Looking back across the valleys of 10, 20 and 30 years and warming oneself in the glow of memories, it seems that of all the dramatic figures who have agitated the peaceful Augusta countryside at Masters time, it is the Hawk on the opposite page who is remembered best. Actually, Ben Hogan only won the tournament twice, as contrasted with three victories for his friend Jimmy Demaret and three for Sam Snead, his closest rival in the postwar decade. Of course, Arnold Palmer, this year's defending champion, has won it four times, and that is certainly one of the immense accomplishments of golf, but Palmer is a now figure, a man of these times. You do not include him when you start a sentence, "I remember when...." And even in his overwhelming triumph last year, Palmer was still two strokes shy of Hogan's 1953 tournament record of 70-69-66-69—274, which is 14 strokes under par on the grudging Masters course.
Ben Hogan's years of victory were not so many, once you think back on it. They began in 1940 and ended in 1953—a mere 14 years—but during that period he won every major championship available to a professional. He took the U.S. Open four times, the British Open the only time he played in it and the PGA twice. In his last great competitive year, 1953, he won the U.S. and British Opens and the Masters, three-quarters of what is now considered the Grand Slam of professional golf. Since then he has finished on top only once—winning the Colonial National Invitation on his home course in 1959.
It is a full decade now since the Hogan era ended, but the stimulation and chill attraction of the man refuse to recede. So intense was the aura of awe which grew around him that time has failed to dispel it. He was the Hawk then, the Ice Man and, as far as the public is concerned, he is the Hawk today. "Hi there, Byron," the people will shout. "Where's your pink shoes, Jimmy?" they will call. And then they see him, and they whisper, "It's Hogan."
Today Ben Hogan is a balding businessman living in his home town of Fort Worth and devoting much of his time to running the Ben Hogan Company, a leading manufacturer of golf equipment. He still plays golf seriously and for pleasure, which to Hogan are one and the same thing, and last year he took part in four tournaments—the Masters, the Colonial National, the PGA and the Carling World Open. He finished in ties for ninth, fourth, ninth and fourth, in order of appearance. Considering the fact that he can no longer putt with any confidence or authority and that he has so little opportunity to hone his game to a competitive edge, it was an extraordinary performance for a man of 51 or 52 years. (And consider this impractical thought, too: if he had entered the 30 biggest tournaments last year and kept finishing ninth and fourth he would have won $84,244 and been fifth on the money winners' list.) The way he played was so precise, so pure and so intelligent that by the end of 1964 the pros had revived the durable cliché that "from tee to green, Ben Hogan can still hit the ball better than any man alive."
The touring pros are fascinated by Hogan. They talk about him a lot, as if he were some combination of natural and supernatural phenomena—a strange cross between Mount Rushmore and the Headless Horseman. His accomplishments and attitudes made him a legend of the game, but his peers help perpetuate the legend. At his peak he was a fearsome specter in the minds of the other players as he marched impassively along the fairways, staring ahead with that grim half-smile on his face. Tournament leaders carried but one thought in their minds: How is Hogan doing? The thought alone was frequently enough to undo their composure. He was so thoroughly enveloped in the caul of his concentration that he seldom spoke. There was a standard joke along the tournament route: "Hogan was real talkative out there today."
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'You're away.' "
The Hogan stories always portray the relentless Hawk, never satisfied with victory alone but pressing toward some unattainable perfection. Jimmy Demaret, who was probably as close to Hogan as any man during the days when Ben was working his way to the top, tells of the time many years ago when Hogan had completed a round in a tournament at Oak Hill in Rochester that included eight birdies. His score was 66, which put him well in the lead. Demaret had been paired with Hogan that day, and they had played early enough to finish in time for lunch. They had a sandwich and a beer together, and then Demaret whiled away the afternoon in the locker room with some of the other golfers. Hogan, meanwhile, had gone to the practice tee. Demaret left the club as it was getting dark, and he discovered Hogan still practicing. "My God, Ben," he said, "you had eight birdies out there today. What more do you want?"
"There is no reason that you should not birdie every hole," Hogan answered.
