Ben Hogan, the flinty-eyed Texan who was perhaps the most creative shotmaker in the history of golf and one of its most accomplished players, died yesterday morning in Fort Worth, Texas. He was 84.
He had been in poor health since undergoing surgery for colon cancer two years ago, then contracting bronchitis soon afterward, according to Valerie Hogan, his wife of 62 years. She said he entered All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth on Thursday morning after suffering a fall at home.
Although he was a very private man who preferred in recent years to remain close to his home in Westover Hills and his office at Shady Oaks Country Club, Hogan's influence on the game nonetheless was profound, and his legacy far-reaching.
When he was at the peak of his powers after having won nine major championships -- four U.S. Opens, two Masters, two PGA championships and one British Open -- from 1946 to 1953, he was considered by many to be the finest player in the game.
He is one of only four players to win all four major professional championships, and his 63 career victories rank third behind Sam Snead (81) and Jack Nicklaus (70). In 1953, he had probably the greatest year any professional golfer has had, winning the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, the first three legs of the modern Grand Slam, a feat no other player has accomplished.
His indelible mark on the game he loved stemmed not merely from his ability to control a golf ball, perhaps with more precision than anyone before or since, but also from his enormous will -- a determination that forced him to remake his entire golf game, to come back from a near-fatal automobile accident and to set standards of excellence that were previously only imagined.
"What set Ben apart from everybody else was his inside game -- the unbelievable will to win, the quiet determination, the intense concentration," Hogan's old friend, Jimmy Demaret, once said.
Hogan was a taciturn man whose conservative and spare attire -- he wore only tans, grays, whites and navy blues topped off by a white cap -- reflected his exacting personality. He earned the nickname "Bantam Ben" because, at 5 feet 8 inches, he was short but aggressive, like a bantam rooster.
He was born William Benjamin Hogan on Aug. 13, 1912, in Dublin, Texas, the son of a blacksmith, Chester Hogan, and his wife, Clara. Chester Hogan committed suicide nine years after Ben's birth, and Clara Hogan moved the family to Fort Worth, where the young Hogan sold newspapers and became a caddie at age 12 at the Glen Garden Country Club.
Hogan turned professional in 1929.
He competed in 16 U.S. Opens from 1940 to 1960 and never finished out of the top 10. He won four of those tournaments, with perhaps the most memorable being the 1950 event at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.
That victory came just one year and four months after his automobile accident in 1949 on a dark desert highway outside Van Horn, Texas, a dot on the map some 110 miles east of El Paso. In a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus, Hogan was hurt so badly that it was widely assumed he would never play competitive golf again, at least not at his previous level.
His life probably was saved because he dived across the seat to shield his wife, Valerie.
He spent the better part of a year rehabilitating from that accident, and returned to competition in the 1950 Los Angeles Open, where he shot 4-under-par 280 and ultimately lost in a playoff to Sam Snead. He was back, but he still had difficulty walking six months later during the Open at Merion.
Each day after his rounds, Hogan loosened the bandages that covered his legs from his ankles to the top of his thighs, and soaked his legs to relieve the pain. But he tied for the lead after 72 holes with perhaps the most famous shot of his career, a 1-iron to the 18th green that set up a par and a playoff. He won that by shooting 69 to Lloyd Mangrum's 73 and George Fazio's 75.
"Merion meant the most," he once said, "because I proved I could still win."
Hogan's last victory was in 1959, and by the mid-1960s he was semi-retired. His last great hurrah came in the 1967 Masters when, at age 54 and hobbled by the ever-increasing pain in his legs, he shot a 66 in the third round, including a 30 on the back nine.
After he stopped playing competitive golf regularly, Hogan continued to go to his Fort Worth office until his surgery two years ago, said Valerie Hogan, his only immediate survivor. Even after that, he would report several days a week. But he continued to protect his privacy and had no use for tributes or testimonials to his career.
He once told a golf writer that any endorsement that bore his name would be associated only with unassailable value. That disposition had to do with something his mother told him when he was a boy. "Your name is the most important thing you own," Hogan said. "Don't ever do anything to disgrace it or cheapen it."
He never did. In a game that never quite allows perfection, the name Hogan was synonymous with the quest to achieve it.
Hogan at a glance
Born: Aug. 13, 1912.
Turned pro: 1929.
Joined pro tour: 1931.
First pro victory: Hershey Four-Ball in 1938.
First major championship: 1946 PGA Championship.
Career victories: 63.
Most victories in a season: 13 (1946).
Most consecutive victories: 6 (1948); 5 (1953); 3 (five times).
Only player with two double-digit victory seasons: 13 (1946); 10 (1948).
Most under par: 27 (1945 Portland Invitational). Tied by Mike Souchak in 1995 Texas Open.
Major championships: PGA Championship, 1946, '48; U.S. Open, '50, '51, '53; Masters, '51, '53; British Open, '53.
Near-fatal car crash: Feb. 2, 1949.
Last career victory: 1959 Colonial Invitational.
Last pro tournament: 1971 Colonial Invitational.
Pub Date: 7/26/97