NEW YORK — Ben Hogan, known for his stone-face and white hat, a survivor of a crippling car crash, and a man who went on to become one of the greatest golfers ever, died today. He was 84.
The exact cause of Hogan’s death has yet to be determined. His secretary, Pat Martin, said that Hogan had colon cancer surgery two years ago and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Ben Hogan died at his home in Fort Worth, Texas.
In 1967, people knew they were witnessing the last great round of golf, by possibly the greatest golfer ever, and as he shuffled along, passing thousands of fans at the third round of the 1967 Masters, the crowd broke into a thunderous ovation 100 yards from the flag.
More than his nine major championship victories, more than the 30 tournaments he won from 1946 to 1948, more than sweeping the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953, more than coming back from the a crippling car accident that nearly took his life, that particular Masters personified what made Hogan special.
Hogan, just short of his 55th birthday, considerably past his prime and 14 years since his last major championship shot a 66 in the third round of the Masters, finishing the back nine with a brilliant 30.
Ben Hogan at the 1951
“I think I played the best nine holes of my life on those holes,” Hogan said years later. “I don’t think I came close to missing a shot.”
Despite the fact that he would never be challenged again in a tournament, Hogan was once again tempting perfection.
“Ben Hogan personified golf for many of us,” said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. “Perhaps no other player had the same impact on the way people approached playing the game.”
Hogan’s lifetime records alone argue well for his greatness — 63 victories, nine major championships, four U.S. Open titles, the career Grand Slam and the only person to win three professional Grand Slam events in a single season.
Hogan, at times, was considered a single-minded, surly man driven to master the game.
He had a difficult childhood, born in rural Dublin, Texas, on Aug. 13, 1912, and was 9 years old and in the room when his blacksmith father, Chester, committed suicide with a .45-caliber pistol.
After his father’s death, his mother, Clara, moved the family to Fort Worth where Hogan discovered golf as a caddie at Glen Garden Country Club at the age of 15. He lost the caddie championship in a playoff to another boy his age named Byron Nelson.
Hogan turned pro when he was 17 and joined the tour full time at the age of 19 in 1931 where he came close to bankruptcy several times until he won his first tournament at the Hershey Four-Ball in 1938, beginning one of the most dominating careers in golf.
Hogan’s mastery of the game took time. After years of fighting a severe right-to-left hook, Hogan finally decided to change his tactic with a controlled left-to-right game and started winning regularly at age 28. By the time Hogan reached 33, he had emerged as the greatest player in the world.
From the time of his discharge from the Army in August 1945 — just after his 33rd birthday — until the head-on car crash with a bus on Feb. 2, 1949, that almost killed him, Hogan won an astounding 37 tournaments, including two PGA Championships and a U.S. Open.
That achievement alone would have made him ninth on the all-time list.
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.
Hogan never played in more than seven tournaments in a single season after the car wreck. His legs simply couldn’t take it. Yet he would win 13 more tournaments — including six major championships.
In the 1930s and ’40s spending hours on the practice range was unheard of. But a typical Hogan day would begin with breakfast, practice, lunch and then more practice.
“What has given him his edge over the field?” sportswriter Grantland Rice once wrote. “I’ve seen Hogan finish a hard morning round, grab a sandwich, and then go out for an hour’s practice before starting the afternoon round.”
Asked once if Nicklaus might have been the greatest player ever, Tommy Bolt, who played against Hogan, said: “I’ve seen Nicklaus watch Hogan practice. I’ve never seen Hogan watch Nicklaus practice.”
While Hogan was known for his solitary dedication to the game of golf, it was his selfless effort to save his wife, Valerie, when their car collided with the bus that saved both of them.
Hogan, then 36, would have died from the accident had he not thrown himself across Valerie’s lap. He was left with shattered legs and almost died a few weeks later when blood clots formed in his left leg.
But Hogan returned to competitive golf less than a year later, losing the 1950 Los Angeles Open in a playoff to Sam Snead. He never played without pain again.
“His heart was simply not big enough to carry his legs any longer,” Rice, playing himself, said about the L.A. Open playoff in the Hogan biographical film Follow the Sun, starring Glenn Ford.
Hogan took the U.S. Open a mere 16 months after the accident, finishing the grueling 36-hole final day at Merion with his legs, bandaged from ankle to thigh, throbbing in pain, and then winning a playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio the next day.
Hogan’s final-round 67 in the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Mich., is regarded by many golf historians as one of the greatest rounds ever.
There was only one other sub-par round during the 72 holes of competition and the course played to an average score of 77.
“I’m glad I brought this course — this monster — to its knees,” Hogan said afterward.
By the mid-1950s Hogan had lost all confidence in his putting. Weakened by age — because of the accident he was an old 41 when he won the triple in 1953 — and with sight in his left eye diminished because of the wreck, Hogan never again had touch on the greens, costing him several more major championships.
He finished second in the Masters in ’54 and ’55 and was runner-up in the U.S. Open in ’55 and ’56.
Hogan’s last victory was the 1959 Colonial. In 1960, Hogan was tied for the lead in the U.S. Open until, gambling for the pin, he hit a ball that spun backward off the green and into the water on the next-to-last hole.
The tournament was won by Arnold Palmer with 20-year-old Nicklaus finishing second. Hogan had passed the title of Greatest in the Game to a new generation.
He never played on the Senior tour. It would have been too much of a step down for a man whose only standard for the game was greatness.
Hogan will be remembered for many things, the stoic stare, the deliberate concentration, cigarette to his lips, the perfect, repeating swing time after time, the silent shuffle from shot to shot were images that will remain forever in the mind of anyone who saw him play the game he tried to perfect.
Hogan will also be remembered for his ability to deliver a line that reflected his intensity, such as when the runner-up of the 1951 U.S. Open congratulated him on his win and he replied, “Thanks. Where did you finish?”
He is survived by his wife of 62 years.