William Ben Hogan (August 13, 1912 - July 25, 1997) was an American golfer who is generally considered one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game. He was born within six months of two of the other acknowledged golf greats of the twentieth century, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson. Hogan is notable for his profound influence on golf swing theory and his legendary ball-striking ability, for which he remains renowned among players and golf aficionados. Hogan made a remarkable comeback to the game when he rebounded from a near fatal car crash in 1949, miraculously winning the U.S Open just 16 months later. His life is depicted in the biographical film, Follow the Sun (1951). Hogan acted quickly and heroically to spare his wife's life in the accident, a profound expression of his love for his wife.
Ben Hogan was born in Stephenville, Texas and raised ten miles away in Dublin, Texas. His father Charles Hogan, a blacksmith, committed suicide when Ben was only nine years old. When Clara Hogan moved the family to Fort Worth, Texas, Ben helped the family put food on the table by delivering newspapers.
At the age of eleven, he became a caddy at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, earning 65 cents a round. While employed as a caddy, he worked along with Byron Nelson, later a tour rival. Jerry Potter, writing for USA Today said that "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 caddy line the next morning."
While he was motivated to always be first, it didn't always pay off, "Ben was a little bitty fellow, so they'd throw him to the back of the line, that's how he got so mean." Dickinson said."1
Hogan started playing golf as a pro in 1931 at the young age of 17. He joined the PGA Tour two years later, but still had many flaws in his game, especially a very large hook in his swing. His early years as a pro were very difficult, and he went broke more than once. He left the tour and didn't return until 1937. He did not win his first pro tournament until 1938, nine years after first turning pro. Hogan's wife Valerie believed in him, and this helped see him through the tough years, when he was still battling his hook, which he later cured. In 1937, the two were down to their last $5 when he won $380 at a tournament in Oakland, California. Hogan later in his life talked about his early trouble, "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."2
Swing change, start of success
When Hogan's struggles continued, he decided to switch his mechanics, a move that would change his career. John Omicinski, writing for Gannett News Service said, "(Hogan) lost his duckhook and start smashing shots of such purity that people came from miles around just to watch them fly."3
Hogan went on to finish in the money 56 consecutive times from 1939 to 1941, and was the money leader in 1940, 1941, and 1942. As soon as he had people's attention, he didn't let go. At the PGA Oakland open in 1941, Hogan broke the course record when he shot a 62.
He took a two year break from golf when he enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1943.
Return from Army, record streak
After the war ended, Hogan returned to golf right after his 33rd birthday and started right where he left off, dominating the competition. From the time he came back to the time of his near-fatal car crash, Hogan won 37 tournaments, finished highest on the money list twice. Despite the wins, he also had to endure some setbacks as well, such as his battle with influenza. The flu was a serious issue for the golfer, but his putting slump in 1946 was worse:
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.4
Despite such mishaps, he was still the leader on the money list at the end of the year.
In 1948, Hogan won three prestigious tournaments in the same year when he took home the trophy at the U.S Open, National Open, and Western Open.
Between the years of 1938 through 1959, Hogan won 63 professional golf tournaments despite his career's being interrupted in its prime by World War II and a near-fatal car accident. On February 1, 1949, Hogan and his wife, Valerie, survived a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus on a fog-shrouded bridge east of Van Horn, Texas, about 150 miles east of El Paso. The impact of the crash totaled the car, driving the engine into the driver's seat, and the steering wheel into the back.
The true heroism came when Hogan dived across the passenger seat to save his wife, saving her from serious injury, and possibly saving her life. The accident left Hogan with a double-fracture of the pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a left ankle fracture, a chipped rib, and near-fatal blood clots. His courage to save his wife left her with only minor injuries, while he would suffer lifelong circulation problems and other physical limitations. His doctors said he might never walk again, let alone play golf competitively. He left the hospital on April 1st, 59 days after the accident. "People have always been telling me what I can't do, guess I have wanted to show them. That's been one of my driving forces all my life."5
After the accident, it took time for Hogan to come back to the PGA Tour. Not only did he have to teach himself how to swing the golf club again, he had to remember how to walk again. The golfer was too weak to even swing a golf club the next summer, but made a remarkable return in January. In his first tournament back, he shocked fans, critics, and experts of the game when he tied Sam Snead for first after 72-holes, eventually losing in a playoff.
Only 16 months after the accident, Ben Hogan won the U.S Open in Merion, Pennsylvania. "The Hawk" won the championship by shooting a 69 in a playoff against George Fazio, and Lloyd Mangrum. He forced the playoff by overcoming extremely painful leg cramps, and sticking a 1-iron on the tough final hole before making the clutch putt. The PGA gave recognition for his amazing courage and determination when they awarded him PGA Player of the Year in 1950, even though Sam Snead won money title, took home 11 events, and set a record 69.23 scoring-average record. Despite Snead's credentials, they gave the award to "The Hawk."
