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The Story of Ben Hogan

William Ben Hogan (August 13, 1912 – July 25, 1997) was an American professional golfer who many consider to be one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Mr. Hogan is notable for his profound influence on golf swing theory and his legendary ball-striking ability. His nine career professional major championships tie him with Gary Player for fourth all-time, trailing only Jack Nicklaus (18), Tiger Woods (15) and Walter Hagen (11). He is one of only five players to have won all four majors: the Masters Tournament, The (British) Open, the U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship. Mr. Hogan's first major win came at age 34.

Ben Hogan’s ability to strike the ball was unparalleled.

Mr. Hogan was born in Stephenville, Texas, the third and youngest child of Chester and Clara (Williams) Hogan. His father was a blacksmith and the family lived ten miles southwest in Dublin until 1921, when they moved seventy miles northeast to Fort Worth. Mr. Hogan dropped out of Central High School during the final semester of his senior year of high school.

He turned pro in the golf industry six months shy of his 18th birthday at the Texas Open in San Antonio, in late January 1930. Mr. Hogan met Valerie Fox in Sunday school in Fort Worth in the mid-1920s, and they reacquainted in 1932 when he landed a low-paying club pro job in Cleburne, where her family had moved. They married in April 1935 at her parents' home.

Mr. Hogan's early years as a pro were very difficult; he went broke more than once. He did not win his first tournament (as an individual) until March 1940, when he won three consecutive events in North Carolina at age 27. Although it took a decade for Hogan to secure his first victory, his wife Valerie believed in him, and this helped see him through the tough years when he battled a hook that he later cured. Despite finishing 13th on the money list in 1938, Hogan took an assistant pro job at Century Country Club in Purchase, New York. He worked at Century as an assistant and then as the head pro until 1941, when he took the head pro job at Hershey Country Club in Hershey, Pennsylvania.


The "Triple Crown" season

The win at Carnoustie was only a part of Mr. Hogan's watershed 1953 season, a year in which he won five of the six tournaments he entered, including three major championships (a feat known as the Triple Crown of Golf). It still stands among the greatest single seasons in the history of professional golf.

Mr. Hogan, 40, 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 Open at Carnoustie (July 6–10), which he won. It was the only time that a golfer had won three major professional championships in a year until Tiger Woods won the final three majors in 2000 (and the first in 2001).

Mr. Hogan often declined to play in the PGA Championship; he skipped it more and more often as his career wore on. There were two reasons for this. First, the PGA Championship was, until 1958, a match play event, and Hogan's particular skill was "shooting 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 7-iron in the U.S. Open at Merion, saying "there are no 7-iron shots at Merion"). Second, the PGA required several days of 36 holes per day competition, and after his 1949 auto accident, Hogan struggled to manage more than 18 holes a day.

Career-threatening accident

The Greyhound crash

During Mr. Hogan's prime years of 1938 through 1959, he won 63 professional golf tournaments despite the interruption of his career by World War II and a near-fatal car accident.

Driving home to Fort Worth after a Monday playoff loss at the 1949 Phoenix Open, Mr. Hogan and his wife Valerie survived a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus east of Van Horn, Texas. Mr. Hogan threw himself across Valerie in order to protect her. He would have been killed had he not done so, because the steering column punctured the driver's seat of their new Cadillac sedan.

This accident left Hogan, age 36, with a double-fracture of the pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a left ankle fracture, a chipped rib, and near-fatal blood clots: he would suffer lifelong circulation problems and other physical limitations. His doctors said he might never walk again, let alone play golf competitively.

Mr. Hogan left the hospital on the first of April, 59 days after the accident, and returned to Fort Worth by train. Mr. Hogan regained his strength by extensive walking and resumed his golf activities in November 1949. He returned to the PGA Tour to start the 1950 season at the Los Angeles Open, where he tied with Sam Snead over 72 holes, but lost the 18-hole playoff, held over a week later (due to course conditions)

An Iconic Career

Mr. Hogan's golf swing

Ben Hogan is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest ball strikers who ever played golf. Although he had a formidable record with 64 PGA tour victories, it is Hogan's ball-striking ability that mostly underpins his modern reputation.

Mr. Hogan was known to practice more than any of his contemporary golfers and is said to have "invented practice". On this matter, Mr. Hogan himself said, "You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but... I was enjoying myself. I couldn't wait to get up in the morning, so I could hit balls. When I'm hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply, it's a joy that very few people experience.” He was also one of the first players to match particular clubs to yardages, or reference points around the course such as bunkers or trees, in order to improve his distance control.

Mr. 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.