From the Golf Journal Archives - Ben Hogan Talks Golf

Jan 21, 2011

In February, Lorena Ochoa will be honored with the USGA Bob Jones Award at the Association’s Annual Meeting. During the month of January, the USGA Museum is again featuring a series of classic Golf Journal articles about Bob Jones Award winners. The annual series continues with a look at the 1976 honoree, Ben Hogan.

Winner of the USGA’s Bob Jones Award for Sportsmanship, Ben Hogan is a rare example of courage and grace under pressure.

(Note: This article originally appeared in the June 1976 issue of Golf Journal.)

In January, Ben Hogan, making one of his rare public appearances, accepted the USGA’s Bob Jones Award at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the USGA, conducted at the Biltmore Hotel in New York. The Bob Jones Award is presented in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. Following are remarks by Eugene S. Pulliam, Chairman of the Bob Jones Award Committee, Ben Hogan’s acceptance speech and a portion of an interview Hogan gave after the ceremony.

You know the man we honor today needs no introduction to this or any golf audience, nor need there be any recitation of his magnificent record as a player and his successful battle against a variety of odds. There are a couple of stories that need telling that depict the man and not the legend.

“The mental picture in the memory that many have is that of a white cap, a cigarette, a so-called icy stare, called the Hawk and Bantam Ben (he didn’t like that one, it was an inaccurate as hell), Blue-blades and Wee Icemon. According to one source his conversation on the golf course consisted of the quote, ‘You’re away.’

“You know some of that may be reasonably accurate, but whether it is or not it’s a small part of the real story. Let me cite you a couple of examples – what he did in defeat and what happened in victory.

“In the 1955 Open at Olympic he finished with a 70 at 287, seemingly a winner. A fellow by the name of Jack Fleck played the last four holes two under par, (which I still think is impossible) with a 67 and it was a tie. The next day in the playoff Fleck was one shot ahead on the 18th tee. Ben hit a shot he had worked for 15 years to avoid, a duck hook. He made an impossible six, and he lost by three shots. Here’s how Herb Wind described the aftermath. ‘Hogan made a tremendous effort to get a smile onto his face as he walked over to congratulate the new champion. He managed to get that smile out and once he did ... A moment later, looking much more like himself, he was grinning easily and he was fanning Fleck’s hot putter with his cap when the photographers closed in. In victory he had never been more magnificent than he was that afternoon in defeat.’

“Now a happier and I think a totally unrecorded story. Playing his first and his only British Open, he stayed some miles away in a sizeable home which had a sizeable staff. And when he returned from the near perfect final round at Carnoustie, he had the Open trophy with him, the staff was lined up. Each one of them shook his hand, and then each began to recover from his golf bag the good luck tokens they had surreptitiously placed there. As many in this room do, I know the Scots. You cannot buy their loyalty or their friendship, and though they appreciate fine golf, as for those tokens in his bag – they are only for a gentlemen, a friend and a fine sportsman.

“Finally a quote from the man for whom this award was named, Bob Jones. Having played with Ben he wrote, ‘I have taken my share of beatings, so have all the others, but no one has ever taken a beating like Hogan takes it. You can say that ability to take punishment is part of winning golf.’ May I add that he took much punishment after that was written. He took it without complaint. He took it with dignity. A former left-hander, a former cross-hander and thank goodness a former newsman, a paper boy, the winner of the ‘76 Bob Jones Award, William Benjamin Hogan.”

“Thank you Mr. Pulliam, Mr. President, and ladies and gentlemen. I think this is the greatest honor that I have ever won or anyone else who has ever received it could win. I think there might be others who are more worthy but none who would be happier and more grateful than me.

“Bobby Jones was a friend of mine and I had an opportunity to play with him several times. He was one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever known in my life. He was of course one of the first who popularized the game around the world, along with the USGA.

“Their influence is very, very far reaching. As a matter of fact we want you to know that they will have a golf course in Russia, of all places. Trent Jones was commissioned to build them a golf course over there. They told Trent that they wanted a championship golf course, but one that somebody could play. So Trent accepted the challenge and went over and built this golf course which is now in the works.

“Well, anecdotes aside, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted for this award. These things have a way of growing on people, not just me but everyone else. This is for sportsmanship. Every golfer, in my estimation, is a sportsman and they telegraph that not only in golf but in other sports also. This is the thing I think the United States needs and I think the thing that the world needs. And if Bobby Jones had anything to do with the world situation and sportsmanship, it would be a serene place for everyone to live. Thanks, again, and I am so very grateful.

Q: Ben, what do you think of all the money, the TV exposure and everything the pros are getting?

Hogan: Well, I think it’s a wonderful, great thing. Golf is increasing all the time, the enthusiasm is increasing, we have more players, we have more golf courses, and in some cases we don’t have enough golf courses. In some places they’ll grow to it. I think it’s wonderful. I see the money lists year by year, and then the composite one, over the years. It’s a big list about that long and my name’s not on there. They didn’t have enough paper. Which is all right because I enjoyed every minute of what I was doing. Sure we had to have money but I’ve got some pleasure out of my life, even what I’m doing now. That makes no difference to me.

Q: Mr. Hogan you said once, or you were recorded once as saying, that if you ever wrote another instruction book it would have to be about so thick. Do you have plans on writing such a book? Hogan: I don’t think I’m going to live that long. I think one should be written. For one, it’s to stop the mail I get about the other two. Maybe you could refer them to a page in the new one that would answer their question.

