Connect with us

Golf

How Ben Hogan became golf’s GOAT, nearly died, then climbed back to the top

Ben Hogan poses with his golf bag during a 1940s Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in April of the 1940s in Augusta, Georgia.

Ben Hogan poses with his golf bag during a 1940s Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in April of the 1940s in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Step carefully into the spanking new rad time machine and strap on your seatbelt. Don’t simply lay it limply on your lap now. Fasten it. Because you’re bounded for way WAY back to; get this: 1983. Yeah. Wow.

Back then, like other members of the Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Kris Tschetter was under strict orders: “Leave Mr. Hogan alone.”

That would be golfing legend Ben Hogan, of course, also a member of the club then.

Yep, he was considered the man.

“Shady Oaks really tried to protect him so, at first, I did leave him alone.” Brief, but meaningful pause. “Sort of,” chuckled Tschetter, who was 18 at the time.

‘Sort of’ says it all. Because before long, the embargo, as far as she was concerned, dissolved, especially after Tschetter, author of Mr. Hogan, the Man I knew, published in 2010, decided it was crazy to say hello to every other man who walked by and then pretend she didn’t see Hogan.

Pretending, thought Tschetter, like Trix cereal, was for kids.

So, Tschetter, heaved her version of a blistering Hail Mary, and get this: engaged Hogan in conversation.

When she met him, Tschetter, who’s been an LPGA touring professional since 1988 and is now playing on The Legends Tour, didn’t know much of Hogan’s history. “I knew he was a legend, but just didn’t know why. To me, he was just my friend who would toss me Snickers on his way out to hit balls.” When she first met Hogan, he’d take a club and three balls and go out for exercise, she said. “Sometimes, he would stop and give me a few pointers. Then he started hitting balls again. Eventually,” she continued, “it got to where I’d let him know when I was at the course and he’d come out with his shag bag. We’d watch each other hit, go pick them up and hit them again. I never asked him to come out; I just let him know I was there and most days he joined me.”

Now, despite Tschetter’s boldness (although she’d probably merely tap on the shrug emoji), on the face of it, the club’s kid gloves treatment of Hogan seemed logical enough. After all, non hyperbolically speaking, on the golf circuit, he was, well, legendary – especially for his uncanny accuracy and seemingly unlikely strength, said Larry Miller, author of Ben Hogan’s Secret Fundamental, published in 2017. “Most of the time, he could place the ball within 10 yards of his target — with any club in the bag. That’s why he was so dominant.”

Then there was the way he could muscle up the ball despite being only around 5-7, 150 pounds, said Miller. “He had very deceptive power for a guy his size. He was one of the longest players on the tour — if not the longest — of his time. It was due to the unusual degree of flexibility in his joints, especially his right hand. Because of that, he could create an extraordinary amount of lag in his golf swing,” said Miller, who gained significant insight about Hogan from Tommy Bolt, a professional golfer and Hogan’s student. Bolt told Miller everything he knew about Hogan, said Miller.

All that said, to many, Hogan probably seemed every bit like someone who relished the escape from the admiring eyes and intruding reporters (ahem; why, I don’t know what you mean) the club presumably provided.

Ben Hogan is shown swinging his golf club during a three-way playoff

Making one of the most spectacular comebacks in modern sports history, Ben Hogan is shown swinging his golf club during a three-way playoff, for the U.S. Open Golf Championship with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio. Bettman/Getty Images

But even today, there’s no escaping his celeb. For example, the Golf Channel’s running a new special on his story. They don’t do those for just anyone, you know. You and me, for instance? Pfffft.

Let’s go to a brief highlight reel of Hogan’s career superiority that helped propel his songs of praise.

According to Golf.com, Hogan’s major championships included:

Ben Hogan’s Major Championships

  • 1951 Masters: Hogan wins his first Masters
  • 1953 Masters: Hogan wins his second Green Jacket
  • 1948 U.S. Open: Hogan wins the Open
  • 1950 U.S. Open: Hogan wins his second Open
  • 1951 U.S. Open: Hogan captures his third U.S. Open
  • 1953 U.S. Open: Hogan wins fourth Open at Oakmont
  • 1953 British Open: Huge Crowds Watch Hogan Take The Open Title In Style
  • 1946 PGA Championship: The Veterans Return Home
  • 1948 PGA Championship: Hogan’s last stand

Sometimes, ruts like those are downright inescapable. Although, on the golf course, Hogan regularly seemed to dodge those suckers.

Now, speaking of Hogan’s strength, he had to muster every bit of it to persevere after an accident in 1949 left him critically injured, according to Smithsonian magazine. In fact, word that he’d succumbed had spread. It was a motherlode for Hogan to cope with.

Which brings us to his inspirational comeback, a grind that was all about baby steps, according to Miller. “It was nothing short of miraculous. Doctors originally not only said he might not ever walk again, but that he wouldn’t play golf.” Undaunted, Hogan set out to prove them wrong, said Miller. This, certainly, was no time for traps or ruts.

So, prove them wrong, he did. First, by walking around his hospital bed once, said Miller. Then he did it two, three, four and many more times over, until he was walking down the hall. “It goes to show if you make little goals all the time, it keeps expanding into big goals.” One year later, “to show you how remarkable it was, he won the Riviera tournament.”

Zowee.

However, Hogan confided to her that he never hit the ball as well after his accident as he did before. “Not even close. He said he was able to manage his game better, but he was never able to hit as many balls as he once had.”

Yeah, well, try telling that to his fellow golfers, especially since his percentage of wins versus the number of tournaments in which he played was “unbelievable,” said Miller. “He was kind of like Tiger (Woods) back in the early 2000’s when he was on his run,” racking up a slew of tournament victories. “He had that stretch where he was real dominant, but Hogan was like that most of his career after the accident. He probably won at least 70 percent of tourneys he entered after his accident.”

Mrs. Valerie Hogan stands at the bedside of her husband, pro golfer Ben Hogan, as he rests in his hospital bed at El Paso.

Mrs. Valerie Hogan stands at the bedside of her husband, pro golfer Ben Hogan, as he rests in his hospital bed at El Paso. Bettman/Getty Images

No one was more awed by Hogan than Woods. “One of the greatest comebacks in all of sports is the gentleman who won here, Mr. Hogan,” said Woods, according to the April 15 Fort Worth Post Telegram. “I mean, he got hit by a bus and came back and won major championships. The pain he had to endure, the things he had to do just to play, the wrapping of the leg, all the hot tubs, and just how hard it was for him to walk, period. … One of the greatest comebacks there is and it happens to be in our sport.”

Which probably helps explain why Miller said among Hogan’s greatest contributions to the game were his performances and extraordinary record. “He contributed a lot to modern evolution of game, not only with his technique, but with his equipment and innovations.”

Yet, for all his accomplishments and oglers, one thing Hogan got a bad rap for, said Miller, was his seemingly gruff personality when he competed. “On the golf course, he was all business. The golf course was his office and it came off as his being standoffish, cold and rude.” But that wasn’t him at all, said Miller, who said that, personally, Hogan was very charitable. “People would never know it, because when he made a charitable contribution or gesture, he demanded it not be publicized.”

Tschetter, however, said Hogan told her he couldn’t talk to people on the golf course. “He was afraid he’d get interested in what they were saying and lose his focus. I would hear stories about him not talking to people on the golf course but, that wasn’t the man I knew. When we’d be out practicing, I’d talk non-stop.” She asked him questions commented after every shot, with no sense of his reputation. “I’d like to think I’d have been a little more careful and quieter if I’d known.” Pause. “But probably not,” Tschetter laughed.

More in Golf