Ben Hogan is arguably one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game; his life and legacy have continued to live on through the contributions he made to golf, in particular golf instruction and golf club design.
Hogan, who was born in Dublin, Texas, on August 13th, 1912, was the son of Chester Hogan, a renowned blacksmith. Early on, Ben moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where at the age of 12, he started working part-time as a golf caddy; this foray into the game led Hogan to fall in love with golf. Hogan, who was a lefty, was forced to switch hands because he could not find left-handed golf clubs to use.
Amazingly, when Hogan turned pro at 17, he had one of the worst hooks going around, but that didn’t stop him, as less than two years later, he became a full-time member on the Pro Tour; even the best players face adversity and Hogan faced more than his fair share.
Hogan’s first foray onto the tour was a disaster which ultimately led him to take time away from the sport. Ben returned to the tour two years later, in 1937 but again fell short of his loft goals. It wasn’t until a few years later that he finally began to start making money on tour, albeit only enough to get to the next tournament. But as you’ll learn, Ben Hogan was a fighter, and it wasn’t long before his prizemoney checks grew in size, and in 1940, 41, and 42, was the leading prizemoney winner on tour.
Hogan served in the Army during the Second World War. After the war ended, he returned to the tour to win his first major championship in 1946, capturing the PGA Championships. In 1948 Hogan captured his second and third major championships, the PGA and the US Open.
Hogan eventually got his ball flight under control and went from being a player with a vicious right-to-left ball flight to a golfer with a slight fade; this, coupled with his high IQ course management and shot selection, was a springboard for his success.
In February of 1949, Hogan’s life nearly ended when the Cadillac he was driving was hit head-on by a Greyhound bus about 100 miles from El Paso, Texas. Ben’s wife Valerie was also in the car but only received minor injuries. Ben lunged in front of her saving her life but took the full brunt of the impact. The doctors said Ben would never walk again; miraculously, Hogan walked out of the hospital 59 days later, and as they say, the rest is history.
The Early Life of Ben Hogan
Ben was born to Clara and Chester Hogan in Texas and was the youngest of three children. Ben’s father worked close by the family home as a blacksmith until 1921, when the family then moved about 50 miles from Fort Worth.
Tragically in 1922, Ben’s father committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot, and by some accounts, Ben was present when his dad pulled the trigger. According to Ben Hogan’s biographer, James Dodson, Ben was indeed present on that tragic day and cited the horrific indecent as the reason Hogan was extremely introverted.
Following his father’s suicide, the Hogan family suffered severe financial hardships, and Ben and his two brothers helped out their mom the best they could by taking part-time jobs before and after school. Ben’s older brother actually left school at only 14 years of age. He took a job as an office supplies deliveryman, while Ben found a job delivering and selling newspapers at the local train station.
One of Hogan’s friends had told him about the Glen Garden Country Club and how they were seeking caddies to help out through the busy summer holiday period. The course was only a few miles from the Hogans family home, so Ben jumped at the chance. Remarkably one of his fellow caddies was Byron Nelson, who, as you know, along with Hogan, became one of the 5 greatest golfers of all time.
In 1927 the Glen Garden Country club hosted the annual Christmas Caddy Tournament, which both Hogan and Nelson entered. At the time, both were 15 yo, and the tournament turned out to be a turning point for Nelson. He pipped Hogan by a stroke to win the grand prize, a Junior Membership. It was a big deal for Nelson because the club only rewarded one membership annually.
The tournament was a cliffhanger, though, going into a 9-hole playoff in which Nelson sank a 30-footer on the final hole to capture the title. After the loss, Hogan was forced to find another caddying job because the club did not allow caddies aged 16 years and older. Luckily for Hogan, he found three other clubs where he continued to caddy and hone his golfing skills; The Katy Lake Golf G.C., Worth Hills Country Club, and the Z-Boaz C.C.
Hogan Joins the Professional Golf Tour
In his senior year, Ben Hogan left Central High School in the last semester, and just a few months shy of his 18th birthday, Hogan turned pro at the Texas Open’s PGA Tour event. During the mid-1920s, Ben met his wife Valerie Fox at Sunday School, and it wasn’t until 1932, that they met again.
Three years later, in 1935, the two tied the knot at Valerie’s family home. As any pro can attest to, the first few years on tour can be rough, and that was precisely the case for Hogan, who found himself stone-cold broke on multiple occasions. It wasn’t until five years later, in 1940, that Hogan captured his first tour event, and he didn’t stop there; Ben won the next three tournaments in a row in North Carolina, and that set the stage for what would be an illustrious career.
