ONE OF A KIND BEN HOGAN WAS OFTEN IMITATED, BUT THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER LIKE HIM

August 03, 1997

No golfer was emulated more than Ben Hogan, yet no player was
more distinct. He had been transformed into an immortal long
before his death last week at 84, becoming more concept than
corpus, his name attached to the word mystique.

Hogan may or may not have been the greatest the game has ever
seen. It doesn't really matter. The name, Hogan, has come to
stand for an intimate and unyielding attempt to master an
unmasterable sport. As a golfer Hogan was pure, not only because
of the clean contact he made with the ball but also because he
found fulfillment in the task. He possessed nobility and had
soul. For all the outward severity of his manner and all the
setbacks the game dealt him, any examination of Hogan reveals
that he took profound pleasure in the physical and mental
challenge of hitting wondrous golf shots.

Hogan's aura was palpable, its own advertisement and something
that inspired other players. Almost exclusively by actions
instead of words, Hogan influenced more future greats than any
10 other golfers. Billy Casper so admired Hogan that he
suppressed the loose, wise-guy bent of his youth in favor of a
stoic on-course persona gained through a form of self-hypnosis.
Gary Player, who among the top players most closely resembled
Hogan in size, work ethic and skill, dedicated his early
professional career to duplicating every facet of Hogan's swing.
Under the tutelage of a Hogan contemporary, Jack Grout, a
teenage Jack Nicklaus committed himself to sound course
management and the more controllable left-to-right ball flight
that had turned around Hogan's career in the late '40s. In 1964,
when Lee Trevino saw the Hawk hitting soft cuts with a four-wood
on the practice ground at Shady Oaks in Fort Worth, he junked
his own low hook for a fade and four years later won the U.S.
Open. Johnny Miller admits that "the way I wore my hat and
squinted my eyes, all that was from Ben Hogan." Nick Faldo,
proud to be called Hoganesque in his approach to the game, has
spent hours studying film of Hogan's action. So has Tiger Woods,
whose teacher, Butch Harmon, used to sit at the family dinner
table enraptured as his father, Claude, and Hogan discussed the
fine points of the game. "There's a lot of Ben Hogan in Tiger
Woods," says Harmon.

Among players of less talent Hogan was even more fervently
studied. Late in his career it was common for Hogan's galleries
to be sprinkled with fellow competitors seeking an epiphany. The
most openly imitative in swing, dress and manner was Gardner
Dickinson, who, when out of hearing distance, was often called
the Chickenhawk. For every emulator who made a mark, there have
been hundreds of hard-practicing, flat-swinging, earnestly
pronating, white-cap-wearing, no-talking perfectionists whose
identification with every aspect of Hoganness allowed them to
believe their failures were simply necessary steps on an
inevitable, if very rocky, road to success. Hogan's methods and
habits were such common knowledge, the jagged curve of his
journey such an apparent blueprint, that it obscured the fact
that genius can never be duplicated.

Hogan's early struggles--he didn't win a Tour event until seven
years after turning pro--at first made him appear more
accessible than other greats like Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson and
Sam Snead, whose early successes dwarfed Hogan's. Later, though,
those failures added to the perception that Hogan's golf carried
an extra conviction, as if it were more valid, more part of a
purposeful design, more earned.

A telling illustration of this phenomenon came in 1950, when
Hogan was named player of the year. Snead had won 11 events that
season, taken the money title and set a scoring-average record
of 69.23 that still stands. Hogan won just one tournament, but
it was the U.S. Open at Merion, and it came only 16 months after
he had suffered near-fatal injuries in a head-on collision with
a bus on a lonely road near El Paso. Snead was a golfer, and a
great one. Hogan, because of his dedication and courage, was a
hero.

Hogan wasn't only about intangibles. He had 63 victories from
1938 to '59, and at his peak was the most efficient winner of
major championships in history, winning nine of the 16 majors he
played in from the 1946 PGA through the '53 British Open. Still,
because of his inscrutable manner, there was always a sense that
he carried something deep within that was even more interesting
than his talent. Intentionally or not, Hogan fostered some of
this. Whereas Jones, Nelson and Snead, and later Nicklaus, were
generous and open with their views about the game, Hogan created
an enormous appetite for his ideas by withholding them. In 1957
he finally wrote, with Herbert Warren Wind, Five Lessons: The
Modern Fundamentals of Golf, and it remains one of the game's
alltime best-sellers. In public Hogan would politely refer
people to his book whenever the subject of the golf swing came
up, while in private he cut them dead with a pith that is part
of his legend. Miller remembers approaching Hogan in the dining
room of the Olympic Club after the fourth round of the 1966 U.S.
Open. Miller, then 19, had just tied for eighth as an amateur
and was excited about meeting his idol, who had finished 12th.
But before Miller could get his name out, Hogan, without looking
up from his plate, froze the youngster with the words "Can't you
see I'm eating my soup?"