Having been born near Fort Worth and raised there, Hogan is a complete Westerner. In the tradition of the West—the real West, that is, not the big-city West—his speech is spare to the point of brusqueness, and this laconicism gives many of the stories about Hogan their special quality. One of his close friends said recently: "Ben had to make it in life the hard way, and he learned not to waste anything—including words. If you ask him would he like to go fishing with you and he can't do it, all he says is no. He's not being rude. He just doesn't see any need for explanations."
In a long-ago tournament Claude Harmon, a man who much admires Hogan, was paired with Dr. Cary Middlecoff, then one of Hogan's two or three closest competitors. When he saw Hogan in the locker room after the round Harmon said, "Ben, I'm going to have to do something about the Doc. The poor guy just can't get the ball out of the bunkers. I'm going to have to give him a lesson in how to hit a sand shot."
There was silence for a moment, and then a dead-serious Hogan said, "Leave him alone."
In 1950, the year after his nearly fatal automobile accident, Hogan's first tournament was the Los Angeles Open. He was sitting in the clubhouse with an apparent victory, but Sam Snead birdied four of the last nine holes to catch him, and Snead then took some of the drama out of Ben's almost superhuman recovery by beating him decisively in the playoff. A few months later Hogan decided to play in the Greenbrier tournament at Snead's home course in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., an event that Sam has rarely permitted anyone else to win. Hogan shot the four lowest scores of his tournament career, 64-64-65-66, to set a Greenbrier record and tie the PGA four-round record of 259. Snead, in second place, was a humbling 10 strokes back.
When, three weeks later, Snead won the Colonial National, a reporter found Ben slumped disconsolately in the locker room, staring at his shoes. "Well, Ben," he said, "I guess Sam did to you on your home course what you did to him on his."
Hogan gave him a hard, 64-64-65-66 look. "Not quite," he said.
One reason for Hogan's abbreviated speech, especially with the press, is that he has long maintained (and believed) that it was not what he said that mattered, but what he did on a golf course. He has always hated stupid questions, especially from reporters who have not followed his round, but he will go on at length about a certain shot if you happen to have seen it. He will also talk at some of the very times when his reputation would lead you to think he would be most quiet.
While out on the course shooting the 67 at Oakland Hills that won him the 1951 U.S. Open—often called the greatest round ever played—Hogan began wondering aloud why people ever watch golf tournaments. They have to walk so far and it's so hard to see, he said. He could not understand what they found so interesting. "They enjoy watching golf shots hit this well," a USGA official who was walking with him told him. "Yes," said Ben, as they moved up the fairway, "I guess it does take some skill."
And there was the time at the 1955 U.S. Open when he is said to have done a most uncharacteristic thing. He walked off the 72nd green with what seemed to be a certain victory, an unprecedented fifth Open win for him, and as he was being congratulated he handed his golf ball to a USGA official. "This is for Golf House," he said, referring to the USGA museum. That was the day unknown Jack Fleck came through the dark to tie Hogan and then won the next day's playoff in a shattering upset.
Much of the Hogan mystique—the portrait of the silent, dour loner—developed after his accident in 1949. The accident is still so fresh in the minds of the middle-aged that it is difficult to realize a whole generation of golfers and sports fans has grown up that is unaware of it. Hogan had completed the first weeks of the winter tour, losing a playoff to Demaret in Phoenix, and he was driving home to Fort Worth with his wife, Valerie. They had just passed through the crossroads town of Van Horn and had almost reached the crest of one of those gradual Texas inclines when a Greyhound bus came over the hill on the wrong side of the road and smashed head on into their Cadillac sedan. Ben threw himself in front of Valerie. He was so badly injured that it was not so much a question of whether he would play golf again as whether he would live. Eleven months later, limping and with his healing legs still in bandages, he was playing in the Los Angeles Open that Snead took away from him.
Before the accident Hogan had never been a particularly austere character to the pros with whom he competed from week to week. Certainly he was more serious-minded and dedicated than most of them and he practiced a thousand times harder in an era when the art of practicing was just beginning to catch on, but he was also one of them. He enjoyed the pleasantries of the locker room, a good drink or two at the end of the day, and he liked to eat well—when he had the money.
