogan came on the scene, professional golfers rarely practiced between tournaments. Hogan putted on hotel rugs for practice and examined grass blades on greens to improve his putts. He worked for "the tempo" with calloused hands that sometimes bled. Someone compared Hogan's golf drive to a machine stamping out bottle caps. Golfers emulated Hogan's golfing style and mimicked his professional attire of white linen caps, beige shirts, beige and gray cardigans, and neatly pressed slacks.
At Norwood Hills, St. Louis, the site of the 1948 PGA title tournament, Hogan suffering with a sore back, complained about the year-round PGA schedule, "I want to die an old man, not a young one." He rallied, picked up a $3,500 winning check, took one day's rest, and rushed off to Fort Worth to play the 72-hole Colonial National Invitation Tournament.
After wins for Hogan in 1947 and 1948 at the U.S. Open Riviera in Los Angeles, caddies named the course, "Hogan's Alley." Hogan scored 276, chopping 5 strokes off the U.S. Open record, broken by Gene Sarazen 26 years earlier. Although Riviera was his, Hogan claimed, "There's no such thing as a course that fits a man's playing style."
Hogan's mystique was limitless. Jimmy Demaret, a fellow golfer, observed, "Nobody gets close to Ben Hogan." Hogan attracted curious onlookers—from champion golfers to weekend duffers. Annoyed by spectators, he said, "The change-jinglers always wait until you reach the top of your backswing, then there's a silence like a kitchen clock stopping."
Hogan was a golfing legend and a hero to nongolfers. On 2 February 1949, while returning home to Fort Worth, he and his wife were involved in a near-fatal car accident. Hogan bravely threw himself across his wife, Valerie, sparing her from death. Hogan's heroic act, life-threatening injury, miraculous return to golf on bandaged legs, and triumphal championship wins following the accident, were immortalized in the movie, Follow the Sun (1951).
Sixteen months after the accident, Hogan won the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion, Pennsylvania. With a 36-hole final, he delivered a memorable one-iron shot, forcing a three-way playoff. In a four-stroke victory, Hogan shot 69 to defeat Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.
Hogan's best season was in 1953, at age forty-one. He won five of six 72-hole tournaments, and three major championships—his first and only British Open at Carnoustie, the Masters, and the U.S. Open. Before the modern Grand Slam, Hogan chose the Open over the USPGA, which finished the day before the Open. On his return to the United States after his British Open championship, he received a ticker-tape parade on Broadway, the first given to a golfer since the 1930 parade for Bobby Jones.
Hogan was the author of Power Golf (1948), and of Five Lessons : The Modern Fundamentals of Golf (1957), aimed at improving the games of golfers, especially those shooting 85–90 who want to shoot 75. Hogan wrote, "Contrary to anything you may have read on the subject, there is no such individual as a born golfer. Some have more natural ability than others, but they've all been made."
In the 1946 National Open Championship at Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland, Ohio, Hogan's nine iron was lost or stolen. "I've never been able to find a nine iron since which 'feels' as good to me as my old one," he said later. In 1947 he broke his favorite driver of ten years. Interested in superior clubs, he designed golf equipment, manufactured by the Ben Hogan Company. Future champion Gary Player once called Hogan for golf tips. "Mr. Hogan, I wonder if I could ask you for some advice?" Hogan asked Player, "Do you play Ben Hogan clubs, son?" "No, I play Dunlop clubs, sir." "Well, then," Hogan quipped, "call Mr. Dunlop."
Hogan approached life and golf with the same determined spirit. His drive for excellence, analytical devotion to practice, and dedicated seriousness altered the game of golf and how golfers would view it forever. His steel-gray eyes seemed foreboding. He received several nicknames—"Bantam Ben," "The Hawk," and "Wee Ice Mon"—but no one dared call him "Ben." He was simply "Hogan."
Hogan concentrated on improvement throughout his golfing career. He shunned praise and considered golf a job to get done and do well. When golf enthusiasts touted his natural swing, Hogan muttered, "There's nothing natural about the golf swing." In the 1967 Masters, at age fifty-four Hogan set a record by shooting the back nine in 30 strokes, a gratifying moment in his career. Hard work and practice were the earmarks of Hogan's success, with daily sessions at the range well into his seventies. Hogan told Golf Digest in 1978, "There is not enough daylight in a day to practice all the shots you ought to be practicing." Hogan had colon cancer surgery in 1995, suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and died of a stroke in his Fort Worth home at age eighty-four. He is buried in Fort Worth's Greenwood Mausoleum.
Between 1940 and 1956 Hogan played in thirty majors and placed in the top five twenty-two times. From 1940 through 1960, Hogan scored in the top ten in the U.S. Open. He was Masters runner-up four times—never less than seventh from 1941 though 1956. In all, Hogan won a total of nine major championships: two Masters (1951, 1953); four U.S. Opens (1948, 1950, 1951, 1953); two PGAs (1946, 1948); one British Open (1953, breaking the course record); and ended his career with sixty-three victories, third behind Sam Snead (81) and Jack Nicklaus (70). Hogan has been lauded as the greatest golfer of all time, greater even than Harry Vardon and Bobby Jones. A humble perfectionist, Hogan once remarked, "I'm the sole judge of my standards."
Curt Sampson, Hogan (1996), is the definitive biography on Hogan's life. David Leadbetter, The Fundamentals of Hogan (2000), reviews Hogan's practice habits. Some of the best magazine articles about Hogan's early years are: "The Weary Hogan," Newsweek (7 June 1948) and "Down Hogan's Ailey [sic]," Time (21 June 1948). Tributes to Hogan's life are "The Pain in Perfection," The New York Times Book Review (4 Jan. 1998); "The Mystique Lives On," Sports Illustrated (4 Aug. 1997); "Eulogies: The Master," Time (4 Aug. 1997); and "Ben Hogan," Golf Magazine (Oct. 1997). An obituary is in the New York Times (26 July 1997).
Sandra Redmond Peters