The "Hogan Slam" seasonBen Hogan seated on back of car in homecoming parade on Broadway, New York City, 1953. Photo by Dick DeMarsico.
The win at Carnoustie was but a part of Hogan's watershed 1953 season, in which he won five of the six tournaments he entered and the first three major championships of the year (a feat known as the "Hogan Slam").
It still stands among the greatest single seasons in the history of professional golf. Hogan was unable to enter-and possibly win-the 1953 PGA Championship (to complete the Grand Slam) because its play (July 1-7) overlapped the play of the British Open at Carnoustie (July 6-10), which he won. It was the only time a golfer won three major championships in a year until Tiger Woods matched the feat in 2000.
Hogan often declined to play in the PGA Championship, skipping it more and more often as his career wore on. There were two reasons for this: firstly, the PGA Championship was, until 1958, a match play event, and Hogan's particular skill was better adapted to stroke play. He was known for his ability to "shoot a number"-meticulously planning and executing a strategy to achieve a score for a round on a particular course (even to the point of leaving out the 6-iron in the U.S. Open at Merion, saying "there are no 6-iron shots at Merion"). The second reason was that the PGA required several days of 36 holes per day competition, and after his 1949 auto accident, Hogan was barely able to manage 18 holes on his bandaged legs.
His nine career professional major championships tie him (with Gary Player) for fourth all-time, trailing only Jack Nicklaus (18), Tiger Woods (12) and Walter Hagen (11).
Hogan's golf swing
Ben Hogan is widely acknowledged to have been the greatest ball striker ever to have played the game. Although he had a formidable record as a tournament winner, it is this aspect of Hogan which mostly underpins his modern reputation.
Hogan was known to practice more than any other golfer of his contemporaries and is said to have "invented practice." He was also one of the first players to match particular clubs to yardages, or references points around the course such as bunkers or trees, in order to improve his distance control.
Hogan thought that an individual's golf swing was "in the dirt" and that mastering it required plenty of practice and repetition. He is also known to have spent years contemplating the golf swing, trying a range of theories and methods before arriving at the finished method which brought him his greatest period of success.
The young Hogan was badly afflicted by hooking the golf ball. Although slight of build at only 5'7" and 140 pounds (64 kg), attributes that earned him the nickname "Bantam," which he thoroughly disliked, he was very long off the tee early in his career, and even competed in long drive contests.
It has been alleged that Hogan used a "strong" grip, with hands more the right of the club grip in tournament play prior to his accident in 1949, despite often practicing with a "weak" grip, with the back of the left wrist facing the target, and that this limited his success, or, at least, his reliability, up to that date (source: John Jacobs in his book 'Fifty Greatest Golf Lessons of the Century').
Jacobs alleges that Byron Nelson told him this information, and furthermore that Hogan developed and used the "strong" grip as a boy in order to be able to hit the ball as far as bigger, stronger contemporaries. This strong grip is what resulted in Hogan hitting the odd disastrous snap hook. Nelson and Hogan both grew up in Fort Worth, and they are known to have played against each other as teenagers.
Hogan's late swing produced the famed "Hogan Fade" ball flight, lower than usual for a great player and from left to right. This ball flight was the result of his using a "draw" type swing in conjunction with a "weak" grip, a combination which all but negated the chance of hitting a hook.
It greatly improved Hogan's accuracy but may have cost him some length. Certainly during his period of greatness Hogan was among the short to mid-length hitting professionals.
Hogan is thought to have developed a "secret" which made his swing nearly automatic. His "secret," a special wrist movement known as "cupping under," was revealed in a 1955 Life magazine article. However, many believed Hogan did not reveal all that he knew at the time. It has since been alleged in Golf Digest magazine that the second element of Hogan's "secret" was the way in which he used his right knee to initiate the swing and that this right knee movement was critical to the correct operation of the wrist.
Hogan revealed later in life that the "secret" involved cupping the left wrist at the top of the back swing and using a weaker left hand grip (thumb more on top of the grip as opposed to on the right side).
Hogan did this to prevent himself from ever hooking the ball off the tee. By positioning his hands in this manner, he ensured that the club face would be slightly open upon impact, creating a fade (left to right ball flight) as opposed to a draw or hook (right to left ball flight).
This is not something that would benefit all golfers, however, since the average right-handed golfer already slices or fades the ball. The draw is more appealing to amateurs due to its greater carry. However, although he played right-handed as an adult, Hogan was left-handed. His early play with right-handed equipment was using a cross-handed (right hand at the end of the club, left hand below it) grip. In "The Search for the Perfect Golf Swing," researchers Cochran and Stobbs held the opinion that a left-handed person playing right handed would be prone to hook the ball.