Following the accident, Hogan could no longer permit himself the luxury of the evening conviviality. He had to husband all his strength, and he had to nurse his aching legs. After a round of golf he and Valerie would go back to their hotel room, usually eating there alone. By now a new generation of golfers was joining the tour, and they, of course, had not known Ben in his blander days. They never got to know him.
On the practice tee, where much of the socializing goes on among tournament players, Hogan was and is all business. He never hits a practice shot without a purpose, and he has no time or use for the casual conversations and experimentations that are part of the general hobnobbing that takes place among the pros.
But Hogan actually is not a true loner. He has always liked to be with people who are amusing and have the gift of laughter, even though he himself is a listener rather than a talker. Demaret, one of the most gregarious of pro golfers, has always been a favorite of Ben's, and so has Tommy Bolt, who is as different from Hogan as Li'l Abner is from Hamlet. When Ben was lying helpless in the hospital after his accident, Demaret visited him. "Gee, Ben," Demaret said, "if I'd known you were going to be so upset that you would take on a Greyhound bus, I would have let you win the playoff in Phoenix." Ben enjoyed that.
It is only natural that with the grim necessity for victory no longer compelling him, Hogan has mellowed. Even so, it sometimes seems as if an invisible caliper is measuring the precision of his every act. Whether it is for business or sport, he dresses impeccably in clothes of perfect fit and taste. He says what he means, and he does what he says. He knows where he is going, literally and figuratively. He is no man's man but his own, a fact that is abundantly clear to anyone who has been examined by his unblinking blue eyes.
In recent years Hogan has found much of his companionship in the kind of society to which his achievements and earnings have quite logically led him, with the prominent and prosperous citizens of Fort Worth and certain other cities to which his business and pleasure regularly take him. As a child he had been forced to make it on his own. His father died when he was 9, and his mother brought him and his older sister and brother to Fort Worth, where they lived in a rather poor section on the east side of town. Ben sold newspapers until he discovered he could make more money as a caddie. When he was eventually able to afford it, he and Valerie rented an apartment in the fashionable western part of the city. Later they bought a home there, and within the past few years they have built what Hogan describes as a "French" house in suburban Fort Worth.
As befits the wife of one of the city's leading businessmen and its most famous celebrity, Valerie is active on committees for local charities. Together the Hogans enjoy their position, their friends and success. If Ben's public had seen him throw sugar on the floor and go into a soft-shoe act at a large Fort Worth affair one night they would surely know that he has lost some of his reserve. Ben belongs to Shady Oaks, the most posh of Fort Worth golf clubs, although he used to play mainly at Colonial, which is considerably larger and less exclusive. Both courses were built by Marvin Leonard, who ranks among the richest of Fort Worth's oil millionaires. Leonard was one of Ben's early backers. He has advised Ben for many years, and he helped him organize the Ben Hogan Company when Ben decided that he was ready to give up tournament golf and start a business that would take him through life.
Most mornings when Hogan is in Fort Worth he is down at his plant, where he occupies a large office meticulously furnished with handsome and functional antiques, some fine old golf prints and several pictures of himself with President Eisenhower. Since he and Valerie became engrossed in furnishing their new house Ben has taken an interest in antiques, and it is characteristic of him that he refuses to put anything into the office that is not exactly what is right and appropriate.
Hogan has said that his name is the most valuable thing he owns. Ben has protected it jealously throughout his life, so that now, in his middle age, it is one of the most prized assets in the world of golf. The name Ben Hogan on the golf equipment that Ben's company manufactures is its warranty of quality. When the first Hogan clubs came out of the factory in 1954 Ben looked them over and decided they were just not good enough to carry his name. He ordered them junked. One of his original backers, a man who owned 25% of the company, balked at this expensive decision, so Ben immediately borrowed money and bought him out. The company lost some $80,000 because of Hogan's insistence on destroying the clubs, but there was never afterward any question in the minds of either the public or the golfing profession that Hogan was willing to put his reputation behind Hogan clubs.