Valerie was Ben’s biggest supporter along the way, especially during the ten years when he struggled to get his hooking ball flight under control. She never lost belief in Ben and was by his side for his first victory. In 1938 Ben was the leading money winner on tour, but he decided to take a position as an assistant pro at the prestigious Century Country Club in New York despite this achievement.
In 1941, Ben and Valerie moved to Pennsylvania, where he was finally offered a Head Professional position at the Hershey Country Club.
Ben and the Golf Swing
Despite Hogan’s early trouble with this hook ball flight, he became known as the greatest ball-striker ever to play the game. Although Hogan won a whopping 64 PGA titles, his ball-striking ability has left a long-lasting legacy.
It was no wonder that Hogan overcame his early hooking problem and went on to become the greatest ball-striker ever to play. His peers recognized him as the hardest working golfer they’d ever seen, and many thought that he had actually invented practice.
Hogan said about his practice routine,
“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but I enjoyed myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so that 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.”
Hogan is also recognized as being the first golfer to start tracking how far he hit each club and was meticulous in his methods. Hogan was also one of the first golfers to begin keeping a yardage book out on the course and make notes on specific yardages, such as how far certain trees and bunkers were from the tee or green; these exact yardages helped Hogan dial in his distance control.
The golf swing is an incredibly complex and frustrating technical movement, and nobody knew this better than Ben Hogan. He spent the vast majority of his playing career tinkering with his swing and, on a few occasions, even completely rebuilding it from the ground up. His ability to think outside the box, coupled with his revered work ethic, were the reasons for his success.
As mentioned, Hogan struggled in his early playing days with a hooking ball flight and went by the nickname “bantam,” which he disliked with a passion. Standing only 5’8″ and weighing a slight 150 lbs, Hogan always felt the need to “outwork” his peers; his work ethic was not only on the golf course but in the gym and the kitchen. Hogan also competed and won numerous long-drive competitions because of his strength, physical prowess, and flawless swing.
Many golfing experts believe that Hogan switched from a “weak” grip to a “strong” grip after he underwent surgery due to the accident years earlier that nearly took his life. During practice, Hogan would use a “weak” grip, yet once the tournament started, he would change to a “stronger” grip; this left many of his colleagues baffled.
Byron Nelson said that, in his opinion, it was the combination of Hogan’s strong grip combined with his “hook” type swing that produced the perfect “fade” ball flight that Ben would later become known for. For a fade, Hogan’s ball flight was much lower than your typical players, and it was this lower flight that helped penetrate through the wind, resulting in long, pin-point drives.
Remarkably Hogan never wore a golf glove, neither in practice nor during tournament play. Moe Norman, often recognized as the other best ball-striker along with Hogan, also played without a glove. Tiger Woods, the greatest player of the modern era, is quoted as saying, “only Ben and Moe owned their golf swings.”
in 1974 at the Colonial National Invitational, Hogan was shadowed by the editor of the seminal instructional golf book, “The Golf Swing.” The editor ranked every shot Hogan hit during the four days of the tournament. Out of 281 shots, Hogan hit that week, the editor ranked all but two as either “well-executed” or “superbly executed.” After the tournament’s final day, the editor said, “it was difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of anybody hitting the ball better over a four-day span.”
Hogans Career Record and Major Championships
In 1948 Ben Hogan captured ten PGA Tittles, including the U.S. Open, which was played at the famed Riveria Country Club, which because of the unmatched success Ben had, also went by the name of “Hogan’s alley.’ Ben shot a record-breaking 8-under which was not broken until Jack Nicklaus matched the feat in 1980. Tiger Woods then smashed the record by shooting an incredible 12-under in 2000. Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka hold the current record at 16-under.
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Ben is the only player in history to have won ten titles on more than one occasion, winning 13 events in 1946 and 10 again in 1948. Hogan’s remarkable feats don’t stop there. He holds the longest streak for majors nearly won, finishing in the top five on 12 consecutive occasions between 1940 to 1947. From 1948 to 1953, Hogan won 8 out of the 11 majors he competed in, a record that he still holds to this day.
From 1941 to 1956, Ben finished in the top 10 at twelve consecutive U.S. Opens, another record that has yet to be broken. The amazing part is that Ben won five times by playing at twelve different courses.
