Originally created 07/26/97

Golf great Ben Hogan dies at 84



Two-time Masters Tournament champion Ben Hogan, who died Friday at age 84, once had a golfer's ultimate dream.

Mr. Hogan was playing the round of his life, making unbelievable ace after ace on a regulation course, as the dream grew sweeter and sweeter. Perfection was near. Finally, the 18th hole came and Mr. Hogan soon bolted up in bed.

Wife Valerie was startled from her sleep, asking Ben what was wrong.

"I aced the first 17 holes," Mr. Hogan shot back, with anger in his voice. "Then I lipped out on 18."

So it went for William Ben Hogan, the ultimate golf machine and inspiration, who went by the nicknames "Bantam Ben," "The Hawk," and "Wee Ice Mon." Since his birth to a hard life in Dublin, Texas, on Aug. 13, 1912, Hogan had overcome numerous odds to become possibly the greatest golfer of his time.

Mr. Hogan, who had colon cancer surgery two years ago and Alzheimer's disease, had been confined to his home for nearly a year before suffering a major stroke on Thursday. The remnants of a near-fatal 1949 automobile crash, which nearly mangled his legs, also had a disabling effect as he grew older.

"Until a few months ago, he could go out for lunch and go out and see other people," Mr. Hogan's widow, Valerie, told The Augusta Chronicle in January. "We didn't regain any type of social life, but Ben was able to see people and take visitors. The last few months he really has not felt well."

Mr. Hogan won 63 professional titles, including nine major championships, four U.S. Open titles, two Masters, the career Grand Slam and was the only person to win three professional Grand Slam events in a single season, 1953. He could not compete in the final major that year, the PGA Championship, because it conflicted with his return from the British Open.

"The game of golf lost a legend that no one knew," said Mark Darnell, the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame secretary and head professional at West Lake Country Club in Martinez. "Ben Hogan worked harder, overcame, and achieved more that just about any athlete you can name. His legend will live on."

Much of Hogan's story is based in Augusta.

A Hogan sculpture, depicting the famous follow-through of his golf swing, was unveiled in January at the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame banquet at the Radisson Riverfront Hotel. The sculpture, for which Darnell consulted with sculptor William Behrends, stands behind the Radisson on the upper level of Riverwalk. The sculpture's club was vandalized a few months ago, but is now intact.

Hogan made quite an impact on the Masters, winning in 1951 and 1953 and finishing second a record-tying four times (1942, '46, '54 and '55). He last played in the tournament in 1967 when he shot a memorable third-round 66 that included a 30 on the back nine.

He returned to Augusta the last time for the 1978 champions dinner, an occasion he started in 1952 to recognize former champions. The dinner is held every year on Tuesday before the Masters begins, with the defending champion choosing the special dish on the menu.

Hogan Bridge, located to the left of the par-3 12th green at Augusta National, was dedicated on April 2, 1958, to honor Hogan's then-record score of 14-under-par 274 in 1953.

"Ben Hogan was a great champion, not only of the Masters, but in the world of golf," said Jackson T. Stephens, the chairman of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament. "Ben's determination and competitive spirit, on and off the golf course, will always be remembered in the history of golf."

Hogan's ball-striking ability made him a god for many of the professional golfers. They would watch him practice endlessly, some say until his hands bled, as they tried to find his secret. He played the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion with a 1-iron but no 7-iron, saying, "There are no 7-iron shots at Merion."

His concentration on the course in also legendary. Words were few between Mr. Hogan and playing partners, unless Mr. Hogan had to utter, "You're away."

In 1947, Mr. Hogan and playing partner Claude Harmon reached the par-3 12th hole in the Masters. Mr. Harmon made a hole-in-one, while Mr. Hogan made birdie. As they left the green, Mr. Hogan approached Mr. Harmon to seemingly offer congratulations.

"You know, that's the first birdie I ever made there," Mr. Hogan said.

Mr. Hogan's life was intense from the beginning. Ben was only age 9 and in the room when his blacksmith father, Chester, committed suicide with a .45-caliber pistol.

Shortly after, his mother, Clara, moved the family to Fort Worth and Hogan discovered golf as a caddie at Glen Garden Country Club where, at age 15, he lost the caddie championship in a playoff to another boy his age, Byron Nelson, who went on to win two Masters titles.

Hogan's 63 victories is third all-time to Sam Snead's 81 and Jack Nicklaus' 70. Only Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player also won the Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and British Open in their careers.

Only Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Willie Anderson matched Hogan's four U.S. Open victories.

And only Nicklaus with 18 and Walter Hagen with 11 won more major professional championships than Hogan (four U.S. Opens, two Masters, two PGAs and one British Open).

Beginning with his breakthrough major at the 1946 PGA Championship and ending with his British Open triumph at Carnoustie in 1953, Hogan played in 16 major championships and won nine. He won six of the first nine majors he played after the accident.

The crash occurred on a foggy highway in Texas on Feb. 2, 1949, as Ben and Valerie drove west to the next tournament. An oncoming bus slammed into the Hogan car. Ben's effort to dive over and save Valerie severely injured his legs, but saved his life as the steering column went through the driver's seat.

After that, Hogan never played in more than seven tournaments in a single season. His legs simply couldn't take it. Yet he would win 13 more tournaments - including six major championships.

Hogan is memorialized with a movie and two of the greatest golf books.

The 1950 movie, Follow The Sun, with Glenn Ford awkwardly portraying Hogan, depicts his return from the accident. His lesson book, Five Lessons, is acclaimed to be the best instruction book ever written. The 1996 book, Hogan, by Curt Sampson, was the most detailed story of Hogan's life and inspired Steve Jones to win the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Mich.