The job of president of the Ben Hogan Company has not always been an unremitting joy to Ben. There were union troubles that once drove him to threaten to close down completely. In 1960 ownership of his company was acquired by American Machine and Foundry, then at the peak of its boom in sports-equipment manufacturing. It appeared at the time to be a deal that would produce a handsome capital-gains benefit and lifetime security for the Hogans, but AMF stock has since dropped considerably. Nonetheless, Ben's share of AMF amounts to a comfortable nest egg, and he receives a handsome salary as president of the Ben Hogan Company, which has been growing steadily.
There is not a machine in this complex factory that he does not know as intimately as his own driver. His biggest problem is the constant change of models. Planned obsolescence must be built into golf clubs—like Detroit automobiles—in order to get new models into the pro shops around the country each year. All the large manufacturers do this, and Hogan has no choice but to follow suit. This demands subtle changes in club design, and only Hogan has the authority to pass on such style changes. No club leaves the plant that fails to meet the rigid standards Ben has set.
Perfection and quality are the words that receive the strongest emphasis in Hogan's conversation. Separately and together, they are the holy grail of his long pilgrimage from obscurity. When he speaks of the golf clubs he is making, the word he most often uses is quality. He says that they are the best line of clubs available, and it is obvious that he believes this.
Yet he is constantly tinkering and experimenting with them, searching for new ways to improve and simplify both the clubs themselves and the manufacturing techniques. For example, he so far refuses to go along with the trend to eliminate the screws from the faces of wood clubs, because he cannot find an adhesive he feels is strong enough to replace them. But he is looking hard for one, and recently, when he met the president of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing at the Crosby tournament in Pebble Beach, they were soon having an animated conversation on the subject of adhesives.
If Hogan is searching for perfect clubs, he is also looking for a faultless place to use them. "I think it would now be possible to build the perfect golf course," he said one noon at Shady Oaks. "First of all," he explained, taking out a pencil and drawing on the paper napkin in front of him, "there are only three kinds of greens. One is shaped like a figure eight. One is shaped like an L. One is just a simple I. [Hogan drew each of them on the napkin as he talked.] Now, you can put bunkers in here and here and here. Then it is just a question of which direction you approach the green from." Hogan drew arrows delineating the possibilities with each type of green and went on to show how these greens could be adapted to various types of golf holes.
It happens that Hogan has his perfect golf course in mind for the not-too-distant future. On a plot of several hundred acres a few miles southwest of Houston he is planning to set up an exclusive new golf club in partnership with friends of his who live in that city. Dick Wilson, the eminent golf architect whom Hogan considers to be the best, will do the actual designing, but Hogan will work with him. Presumably, the ultimate in 8s and L's and l's are going to be seen there before many years have passed.
As for the perfect golf swing, Hogan has reached that philosophic age when he can accept the fact that there are certain things he will never see in his lifetime, and this is one of them. He will even concede that there may possibly be no such thing. But, as he wrote in his definitive book on technique, The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, "Every year we learn a little more. Each new chunk of valid knowledge paves the way to greater knowledge." It is Hogan's theory now that every new generation of golfers is an improvement on its predecessor, for the uncomplicated reason that all of the lessons of the past make it possible to learn more at an earlier age.
"Someday," Hogan claims, "it may even be possible to construct some kind of machine that will swing a golf club as well as it can possibly be done. They could take movies of this machine in action from various angles, and young kids could watch it and learn to imitate it. Children have a great knack for imitating, so if they watched the movies when they were young enough they could follow the swing pretty closely as they practiced. That is probably as close to the perfect swing as it would be possible for human beings to get."
In the late winter of each year Ben and Valerie Hogan go to Palm Beach, where Ben begins preparing for his first tournament appearance of the season—the Masters. This had been an unvarying custom for 15 years, and it began because of his admiration and affection for The Seminole Golf Club, which he considers the equal of any in the world, both in design and condition.
