REMEMBERING BEN HOGAN
July 25, 1997
A look back at the life and career of golf legend Ben Hogan.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight, remembering golfer Ben Hogan. Ben Hogan began his golf career at the age of 19, after working as a young caddy at a country club in Ft. Worth, Texas. It took him seven years to win his first tournament in 1938. He served in the army during World War II and then returned to the fairways, capturing his first major championship in 1946. After that, he racked up 63 victories, including nine major championships. One of his toughest competitors was Byron Nelson.
BYRON NELSON, Former Professional Golfer: Ben's a great friend of mine, and he, in my book, is the greatest golfer that ever lived. There's been some good ones, but he is really a dedicated--he was a dedicated man, and he accomplished what he started out to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: After a near fatal car accident in 1949 shattered both his legs, Hogan came back to the tour to win six more major tournaments and in 1953 became the first and only player to win the British Open, the Masters, and the U.S. Open, all in the same year. Hogan's silence on the golf course, his trademark white hat, and his ability to make the impossible shot all became part of his legend.
JACK NICKLAUS, Professional Golfer: I thought Ben Hogan as a shot maker has been unparalleled in the game of golf. I don't think anybody worked at it as hard as Hogan did. You have a lot of guys that work hard, but I think Hogan came to the game and excelled in hard work, perseverance, determination, and the will to succeed. And I've got a tremendous respect for that, and I have a tremendous respect for Ben Hogan.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Hogan ended his professional career in 1971. For more about him we turn now to Jaime Diaz, a senior golf writer for "Sports Illustrated." Thanks for being with us, Mr. Diaz.
JAIME DIAZ, Sports Illustrated: Thank you.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ben Hogan brought something different to the game of golf than had been there before, didn't he?
JAIME DIAZ: Yes, he did. He sort of invented practice. He sort of invented the pursuit of perfection. His method became one that after his best days were over, is one that for 20 years became sort of the standard that players sought after and tried to copy.
And until recently really, they still did. In a way now it's been considered that Hogan basically was a genius and trying to copy him really was not the way to go. Gary Player finally gave up. He was one who emulated Ben as much as anyone and finally said, you know, the man was a genius; he was a gymnast; I can't do what he did.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell us about that method. Tell us what he did. It's amazing to hear both Jack Nicklaus and Byron Nelson says he was the best golfer that ever was.
JAIME DIAZ: Well, Hogan had a tremendous athleticism, sort of similar to what Tiger Woods has now. He had a tremendous speed in his lower body that went through the ball, and he also had kind of a whiplash, kind of hitting action, with the club that was really distinctive. And it created tremendous contact. He was a small man. He was only 5'7" and 135 [pounds] in his prime.
And yet, the ball flight was perfect, and, you know, that's what the connoisseurs of the game sort of say. They'd watch Hogan hit it, and there was something intangible, but something very discernible that he really appreciated. It was something that was really genius.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is it true that people could turn their back and just hear the way the ball--the club hit the ball and know it was him?
JAIME DIAZ: Yes. There is a lot to be said for the sound of the golf ball. And people who hang around practice ranges and watch the best players can tell. There are players who make a better sound. Lee Trevino makes an incredible sound with his shots. Tiger Woods's shots are very distinctive also. And Ben Hogan--from what I've heard--I never had the pleasure of seeing him hit the ball, but from Ben Crenshaw, who's a great connoisseur of esthetics, he said Hogan's--his sound and the flight was very, very unique.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell us about him. Where did he come from? How did he learn golf?
JAIME DIAZ: Well, I think he learned golf through expedience because he was very poor. Unfortunately, he had a very difficult childhood, but maybe that's what steeled him. There's a story--it's never been verified--that he watched his father's suicide when he was about nine years old. At least, he was in the room when his father committed suicide.
After that, he became a caddy because that was the only way he could make some money. And he was an athlete. He was very gifted. And he took on golf. But it was not easy for him at all. When he first started, Byron Nelson was a caddy along with him, and Byron used to beat him pretty regularly. And Ben's first 10 years on the tour were very difficult. He went broke a couple of times.
I think that resilience is what really also creates so much admiration for him because the game is very difficult. And Hogan took it on with as little--as few advantages as anyone. And yet, he persevered and he--he never, ever gave into the game. He always sacrificed everything for the game, and those extreme parts of his personality--the hardness and the pith--he never said anything to many people, other than very trusted people. Those were all part of the approach that he took to the game to totally commit himself to it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And then he had a terrible car accident. Tell us about that.
JAIME DIAZ: Well, he was--in 1949, he really found himself. He'd won three majors by that time--just won the U.S. Open in 1948, and then in 1949 early he was driving along a very foggy road in Texas and a Greyhound Bus came over the double line or came over the divider and hit his car. His wife was in the car. He threw himself in front of his wife, and that really saved probably both their lives, but his legs were really damaged severely. He had--his pelvis was broken. He had severe blood clots.
And they were saying, of course, that he wouldn't walk again; that he wouldn't play again. Within a year he was back and almost won his first tournament; lost in a playoff to Sam--at the Los Angeles Open, and then in that year, 1950, won the U.S. Open, and that's when his legend really started because he not only was a great golfer, but at that point he'd become a great character.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How did he do it? He'd been so injured, and he couldn't play as many tournaments as he would like to have, right? Each year, he limited the tournaments. Was he in pain the whole time he was playing?
JAIME DIAZ: From what I gather he has--he was in pain from that accident on, and it got more and more severe, and it bothered him all the way until his death. But, yes, he marshaled his energies, and he only played, as you say--the year he won the three majors--the Masters, Open, and PGA, he only played six tournaments, and he won five of them--excuse me--he didn't win the PGA--the British Open--so that he was a man who did everything with a purpose.
And he limped discernibly. His nerves were probably damaged by that accident because he became a very poor putter, especially from short distances, later in his career. He probably would have won three or four other opens.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: His final 67 in the 1951 tournament, U.S. Open at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Michigan, is considered by some golfers the greatest round ever played. Tell us about it.
JAIME DIAZ: Well, that golf course was kind of a landmark design change. They went away from having the U.S. Open being just a little tougher than most courses--to making it so hardly that they didn't think anybody was going to be able to break 70. And Hogan had a hard time breaking 70.
I think he opened with a 76, but he sort of chipped away and learned the golf course, and the final round he shot 67. On that golf course in those days with that equipment it probably is arguably the greatest golf round ever shot. And at the end he said, you know, I brought the monster to its knees. And that's a line that's lived, with a lot of his lines.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For people out there that don't know much about golf, explain and put into perspective the fact that he won those three very big tournaments in one year. How big of an achievement is that?
JAIME DIAZ: Well, no one's done it since, and you know, we have talked about Tiger Woods doing it; Jack Nicklaus came close. Bobby Jones won the grand slam that included the British Amateur and the U.S. Amateur, but no one has won the four professional tournaments, and Hogan may have won all four, but for a quirk of the schedule in ‘53. It was impossible to play both the British Open and the PGA, because the PGA was in the United States and the British Open obviously in Britain.
So he was good enough at that time, and he won those fairly easily, that he may have won all four. To put it in perspective, I think it's just the testimony to how much control he had of the ball and of himself, and he--everything coalesced in that year--all the experience and all the will, and that was his final tremendous triumph that year.
It's too bad that his body didn't have the energy to continue on because he probably had enough knowledge and enough skill had his body been strong enough to have years like that again.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Jaime Diaz, thanks for being with us.
JAIME DIAZ: Thank you.