Golf: Hogan the hero with an iron will

Tim Glover says the world of golf has just lost one of its greatest figures: Ben Hogan, gentleman and golfer: 1912-1997
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The Independent Online
Jack Nicklaus is generally regarded as the greatest golfer the game has seen, but many who remember Ben Hogan would beg to differ. When, in recent years, the hunger of Nick Faldo was not satisfied, he did not beat a path to Nicklaus's door; he took his bowl to Hogan's house. Tommy Bolt, a contemporary of both Americans, said: "All I know is, I've seen Nicklaus watch Hogan practise. I never seen Hogan watch Nicklaus practise."

Only four players - Hogan, Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player - have won all four major championships: the Masters, US Open, The Open, and the US PGA. Nicklaus has won a total of 18, twice as many as Hogan, but Hogie's Army would argue that he did not play in 20 majors when he was in his prime. From 1946-53 he won four US Opens, two Masters, two US PGAs and one Open.

William Ben Hogan was born in Dublin, Texas, on 13 August 1912. When he was nine, his father, plagued by health and money worries, shot himself. The family moved to Fort Worth where Ben began caddying at the Glen Garden Country Club with another 12-year-old by the name of Byron Nelson. Hogan turned pro in 1931 and failed to make a dollar on the circuit in his first two seasons. "My greatest accomplishment," he said later, "was to make a living playing golf after going broke twice."

Bobby Jones said of him: "I thought I was a hard worker, but Hogan's the hardest worker I've ever seen. His goal is never the green. It's the cup."

When Hogan returned to the tour in 1938 he won $380 at the Oakland Open. He was the Tour's leading moneywinner in 1940, 1941 and 1942, the year he lost an 18-hole play-off in the Masters to Nelson. After three years service in the Army Air Corps, he led the money list again in 1946, winning the first of his two US PGA titles. He and his white linen cap dominated golf for the next decade despite being involved in a shattering car accident.

In February 1949, after losing a play-off in the Phoenix Open (he had won 13 tournaments in 13 months) he and his wife Valerie were driving home to Fort Worth and crashed head-on into a Greyhound bus. Hogan, who threw himself across his wife to protect her, suffered, among other things, a double fracture of the pelvis.

Eleven months later, his legs bandaged, he lost a play-off to Sam Snead for the Los Angeles Open. Five months after that he won the US Open at Merion, enduring 36 holes on the Saturday before winning an 18-hole play- off on the Sunday. "It meant the most," he said, "because I proved I could still win."

The following year he won the US Open again, this time at Oakland Hills, which had, apparently, been redesigned by Robert Trent Jones to repel an armoured division: 66 new bunkers and fairways so narrow that the only way to walk down them was in single file. "I'm glad that I brought this monster to its knees," Hogan, who shot 67 in the final round, said.

When he won the US Open in 1953 it was his third in four years, his fourth in six. In America Hogan, possessed with the ultimate swing and technical perfection, was called The Hawk. When he won The Open at Carnoustie, with a 68 in the final round, the Scots called him The Wee Ice Man. He had a 100 per cent record in The Open, for it was his first and last visit. Having already won the Masters in 1953, it gave him a unique Triple Crown, but the prospect of the grandest of slams was denied him because the US PGA clashed with The Open.

A subsidiary tour in the US bears his name as, of course, does his clubmaking business. When Gary Player rang him from South Africa one night to ask about the position of the hands at the top of the swing, Hogan interrupted him.

"What clubs are you using?"

"Dunlop," Player replied.

"Then ask Mr Dunlop."

On his 75th birthday Hogan said: "I would like to be remembered as a gentleman first and next as a golfer. That's all."

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