Supersocial Palm Beach may not seem the place for a man like Ben Hogan to find friends, but he has found them there. Claude Harmon was the pro at Seminole when Hogan first started going to Palm Beach. He was succeeded by Henry Picard, the current pro, who was a staunch friend of Ben's in his very early days of tournament golf. The maitre de golf at the club and the man who is largely responsible for the excellence of the course, is Chris Dunphy, an old companion of Ben's. One year Ben and Valerie spent their holiday at Dunphy's house, where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are frequent guests. Another of the wealthy Palm Beach gentry whom Ben and Valerie have visited is George Coleman, a man who has long been a patron of athletes. Finally, there was the late Paul Shields, a prominent New York investment banker who was, for many years before his death, both business adviser and loyal friend to Hogan.
Among these people Hogan feels comfortable and free of pressure, for they want nothing of him. They all like to play golf for amiable sums, and their banter both on and off the course is the kind of relaxed verbal sparring that puts Ben at his ease. "The grass is so long on those greens I might as well practice on a public course," Hogan told Dunphy a couple of weeks ago. "If you didn't take so much time to putt, the grass wouldn't get that long," answered Dunphy. Several years ago Shields and Hogan were practicing on the putting green one afternoon when some members on the clubhouse porch called down, "Hi, Ben." Hogan turned and waved with a friendly smile. Shields watched this sourly and said, "Look at him—all personality. He'd have never done that before he was selling golf clubs."
Except for Harmon or Picard or one of the young assistant pros, the only person at Seminole who was ever able to give Hogan a real match on the course was Bobby Sweeney, the former British Amateur champion, who is now living abroad. But Hogan, one of the most demanding of first-tee lawyers, always manages to work out some good bets with Dunphy and Coleman and the others. Until quite recently he would play every shot during these games with the same care and consideration he gave to a tournament, often walking ahead to the green to observe a pin placement or study the terrain before hitting an approach. Dunphy kidded him about this once, and Hogan replied, "If I didn't do it here, I might get out of the habit and forget to do it in the Masters."
Frequently the group Hogan is playing with will stop the match and make side bets on a particularly tricky bunker shot, and they usually wind up the match with extra bets on sand shots out of the bunker alongside the 18th green. Dunphy, who prides himself on his sand play, says, "I've driven a lot of guys out of that bunker at the 18th, but I've never driven Ben out. There isn't a greater sand player in golf."
Hogan usually goes out to Seminole in the morning and practices before lunch, picking a spot on the course where he can hit shots either into the wind or with the wind blowing from the right. He refuses to practice with the wind from the left because it demands a hook, and he detests a hook. (He once ordered a tree chopped down on Colonial's 15th hole because it forced a hooked tee shot.) Until he revised his swing in 1947, Hogan had hooked most of his shots, but he has long attributed his later success to the built-in fade he devised for himself, a technique that became known as Hogan's secret.
After playing 18 holes at Seminole, Hogan may practice some more or go to the putting green. To Hogan, practice can be as enjoyable as an actual round. He once said, "I just like to go out and hit balls. I enjoy being out there with the golf club in my hand, whether I'm practicing or playing. I experiment all the time with something, and sometimes I get my game so messed up I have to put it all together again."
After the long winter layoff, when the demands of his business make it impossible for Hogan to keep his game in shape, Ben feels it takes him at least two months to start playing the way he likes. "Hell," he says, "you never have your game the way you really want it, but when it comes time to play in a tournament you just take what you've got and go out and play."
Maybe so, but those who know him best insist it has been years since he entered a tournament while his game was ragged. "That is the difference between Ben and most of us," Demaret explains. "Lots of times I'll go to a tournament just to play in it and have some fun, and others will do the same, but not Ben. Ben doesn't play unless he is ready."
Assuming Hogan judges himself ready, and he surely will be, he will be putting in his 23rd appearance at the Masters next week. Those who arc fortunate enough to watch him will see shots executed as no other living man can do them. They should savor the sight. After playing the second round with Hogan at the Masters last year, Dave Marr, himself a purist of the swing but of a later time, said something of Ben Hogan's golf that could be applied to every facet of this rare man. "Hogan plays one game," said Marr, "and the rest of us play another."