The famed Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, was Hogan’s happy hunting ground after he won the title five times during his legendary career. The course is known among PGA Tour players as “Hogan’s Alley.” After Ben’s retirement, he made Colonial his home club and was a member until his passing. Avid golfers will also recognize the name “Hogan’s Alley” from the Par 5 at Carnoustie; Famously, Hogan cut the corner on the drive enabling him to reach the green in two while other players were struggling to reach in three.
Before Hogan’s life-threatening accident in 1949, he was far from a crowd favorite amongst the galleries. Many experts attribute this to his somewhat distant, introverted, and stand-offish personality. However, after his epic and heart-stirring comeback, he captured the hearts of the fans.
This was never more evident than his loss against Sam Snead just eleven months after his surgery, where he lost in a playoff. Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice said,
“His legs simply were not strong enough to carry his heart any longer,”
Many golfing fans and experts believe that Hogan’s feat of capturing twelve more PGA Tournaments is one of the greatest accomplishments not only in golf but in sports. Ben could hardly walk the course and looked in pain with every step he took. However, his huge heart, never say die attitude, and flawless swing catapulted him to the pinnacle of the sport. Of these twelve wins, remarkably 6 of them were majors.
My favorite Ben Hogan feat took place in 1951 when he only entered five events capturing three of them; The Masters, The U.S. Open, and the World Golf Championships. In his two other starts, he finished 2nd and 4th respectively, and although he only played five events, he finished 4th on the prizemoney list, only $6000 behind leader Lloyd Mangrum.
That same year in 1951, the film “Follow the Sun: The Ben Hogan Story” was released. Actor Glenn Ford played Hogan. In 1953 Ben traveled to the British Open for the first and only time, and in Ben Hogan style, he captured the title. Upon his return to New York, he was given a ticker-tape parade to celebrate his victory.
At the time, Hogan became only the second player to capture all four major championships. The Masters. U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship. The first to win all four majors was the legendary Gene Sarazen. To this day, Ben is still the only player in history to capture the Masters, British Open, and U.S. Open in a calendar year.
During the Masters in 1967, Ben, aged 54, shot 30 on the final nine holes, which is a record that stood for nearly 30 years until it was broken in 1992. Another notable record was Hogan shooting 27-under par during the Portland Open in 1945; the record stood until John Huston shot 28-under in 1998. The enigmatic Phil Mickelson also shot 28-under at the 2013 Waste Management Pheonix Open.
During his career, Hogan amassed earnings just shy of $350,000; however, in 2021, the PGA conducted a survey of past players and concluded that in today’s modern game, Hogan would’ve earned close to $92 million, placing him in the top five all-time earners.
Ben Hogan Golf Club and Equipment
Following Ben’s retirement, he established his famed golfing company Ben Hogan Golf Clubs, in 1953. The equipment was targeted toward making players better, and it’s believed that Hogan actually had the entire first run of production destroyed after the clubs failed to meet his lofty expectations.
Ben sold the company in 1960 to the American Machine and Foundry, although he continued to serve as the company chairman for many more years. For the next 25 years until 1985, Ben Hogan Golf Clubs flew off the shelf and quickly became one of the most popular brands in the golfing industry. In 1988 the company was sold to Cosmo World and then changed hands again in 1992 to a wealthy private investor Bill Goodwin.
Controversially, Goodwin moved the manufacturing process to Virginia to align with his other products. Goodwin subsequently sold the brand to Spalding in 1997 before finally, in 2004, the company was sold to Callaway Golf.
Sadly in 2008, Callaway stopped production of the Ben Hogan Golf Clubs after more than fifty years of successful sales. However, in 2014, Perry Ellis International sold the rights to Eidolon Brands for use in a range of Ben Hogan Golfing products.
The 18th Hole
In his later years, Hogan became extremely reclusive and rarely attended tournaments or official functions. After his last PGA Tour event in 1971, Hogan returned to Fort Worth, Texas, and became a member of the Colonial Country Club, the same course he had dominated during his career. When you walk into the lobby of Colonial, you’ll find a statue made in Hogan’s likeness.
In 1987 Hogan was hospitalized with pneumonia and lost almost 30 lbs which was life-threatening as he only weighed 140 lbs healthy. Ben was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and his wife Valerie stayed by his side until his death in 1997. Valerie died two years later, and the two are buried side-by-side.
Hogan captured 63 PGA Tour events, including nine majors, and was one of only four players to win all four majors. Ben’s career spanned more than fifty years, and although we live and play in a new era, his name continues to live on in the hearts and minds of all golfers.