Saturday, July 20, 2019

Ben Hogan: Perseverance and Perfection

The Open Championship is underway at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. Though I am partial to The Masters, and in some years, the US Open, I do recognize the significance and import of what a golf purist would say is THE major of the year. To J.V. fans, it is The British Open, but to those who know otherwise, it is The Open Championship. It needs no other descriptor. 

The colors of the R&A, the time change and the traditional links style courses make for a different fan experience on this side of the pond. While compare and contrast always sharpens our vision, so too does an understanding and appreciation for the history of the game, the players and its past. And so I would like to offer a profile on one of golf's greatest, Ben Hogan. 
Hy Peskin film. Whether it's a 1-iron or a 2-iron is up for debate...
Hogan's name might be familiar for a number of reasons. Long after his 20+ professional career, he designed golf clubs and wrote Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. Next to Harvey Penick's Little Red Book, "Five Lessons" is perhaps the most widely read golf tutorial ever written. In 2013, when the US Open returned to Merion, a photo resurfaced everywhere. I should have. The photographer, Hy Peskin, who captured JFK and Jackie on their sailboat and a great solo shot of Mickey Mantle, admitted that the famed approach shot during the fourth and final round on 18, was his best. While most people hustled to the green, Peskin stayed back. We are grateful his did. The result is a terrific composition depicting grace in a historic moment. 
Whether or not that is why you have heard of Ben Hogan, the primary reason one ought to know about him is captured by Daniel Rapaport of Sports Illustrated. He writes,
When Tiger Woods when the Masters in April, it sealed one of the great comebacks in golf history. But, it hardly compared to Ben Hogan's resurgence nearly 70 years ago, when he won six majors after his car collided head-on with a Greyhound bus—he broke his pelvis, collarbone, ankle and ribs and developed near fatal blood clots. 
It is undeniably the greatest comebacks in all of sports history. To compare what Hogan overcame vs. Woods, is a near insult. Watching the two hour film: Hogan: Perseverance and Perfection will reveal how and why.

Sports Illustrated profiled the film in "Gameplan: The Smart Guide to Right Now." It said

A new film cuts through the mystique surrounding Ben Hogan, the icon who made golf's greatest comeback.

That accident only added to the mystique surrounding Hogan, the subject of a tw0-part documentary. He has long been shrouded in ethereal, but the film offers a revealing look at the legend, showing how he cultivated his iconic swing and parsing his complicated relationship with friendly rival, Byron Nelson. "Ben Hogan is god," former pro Charles Coody says in the documentary. "He's the supreme being as far as golf is concerned. Among those interviewed is another iconic golf figure, the late SI writer, Dan Jenkins, who knew Hogan well and covered the Texan's first Masters win in 1951.
Whether or not one is a golf fan, regardless of your appreciation for history, there is so much to learn about Hogan's great life. Here are but a few nuggets I gained from watching.

"I invented practice."
Far too much attention is given to Allen Iverson and his questioning of practice. Hogan knew of its importance and was committed to it. He said "The only way I could beat them, was to work harder than them. They would work two hours a day and I would work eight." The fruit of practice was his unshakable confidence. He played without fear. Hogan knew what he could do and how he could get to the pin. How? Why? He invented practice.

A Man of Many Words....not so much

Compared to his affable, friendly rival Byron Nelson, Hogan was quiet and serious. He was known for saying little. So little that on opponent shared "the only thing he said to me during a round was 'you're away'."  He didn't settle for imperfection. He asked his caddy for the distance to the pin, only to hear "117...118." In total seriousness Hogan replied "well what is it?" I don't know who we can compare Hogan to today. I wonder if the media would let him be....Would I be fan? My perspective is retrospective, but I'm intrigued.

In saving his wife's life, he saved his own
Driving on a highway between low lying fog inhibited driver visibility. A Greyhound bus sought to pass a truck on the open highway and in the process caused a head on collision. Hogan leaned over to shield his wife Valerie from the blow. In doing that, he saved his own life.

Christianity is rooted in the Pascal Mystery. In death: there is new life. Though Hogan did not die, he was willing to do that to save his beloved. Which leads to the next point....

He drove himself to recover.
A lifetime of disciplined practice paid dividends. Hogan had to learn to walk gain and did so with just 10 steps a day. Ten made way for 20 and 20 made way for 50. He had surgeries and he was in pain for the rest of his life. And still, he made a historic comeback in 11 months time.  As one responded said, "Here was a guy that was SO
 determined that not even a head on collision could hold him back." But what sports fans must realize is that Hogan not only came back, but came back to dominate. 
You could argue that he was better than before the accident.
He probably overcame more obstacles than anybody can dream of....
Hogan's father took his life when he was just 9 years old. The family incurred financial difficulties and Hogan and his two siblings took jobs to help their seamstress mother make ends meet. Though he started working as a paperboy, he realized he could make a lot more money by caddying. He walked six miles to Glen Garden Country Club and started to play golf, a game he loved because he could participate and practice in solitude.

It worth considering that nothing else that Hogan faced in his life would present the same challenge of that of his early childhood. Out of such turmoil and tragedy, however, something was born. Those who saw him play know the answer: his game and his swing. Truly, one of a kind. 
One of his biographer's says it best
There' a purity to beautiful things that is most reserved for art. And Ben Hogan's golf swing comes as close to a work of art as any athletic motion in the history of sport, that's ever been.
I recommend this film for golf fans and sports fans. Coaches,  in particular of a boys' team—I think this is worth watching together. As a coach of a girl's team, I would share parts of it, but to me, Hogan speaks more to the male psyche.

Read the official Golf Film review here

Photo Credits
with Valerie
Book Cover
Peskin Photo

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