August 13, 1912 – July 29, 1997
On February 2, 1949, on a fog covered bridge near Van Horn, Texas, a Greyhound bus crossed the center divider and careened into the car Ben Hogan drove. At the last moment Hogan flung himself across his wife Valerie, saving her and his life too. Though alive, doctors told the golfer he might never walk again, let alone play.
Although it took Hogan fifty-nine days to recover from the wreck, he had encountered similar challenges throughout his life. Because of his father’s untimely death, a young Hogan had sold newspapers at the train station and by age 11 he began caddying at Glen Garden Country Club; Byron Nelson was a fellow caddy and would later become a close friend and tour rival.
Hogan entered his first professional tournament in 1930 but did not win until a decade later. He twice tried to make the pro circuit, but had not succeeded. Throughout, wife Valerie always believed in him, encouraging him to practice harder. Hogan did. He spent hours every day working with each club, trying to correct a hook that plagued his swing. Finally, his steely determination, iron will, and practice paid dividends during 1937 when Hogan won $285 in Oakland, thereby saving his career.
Hogan ultimately perfected his swing and won 68 tournaments. His career victories included nine major victories: four United States Opens, two PGA Championships and two Masters Championships, and the only British Open Championship he ever played. In 1953 he won five of the six tournaments he entered, including the first three major championships (Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open at Carnoustie). He twice achieved double-digit victories in one calendar year (13 in 1946, and 10 in 1948). During his 292 career tournaments, Hogan finished in the top ten 241 times, and in the top three during one-third of the tournaments he played. This is a winning percentage unmatched by even modern golfers.
Hogan’s golf demeanor did not play to the spectators. His aloofness, often mistaken for coolness, really masked his total concentration on the game. Often referred to as “The Hawk,” Hogan attentively watched other players and dissected their winning techniques. Such attention permitted Hogan to develop what has been termed the greatest golf swing ever. Yet the secret to his swing, as revealed in a 1955 Life magazine article, remains to this day one of the greatest debates of golf, even though he played his last event in 1971.