Hogan the Gentleman
In the pantheon of the golfing greats, amongst Nicklaus, Palmer, Snead, Nelson, Jones and Hagen, Ben Hogan occupies a truly unique place.
Perhaps, this is because of his apparent mastery of the golf swing and the assumption that had he not nearly died in a vicious car crash (which resulted in awful circulation in his legs, near blindness in one eye, and extreme pain throughout most of his body for the rest of his life), or spent nearly two years in the Army during World War II, he would have been able to compete in (and presumably win) many more tournaments than his 60+ professional victories.
His unique place, too, might have something to do with the heroic narrative of his life; even before a Greyhound bus crossed the center lane, opening a most poignant chapter in the story of golf in America. Hogan’s rise from poverty, famously selling newspapers and sleeping in bunkers to be the first caddy at work while honing his skills in solitude is an arresting tale, and one which seems quintessentially American.
This isn’t to take into account the fact that his father, Chester, shot himself in the chest near to or in front of the young Ben Hogan, or to speculate as to the powerful, personal and awful import of that event in the golfer’s life.
Hogan would have likely succeeded in whatever career path he chose. During his early struggles on Tour, he contemplated quitting the game for a career in banking or finance. Despite the fact that he didn’t graduate high school, his diligence and analytical mind, as well as a reported IQ of 155, would have ensured success.
He did, of course, succeed with his business venture, The Ben Hogan Golf Company, and, for a while at least, produced the best irons in golf.
Hogan, then, was a tremendously successful golfer and a successful businessman, as well.
However, he was, at least according to Kris Tschetter in her recent book about the golfing great, mostly concerned with being remembered as a good man and a gentleman, rather than as a great golfer, or as the architect of the modern golf swing.
He placed a great value on modesty and not giving offense, famously clipping the labels out of his shirts and having his pants tailored to avoid the possibility of his fly coming undone.
He dressed in dark, conservative colors, with clothes perfectly creased, looking like a military officer out of uniform. If you do a Google search for photos of Hogan off the golf course, you’d be hard pressed to find a picture of the man without a coat and tie.
Even after 50 years of marriage, he still stood up when his wife left the table.
Perhaps, he was not the most warm and inviting, although this is easily explained considering the traumatic events of his childhood. From all reports, though, he may have been curt, on occasion, but never rude.
His replies were often brief, but always thoughtful.
He neglected to cash in on the goodwill associated with his name and open a chain of golf teaching schools because he felt he couldn’t give the personalized attention to each customer that would be expected at a Ben Hogan golf school.
He was quietly generous to those he knew to be in need and left a great deal of money to his church, although formal philanthropy was never a top priority for the man. With the recent creation of the Ben Hogan Foundation, however, a charitable mandate has been established in Hogan’s name.
In one sense, Hogan lived a magnificent and remarkable life. As he aged, though, his battered body becoming less and less cooperative, before the cancer and (suspected) Alzheimer’s set in, Hogan settled into a simple life of hitting balls during the day at Shady Oaks Country Club, having lunch in the grill room and returning home to his wife. He’d had enough of life on the road. Having driven hundreds of thousands of miles in his life, he rarely left Fort Worth. After stepping away from golf and from his golf company, Hogan’s life was relatively unremarkable.
However, one might imagine, Hogan behaved with the same conscientiousness and consideration in paying for a candy bar at a gas station in Fort Worth as he did when being awarded the green jacket. This is the mark of a gentleman, and, indeed, the American gentleman.
Hogan went from being a newsie to being featured on front page of the New York Times, and then chose to live a relatively nondescript middle class life, conducting himself as a true gentleman in each arena.