Such brusqueness contributed to Hogan's solitary life, but it
was grounded in honesty. Hogan believed talk was cheap and that
by his silence he was pointing others toward action rather than
verbiage. Whether mean-spirited or not, he was ultimately
imparting the real Hogan Secret to success in golf: "It's in the
dirt."

Hogan wanted the standards he left for the game to speak more
eloquently than his words. He was proudest of the control he
gained over the golf ball. To an elite player, judgment and
putting may actually have a greater influence on score and
winning tournaments, but ball striking demands the greatest
degree of virtuosity. It is also the most difficult area of the
game to master, particularly so for Hogan, whose goal was to
execute the ideal shot for every situation. If the flagstick was
in the back left portion of the green, Hogan produced a low draw
that landed in the middle of the green and ran toward the hole.
If the hole was cut in the front right, Hogan feathered a high
fade that sat down quickly. The chief reason he had such control
was the amazingly quick rotation of his hips on the downswing, a
move that cleared out room for his right side to release and
featured an abnormal extension of the right arm to the target.
Even after his accident in '49, Hogan had a supremely athletic
swing that made shotmaking possible.

Hogan's style of playing died out in the '70s, after his impact
had faded and players began to realize that it is simpler and
less risky to master one shot shape and use it conservatively.
Hogan's way required constant maintenance, even for the most
talented players, something that never fazed the originator. For
him, particularly after he reached his peak, the means was the
end.

The most underrated standard that Hogan left golf was his
toughness and grace in defeat. Throughout his career Hogan
carried on despite some cruel setbacks. Just his rivalry with
Nelson would have broken a lesser man. Beginning with the caddie
championship at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth, when
they were both 15, Nelson edged Hogan several times in
head-to-head competition. It last happened when Nelson beat
Hogan 2 and 1 in the quarterfinals of the 1941 PGA.

In 1946, the year before Nelson stopped playing the Tour full
time, 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 for a birdie on the 72nd
hole to win his first major. Hogan ran his first putt three feet
by 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. At that
moment no one would have been surprised if his career had come
crashing down. Instead Hogan went to the PGA Championship at
Portland Golf Club and won, beginning his never-equaled hot
streak in the majors.

After the run ended with a win in the British Open in 1953,
Hogan endured bitter disappointment in pursuit of a record fifth
U.S. Open title. At Olympic in 1955 Jack Fleck caught him with a
miracle finish in regulation, then sustained his "Open coma" to
defeat Hogan in a playoff. The following year at Oak Hill, Hogan
was tied for the lead on the 71st green but missed a
three-footer and wound up second again. Finally, in 1960 in
Denver, at 47, Hogan was again tied for the lead on the
penultimate hole, only to hit a short pitch into the water to
make a bogey 6 and then close with a 7 on the par-4 18th. Two
pars would have put him into a playoff with the eventual winner,
Arnold Palmer.

Hogan handled all of the setbacks with equanimity. He had been
steeled early in his pro career, always contending that his
greatest accomplishment was being able to make a living playing
golf after going broke several times starting out. Left unsaid
was the effect of his father's suicide. Ben was nine when
Chester Hogan, a blacksmith, took his own life in their Fort
Worth home. After such an experience, perhaps it was easier to
take whatever golf dished out. Resilience was a way of life.

No one ever quite took on the game the way Hogan did. He
followed his code completely. The closest he ever came to
wavering was his occasional carping about what he considered the
disproportionate importance of putting. Hogan wasn't perfect,
but it's impossible to imagine him ever doing anything that
could be construed as phony.

His code was born of love, something that didn't have much of a
place in Hogan's dealings with people other than his wife of 62
years, Valerie. Hogan grew estranged from Nelson. He was never
close to Snead and had an edgy relationship with Palmer. Hogan
dedicated his first book to Henry Picard, who was widely
believed to be Hogan's good friend. Yet Picard, when contacted
by Curt Sampson for the biography Hogan, said, "Ben and I hardly
know each other, even today." Even Jimmy Demaret, author of the
book My Partner, Ben Hogan, said, "Nobody gets close to Ben
Hogan."

The love that Hogan found so hard to project to other men, he
poured into the game. It was a tough love--the toughest--but it
had a tender core. While lying delirious in a bed at Hotel Dieu
Hospital in El Paso after his 1949 accident, Hogan gripped and
regripped an imaginary club and waved back to an imaginary
gallery. In 1965 he told the British writer Pat Ward-Thomas, "I
know that I have had greater satisfaction than anyone who ever
lived out of hitting golf shots." In 1991 he said, "I liked to
win, but more than anything I loved to play the way I wanted to
play."

That's why we loved Hogan. He showed us what true greatness
takes, and despite our pretensions to emulate him, what a
distinct man he was.

B/W PHOTO: HY PESKIN The man and his magic moment: Hogan's one-iron to the 72nd green at Merion in the 1950 U.S. Open. [Ben Hogan] B/W PHOTO: AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS Demaret (above, left) often teamed with Hogan, who was touched by the response to his car accident in '49. [Jimmy Demaret and Ben Hogan drink from the same glass through straws] B/W PHOTO [See caption above--people pushing stretcher carrying Ben Hogan]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)