U.S. Open 2015: Ben Hogan and sports greatest ever comeback?

Publish Date : 2021-04-05

U.S. Open 2015: Ben Hogan and sports greatest ever comeback?

Ben Hogan crawled from his crumpled car with a fractured pelvis, collarbone and left ankle as well as a smashed rib.

During a 59-day stint in hospital he developed life-threatening blood clots and was told by doctors he might never walk again.


Yet a little over a year later Hogan hit one of the most famous shots in golf to secure a 1950 U.S. Open triumph that would become known as the 'Miracle at Merion.'

No wonder it is known as one of sport's greatest ever comebacks.

'The guy was mangled. He couldn't walk -- he almost died,' renowned golf coach Chuck Cook told CNN's Living Golf show of Hogan's condition in the aftermath of the car wreck.

'No-one heard from him, they made a movie of his life ('Follow the Sun'). He was everywhere but he couldn't play and then he rehabbed himself.

'What was crazy was that when he came back he was just about as good.'

Hogan was already a big name in the world of golf before that fateful, foggy morning in Texas.

'The Hawk,' as he was known, had three majors to his name (he would end up with nine) and a reputation for being steely, brusque and ruthless.

Credited as being the man who 'invented' practice, Hogan was ultra-dedicated to the game, taking it up a few years after his father committed suicide when he was nine.

A split-second before his head-on collision with a Greyhound bus on a bridge near Van Horn he lurched across the car to protect his wife Valerie -- saving both their lives.

'At first, even at the scene of the accident, they had covered him over thinking he was dead,' Tim Scott, author of 'Ben Hogan: The Myths Everyone Knew, the Man No-one Knew,' told CNN.

'Then somebody heard a groan so they uncovered him and it took the ambulance, I think, 90 minutes to get there.'

After doctors reset his bones, Hogan then required surgery to remove blood clots in his leg that were restricting the flow of blood to his heart.

According to Scott, some of those who overheard Hogan talking about a return to golf during his rehabilitation dismissed his remarks as 'pathetic' given the extent of his injuries.

'Nobody really felt he was going be capable of playing tournament level golf let alone ever get back to his previous stature as a leading player on a tour,' Scott explained.

'But he was committed to doing that and his determination and perseverance was another reason for his success -- he just wouldn't take no for an answer.

'He wouldn't let whatever it was beat him. He wasn't going to let people tell him what he could and couldn't do.'

The 1950 U.S Open is a case in point.

A mere 16 months after his car smash, Hogan was in contention as the field began a grueling final day in which 36 holes were played.

Midway through the second round, his legs were rapidly giving way. By the 10th hole his caddy had to pluck his ball from the hole because he was unable to bend over and get it himself.

'On the 13th he almost fell,' Scott explains. 'He played the 13th hole and it was so bad that he told his caddy 'Son, take my clubs to the clubhouse -- I'm done.'

'The caddy replied: 'I'm sorry Sir, I don't play for quitters. I'll see you at the next tee.'

'I thought that was just a Merion myth, but I talked to John Capers at Merion (long-time member and club archivist) and he told me in fact that was true.

'Fortunate that he did, I mean that's one of the greatest finishing stories in all of golf.'

Had Hogan thrown in the towel at the 13th one of the game's most famous shots would never have been struck.

Having battled through the notoriously arduous closing holes the Texan-native stood on the 18th fairway needing to make par to tie for the lead and force a playoff the following day.

Surrounded by galleries at the course in Pennsylvania, Hogan drilled a one iron onto the green with trademark precision, the aftermath captured by photographer Hy Peskin.

Hogan duly two-putted for par and made a beeline for the clubhouse to rest his creaking limbs.

'There was some question as to whether he would even be able to play the next day,' Scott added.

'Apparently on his ride back to his hotel they had to stop the car and he threw up, he was so sick from his legs, the pain that he took.

'After hitting that one iron shot to about 30 or 40 feet away from the hole, he putted it to about four-and-a-half feet away and he didn't take a whole lot of time to hit that second putt.

'When he was asked later on why he didn't take any time, he said 'My legs were killing me, I just wanted to get off the golf course.' It was very fortunate that he made the putt.'

