Ben Hogan and I had only one thing in common: our golf swings were both based on what I call a ‘power fade’ system. I can’t speak for Ben but I had a terror of a hook when I was in my ‘teens and developed my swing to eliminate it.
Ben and I were completely different characters and I found him difficult to get on with. I was just about to say that I found it impossible to make him laugh but I have found a photograph of me standing on a table mimicking Frank Stranahan’s swing at a dinner following the 1951 Ryder Cup match at Pinehurst, North Carolina. And there is Ben laughing his head off.
He was a wonderful striker of the ball. He had a regulation backswing, but on the downswing he dropped his hands so sharply that the shaft was almost touching the side of his body on the way down.
Hogan was an obsessive, with fantastic will power. After a severe car smash in 1949, he discharged himself from hospital after a month and captained the Ryder Cup later that year at Ganton in the UK.
During one of the practice days for the 1951 Ryder Cup match, I remember seeing him on the putting green as I was driving off. He had about 20 balls with him and was croutching over 10-foot putts.
As is typical in the US, the round took us about four and a half hours to complete. As I was walking back into the clubhouse I stopped dead. There was Ben on the putting green, still banging balls up to the hole.
“Good God Ben, have you been here all this time?” I asked.
“No, I stopped for a coffee for ten minutes,” he replied.
I thought to myself then that his nerve was sure to go if he was wearing himself out like this. Bobby Locke was probably the best putter the world has ever seen but when he was on the practice green he would give it ten minutes of fierce concentration and no more.
Sure enough, Ben’s nerve did go. I met him again in 1965 for the Carling World Tournament at Pleasant Valley near Boston. He came over to me and surprised me by actually smiling. We shook hands.
As he was about to drive off and I had time on my hands I decided to follow hime for a bit. After two holes I had to come away.
He would hit a cracker of a drive and an immaculate second shot, but when he got on the green it was agony to watch. Poor old Ben would crouch over the putt but he just could not bring himself to take the putter back.
I knew better than anyone in the gallery the mental strain he was suffering and was almost sweating with embarrassment. Eventually he would make a sudden stab at it and the ball was quite likely to run 6 feet past on a 6 foot putt.