Even a decade after his death, amateurs and professionals continue to study the techniques of this consummate player, as evidenced by such books as Ben Hogan, The Man Behind the Mystique (Davis, 2002) and the more recent The Secret of Hogan's Swing (Bertrand and Bowler, 2006).
Ball striking ability
Hogan is widely acknowledged to have been the best ball striker ever.
Hogan's ball striking has been described as being of near miraculous caliber by very knowledgeable observers such as Jack Nicklaus, who only saw him play some years after his prime. Nicklaus once responded to the question, "Is Tiger Woods the best ball striker you have ever seen?" with, "No, no - Ben Hogan, easily."6
Further testimony to Hogan's (and Norman's) status among top golfers is provided by Tiger Woods, who recently said that he wished to "own his (golf) swing" in the same way as Moe Norman and Hogan had. Woods claimed that this pair were the only players ever to have "owned their swings," in that they had total control of it and, as a result, of the ball's flight.7
Although his ball striking was perhaps the greatest ever, Hogan is also known to have at times been a very poor putter by professional standards, particularly on slow greens. The majority of his putting problems developed after his car accident in 1949. Towards the end of his career, he would stand over the ball, in some cases for minutes, before drawing the putter back. It was written in the Hogan Biography, Ben Hogan: An American Life, that Hogan had damaged one of his eyes and that poor vision added to his putting problems.
Ben Hogan Golf Company
After he retired from the game, following his most successful season, Hogan started his golf club company in the fall of 1953 in Fort Worth, Texas. Production began in the summer of 1954, with clubs targeted toward "the better player." Always a perfectionist, Hogan is said to have ordered the entire first production run of clubs destroyed because they did not meet his exacting standards.
In 1960, he sold the company to American Machine and Foundry (AMF), but stayed on as chairman of the board for several more years. AMF Ben Hogan golf clubs were sold continuously from 1960 to 1985 when AMF was bought by Minstar who sold The Ben Hogan company in 1988 to Cosmo World, who owned the club manufacturer until 1992, when it was sold to another independent investor, Bill Goodwin.
Goodwin moved the company out of Fort Worth, and a union shop, to Virginia so it would be close to his home of operations for other AMF brands and, incidentally, a non-union shop in an effort to return the company to profitability. Goodwin sold to Spalding in 1997, closing the sale in January 1998. Spalding returned manufacturing to Hogan's Fort Worth, Texas roots before eventually including the company's assets in a bankruptcy sale of Spalding's Topflite division to Callaway in 2004. Callaway now owns the rights to the Ben Hogan brand. After over a half century and numerous ownership changes, the Ben Hogan line was discontinued by Callaway in 2008. In May 2014, Terry Koehler of Eldolon Brands approached Perry Ellis International and got the rights to use Ben Hogan's name for a line of golf clubs.8
Ben Hogan died in Fort Worth, Texas on July, 25, 1997 at the age of 84, after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 1995 and suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. He is interred at Greenwood Memorial Park.
Hogan will go down as one of the best golfers of all time for his outstanding courage on and off the course. He was tremendously dedicated to the game, and didn't let anything get in the way of his concentration on the golf course. Ben often wore his white cap very low over his face so no one could see his face and he could intimidate golfers with a simple stare. Not many got close to Ben Hogan because of his constant concentration on practicing and perfecting his ball control. His friend Jimmy Demaret said it best when he said, "When I play with him, he talks to me on every green, he turns to me and says, 'You're away.'"Nobody gets close to Ben Hogan."5 During his career he won a total of 9 major championships and won 10 tournaments, including the U.S. Open at Riviera Country Club, a course known as "Hogan's Alley" because of his success there.
Hogan played on two U.S. Ryder Cup teams, 1947 and 1951, and captained the team three times, 1947, 1949, and 1967, famously claiming on the latter occasion to have brought the "twelve best golfers in the world" to play in the competition. This line was used by subsequent Ryder Cup captain Raymond Floyd in 1989, although on that occasion the United States was beaten by Team Europe at The Belfry. He also won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average three times: 1940, 1941, and 1948. In 1953, Hogan won the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year in the United States.
He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. In 1976, Ben Hogan was voted the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf.