Hogan went on to win the following day and cemented a place in the hearts of golf fans everywhere.

His accident had seen a softening on both sides of the spectrum, from fans towards Hogan and from the golfer towards the general public and the press.

As Curt Sampson, author of 'Hogan,' put it: 'He was very puzzled. He didn't care about us, but we suddenly cared about him.'

That popularity endured through his stellar season in 1953 when he won three successive major titles and five of the six tournaments he entered.

He only missed out on a chance to win all four majors because the PGA Championship started before he had returned to the United States after winning The British Open in Scotland.

Upon Hogan's return to America, he was afforded a ticker tape parade in New York with thousands lining the streets.

This was a far cry from the Hogan that started his career.

'Ben Hogan is a very black and white character. Kind to dogs, not entirely happy with people,' Sampson explained.

'He set very high standards for himself, and he was a very principled man.

'But I think that's what led him to be disappointed with most of the rest of us -- he was holding the world to that same high standard.

'It's just too simple to say that (his father's suicide) defined him for the rest of his life.

'He was a complicated person and while the suicide undoubtedly flavored his personality and the directions he went in his life, it's not adequate frankly, to explain him totally.'

Hogan's first foray into golf came as a caddy at the Glen Garden Country Club, picking up 60 cents to carry someone's bag for 18 holes.

The environment was harsh and Hogan was bullied by the bigger caddies in the yard. But that only made him more determined to hone his game and hit the ball as far as they could.

It was then that his famous 'secret in the dirt' motto was born, as countless hours of practice ironed out a hook 'as big as a whale' and developed a new grip that would elevate him to an elite level.

'Of all the people that have ever played, he is the guy that solved the riddle better than anyone else to where he had really the most control of the ball that anyone has ever had,' Cook said.

'But the courage it took, to be able to go sort of off the beaten path and come up with something much better than anybody else had, I think is really, truly phenomenal.'

There is much conjecture as to what held the key to Hogan's metronomic consistency.

'Hogan's secret, it's a funny subject,' Sampson explained.

'I think all of us who play golf get a secret that could last for a week or two, some little trick with a left wrist or something. I think Hogan was the same way, he told 20 different people 20 different secrets.

'I don't think there was one secret except the one that was screaming at us if you watched him which was practice. Practice, and practice some more, that was his secret.'

Hogan would later pen a book on the mechanics of the swing entitled 'Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.'

With nearly a million copies in circulation, it is regarded as a bible for all aspiring golfers, and one of the most popular books on the sport of all time.

Hogan also formed the Ben Hogan Golf Company in 1953, churning out clubs to his exacting standards.

In later years he would spend much of his time at Shady Oaks Country Club, sitting at his table on the 19th hole overlooking the Fort Worth course.

Yet he was still dedicated to hitting balls and would often stroll out to the range with a five iron and while away hours grooving one of golf's most revered swings.

Cook visited when Hogan was 67 and watched him hit balls over two days, each shot landing no more than 24 feet from its intended target.

'His ball would take off flat again, you know really come screaming out of there,' he explained.

'It looked like it would reach a certain point and then it would go like a turbo booster and go whoosh. It would go fast and then faster. And I'd never seen that.'

Not many professional players got face time with Hogan in his later years, but six-time major champion Nick Faldo did.

After getting word that Hogan was keen to meet him, the Englishman traveled to Texas to meet one of only five men to have completed a career grand slam of all four majors.

'I went out there and sat next to Mr. Hogan right there at his famous table with the view and just chatted away,' Faldo told Living Golf.

'He had that reputation of being the strong steely character, hard-nosed. But by the time I got to him he was now in his 80s and he was a he was a soft gentleman.

'It was quite sad because, his memory was going so he'd forgotten some of his greatest shots.'

Faldo was renowned for a fastidious work ethic, similar to Hogan.

'When you think you're practicing hard you say 'I bet Ben Hogan practiced harder than this' ... and you go out and practice harder.

'I wasn't afraid to go and find the answer in the dirt like Mr. Hogan did.'

Hogan's influence is still felt today and the mystique surrounding him remains.

Sampson added: 'Perfectionists are always, disappointed, especially in golf, but he came the closest anyone has to the perfect game.'


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