Q: Ben, in your whole long career in the area of sportsmanship where you always had the ability to use perfectly accurate control, when you think back, what were some of the hard moments for you to keep this wonderful level that you’ve maintained throughout, under all sorts of pressures, and what were your happiest moments, too, at the same time?
Hogan: Well, to answer your first question, the game of golf is a game of emotion. If you can’t control your emotions, you can’t play golf. There’s nice things that happen and some things that rub you a little bit at times. So you have to just brush those aside, otherwise you take it right into your swing and your thinking on the golf course. It will disturb and disrupt your pattern, in my belief. I’ve had so many good things happen to me, you're not going to live long enough to hear them all.

Q: When we think of your championships we know how hard you fought to win in 1951 over here – tremendous will power and you deserved it there. And also in 1953 at Carnoustie where you had to change your method of taking the ball. It’s not only management, which of course it is, but also it takes a point of view, doesn’t it, to do these things? Which is all part of what we’re hearing and talking about today a little bit, the understanding of golf?
Hogan: Yes, that’s right. I think each and every golfer should have an understanding of the whole spectrum since golf started, at least some knowledge. I think you should read. I think you get a better feel for golf and what’s trying to be projected, not only through tournaments, but just an occasional round of golf. Golf is supposed to be a pleasurable game and whoever plays it and what level of skill, he should enjoy it and appreciate it. I think you will appreciate it more if you have background and knowledge. You do have to have plans and you point to those plans, whether you know it or not, at least you should. You’re talking about the golf tournaments like Carnoustie?
Q: Yes.
Hogan: All right. I was called by Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour and Bobby Cruickshank. They told me I had to go over there and play, even though I might not win, to complete my career. Well, I thought that was extremely nice of those fellows to do this and I took them up on it. I went over there, and after I got there and saw the conditions of the golf course and the transition that I had to make to play any kind of decent golf, I said to myself, “I’ve made a mistake by coming.” Every day it got tougher because the tournament was coming on and I wasn’t ready and I couldn’t seem to prepare myself. They have different turfs over there. I call it fescue grass in the fairways, even though we have played in a little fescue around here. But it’s a different type of golf shot entirely and you have to play a different type of golf over there entirely than we play over here. It’s just like night and day. Their courses, I believe, in the majority, are tougher than ours. They have so many strong penalties over there in case you miss, where over here you can sacrifice and get a bogey. Although it was wet and cold, the fairways were very firm. After about four days I found that I had lost two or three degrees in every one of my irons. I had to take them over to a golf shop and bend the loft back on them because I’d get a divot about right there and it wouldn’t come out like ours does, you know. This thing just wouldn’t go. It was just too tough.

Therefore, as we spoke before, I had to train myself to pick this ball a little more and that’s not a simple thing to do in about a week. Luckily enough, it kept raining off and on almost all the time and especially the morning of the first day of the tournament. We had a pretty good rain, and of course it would help soften the fairways. It helped me quite a lot because our fairways here are much softer and much easier to take a divot and get the flight of the ball that you want. Well, the rest of its history.

Q: Could you retrace your association with Bobby Jones, when you first met? Maybe revisit a round or two that you played with him that sticks in your memory?
Hogan: I can’t recall the first time we met and where it was, but I played several rounds with him, not a great deal, but I played oh, three or four or five rounds with him at Augusta. I played with him the last two rounds in the Hale America Open in Chicago. I believe those were the only two places I played with him. And at that time of course he’d retired and wasn’t playing as well. Bobby, this is just my opinion, just my observation, when he went from wooden shafts to steel shafts he had less torque of course, and he’d trained himself with wooden shafts, which have the greatest torque. He was a very excellent player with wooden shafts, probably the best we’ve ever known. The record proves it. But when he got steel shafts, he didn’t get the torque and he hooked too much, I’m not criticizing, I’m just making statements of my own views. He was still a good player. Of course at that time he’d quit playing. And he was a perfect gentleman. Very easy to play with.

Q: Yet he was a very fiery competitor?
Hogan: He must have been a tenacious competitor.

Q: Doesn’t that go with being a champion? I mean especially if you win more than one championship, it requires a certain amount of energy. If you’re not pretty tenacious you’re not going to be there in the first place.
Hogan: Well, yes, I think so. If you go to a golf tournament you better play as hard as you can. That’s what you’re there for, to play golf.

Q: Mr. Hogan, after playing competitive golf and concentrating so much, when you play for pleasure, do you still have the same competitive spirit, are you still thinking in the same vein?
Hogan: Yes, I do. I’m a little more lackadaisical with my shots. But between my ears I think I’m still thinking the same thing. And I get no pleasure out of playing badly. I hit a lot of golf balls when the weather’s good. I used to not go out until the weather was 60 and now I don’t go out until it’s 70. Maybe next year I won’t go out until it’s 80. I played about four or five rounds last year and I haven’t hit a ball this winter. When the weather gets up to about 65 or 70, I’ll be out there practicing every day. I love that.

Q: You love to practice?
Hogan: Oh, yes.

Q: You love the practice more than the play, really?
Hogan: Yes, I do. I love to tinker around with things, experiment, find out what’s good and bad.

Q: Do you miss not being involved in tournament golf these days, Ben, as a player, sponsor, TV commentator or the like?
Hogan: Oh, no, that sort of thing is not for me.
Q: Not for you?
Hogan: No. I think you need professionals to do a professional job. I’m not a professional commentator and I’d be just terrible. And I would say some things. So I’ll stay away from that as long as I can.

“Bobby Jones was a friend of mine and I had an opportunity to play with him several times. He was one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever known in my life. He was of course one of the first who popularized the game around the world, along with the USGA.” (USGA Museum)

“If you go to a golf tournament you better play as hard as you can. That’s what you’re there for, to play golf.” (USGA Museum)

“The game of golf is a game of emotion. If you can’t control your emotions, you can’t play golf.” (USGA Museum)