PGA Tour wins (64)
- 1938 (1) Hershey Four-Ball (with Vic Ghezzi)
- 1940 (4) North and South Open, Greater Greensboro Open, Asheville Land of the Sky Open, Goodall Palm Beach Round Robin
- 1941 (5) Asheville Open, Chicago Open, Hershey Open, Miami Baltimore International Four-Ball (with Gene Sarazen), Inverness Four-Ball (with Jimmy Demaret)
- 1942 (6) Los Angeles Open, San Francisco Open, North and South Open, Asheville Land of the Sky Open, Hale America Open, Rochester Open
- 1945 (5) Nashville Invitational, Portland Open Invitational, Richmond Invitational, Montgomery Invitational, Orlando Open
- 1946 (13) Phoenix Open, San Antonio Texas Open, St. Petersburg Open, Miami International Four-Ball (with Jimmy Demaret), Colonial National Invitation, Western Open, Goodall Round Robin, Inverness Four-Ball (with Jimmy Demaret), Winnipeg Open, PGA Championship, Golden State Open, Dallas Invitational, North and South Open
- 1947 (7) Los Angeles Open, Phoenix Open, Colonial National Invitation, Chicago Victory Open, World Championship of Golf, Inverness Round Robin Four-Ball (with Jimmy Demaret)
- 1948 (10) Los Angeles Open, PGA Championship, U.S. Open, Inverness Round Robin Four-Ball (with Jimmy Demaret), Motor City Open, Reading Open, Western Open, Denver Open, Reno Open, Glendale Open
- 1949 (2) Bing Crosby Pro-Am, Long Beach Open
- 1950 (1) U.S. Open
- 1951 (3) The Masters, U.S. Open, World Championship of Golf
- 1952 (1) Colonial National Invitation
- 1953 (5) The Masters, Pan American Open, Colonial National Invitation, U.S. Open, The Open Championship (designated as a PGA Tour win in 2002)
- 1959 (1) Colonial National Invitation
Major championships are shown in bold.
|Year||Championship||54 Holes||Winning Score||Margin||Runners Up|
|1946||PGA Championship||N/A||6 & 4||6 strokes||Ed Oliver|
|1948||U.S. Open||2 shot lead||-8 (67-72-68-69=276)||2 strokes||Jimmy Demaret|
|1948||PGA Championship (2)||N/A||7 & 6||7 strokes||Mike Turnesa|
|1950||U.S. Open (2)||2 shot deficit||+7 (72-69-72-74=287)||Playoff 1||George Fazio, Lloyd Mangrum|
|1951||The Masters||1 shot deficit||-8 (70-72-70-68=280)||2 strokes||Skee Riegel|
|1951||U.S. Open (3)||2 shot deficit||+7 (76-73-71-67=287)||2 strokes||Clayton Heafner|
|1953||The Masters (2)||4 shot lead||-14 (70-69-66-69=274)||5 strokes||Ed Oliver|
|1953||U.S. Open (4)||1 shot lead||-5 (67-72-73-71=283)||6 strokes||Sam Snead|
|1953||The Open Championship||1 shot lead||-2 (73-71-70-68=282)||4 strokes||Antonio Cerda, Dai Rees, Frank Stranahan, Peter Thomson|
Note: The PGA Championship was match play until 1958
1 Defeated Mangrum and Fazio in 18-hole playoff: Hogan (69), Mangrum (73), Fazio (75)
|The Open Championship||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP|
|The Open Championship||NT||NT||NT||NT||NT||NT||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP|
|The Open Championship||DNP||DNP||DNP||1||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP|
|The Open Championship||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP|
NT = No tournament
DNP = Did not play
CUT = missed the half-way cut
"T" indicates a tie for a place
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10
- ↑ Ben Hogan Facts Retrieved June 8, 2016.
- ↑ Jerry Potter, USA Today
- ↑ Ben Hogan, Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf (Pocket Publishing, 1990).
- ↑ Jamie Diaz, "One of a kind Ben Hogan was often imitated, but there will never be another like him" Sports Illustrated, August 4, 1997. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Larry Schwartz, Hogan majored in courage ESPN.com. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
- ↑ Ben Hogan-The Man With The Ultimate Golf Swing Casey Eberting Golf Instruction. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
- ↑ Jaimie Diaz, The Truth About Tiger Golf Digest, December 20, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
- ↑ Jonathan Wall, Return of a legendary brand PGA Tour, May 20, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
- Bertrand, Tom, and Printer Bowler. The Secret of Hogan's Swing. Wiley, 2006. ISBN 978-0471998310
- Coyne, John. The Caddie who Knew Ben Hogan. Thomas Dunne Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0312355234
- Davis, Martin. Ben Hogan: The Man Behind The Mystique. American Geological Institute, 2002. ISBN 978-1888531121
- Hogan, B. Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. Pocket Publishing, 1990. ISBN 0671723014
- Jacobs, J. 50 Greatest Golf Lessons Of The Century: Private Sessions with the Golf Greats. Collins, 2000. ISBN 006271614X