|Ben Hogan (Cueto)|
As I researched and wrote THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open, I had ample Hogan material to guide me, notably the modern Hogan biographies penned by Curt Sampson and James Dodson.
But I also had the distinct pleasure of talking to several players who knew, watched and played with Hogan. I asked each of them for their impressions about the Hawk. Following is a generous portion of their comments and anecdotes, many of which are not recorded in THE LONGEST SHOT.
Errie Ball: Hogan was like Tiger Woods today, No. 1 player in the world, and everybody looked up to him. Ben was a great player.
(Ball, 101, played in the first Masters in 1934 and was a friend of Bobby Jones.)
Dow Finsterwald: At that time , whenever [Hogan] teed it up, he was certainly somebody who would have a marvelous chance to win. He just went all out for that type of tournament, the Open. His preparation was very thorough. Whereas a lot of guys would just come in and play two, maybe three, practice rounds, he’d go in a week ahead of time and do a lot of things in preparation…. I had played practice rounds and many matches prior to tournaments with Ben. I think the best description was he was a very private person. An example I try to give to exemplify that is we were invited to his home—maybe five or six players, Palmer, Souchak—to dinner at his home at Shady Oaks, which was in the late fifties. It was about a 4,000 square foot home, as I remember. He had one bedroom. One bedroom! He was always very courteous. If you asked him a question, he answered. I don’t recall him being much of a person to initiate conversation. He was a hard worker, as everyone knows. He hit a lot of golf balls, and [had a] great sense of concentration and keeping his mind on his work at hand.
(Finsterwald, 82, won 12 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1958 PGA Championship.)
Tommy Bolt: [Hogan] was the greatest player I ever played with. As a golfer, he could out concentrate anyone else. His concentration was better than anybody else. He just overpowered them with concentration. He kept his mind on what he was doing. That’s how he beat everybody. His mind never left his business….I thought Nicklaus was a great player but Hogan was just a little bit better than him.
(Bolt, who died in 2008, is a Hall of Famer whose 14 PGA Tour wins included the 1958 U.S. Open.)
Walker Inman Jr.: I remember at Colonial [Hogan] said hello on the first tee and we got a game and we decided we’d play a $10 Nassau. And that’s the last thing he said until we got through. That was in a practice round, yeah. He was just down the fairway on the green, down the fairway on the green. I kept making putts and he’d just look over and shake his head. My buddy [Ernie Vossler] and I won $40 off he and Bryon Nelson, so we played pretty good that day.
(Inman, 82, was the first Augusta, Georgia, native to play in the Masters and served as head professional for 37 years at Scioto Country Club, where Jack Nicklaus learned the game.)
Bob Rosburg: Everybody thought Hogan was kind of finished [in 1955]. They were wrong. He didn’t play bad [in the playoff], but, in fact, he played pretty damn good. But Fleck played another great round.
(Rosburg, who died in 2009, won the 1959 PGA Championship and was an ABC on-course commentator for more than three decades.)
Mike Krak: I knew [Hogan]—he was one of [Henry] Picard’s best friends. I followed him quite a bit at Augusta with Picard. I watched him play a lot at Seminole here, but I was never fortunate enough to be paired with him….Picard told me that his exact words to Hogan were don’t leave the tour. Guys were trying to talk him into going home to shorten his swing. And Picard said don’t leave the tour. You have the best swing out here. If you run into a financial problem, let me know. I’ll take care of it. I’ll back you. [Hogan] thought the world of Picard. When he won the British Open, he called Pic from Scotland right after he won it.
(Krak, 80 something, played the PGA Tour in the 1950s and was Director of Golf at PGA National Golf Club.)
Arnold Palmer: Well, I think we all respected his game. I was so fresh [in 1955] that I can’t really say too much about Hogan. He was a great player. That’s sort of the way it goes.
Larry Tomasino: When [Hogan] was here at Red Run, I used to go watch him practice. He was just a great player. All the players loved to watch him because his swing was so strong for a little guy. He was smooth. I’ll put it that way there. He was a smooth swinger. They all jump at it today, I think. His rhythm was real good. Gardner Dickinson played with him, Freddie Wampler—they copied his swing. Everybody did, really, to tell you the truth. When he first started, Frank Walsh helped him. He couldn’t get away from a hook. Frank Walsh down at Biltmore down in Florida tried to help him get out of—that’s what I was told—the hook. He’d hook a wedge for Christ’s sake, they say.
(Tomasino, 80 something, was a Michigan club pro who played the PGA Tour part time during the 1950s. He played with Jack Fleck during the first two rounds of the 1955 U.S. Open.)
Fred Hawkins: We used to play these Nassaus. As I said, [Hogan] wasn’t really bearing down like he was in a tournament. He was trying hard, but he’s working on changes that we all make to see if it was going to work in the tournament for him. I probably beat him as much as he beat me in the practice rounds. But he had a number of things that I thought were unusual. One would be he would come in and say, “How did we come out?” I’d say, “Don’t give me that stuff. You know damn well how we came out.” One of his favorite sayings was one time he came in and he said, “What did you shoot—50 what?” “50! I had 66.” “Anybody make that many putts ought to be in the 50s.” It burned him up.
(Hawkins, 88, played on the PGA Tour from 1947 to 1965. He won twice and finished tied for second in the 1958 Masters, when Arnold Palmer won his first Green Jacket.)
I just realized I forgot Shelley Mayfield, who played a regular game with Hogan in the 1960s. He’s gone now, but he had great stories. I’ll share them another time.