OLDEST IRISH AMERICAN NEWSPAPER IN USA, ESTABLISHED IN 1928
Category: Archive

Hibernian Chronicle 51 years ago: Hogan makes a comeback

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Edward T. O’Donnell Fifty-one years ago this week, on Jan. 10, 1950, Ben Hogan did the unimaginable. Nearly killed and severely injured in an auto accident 11 months earlier, he’d finished in a tie for first place in his first post-accident tournament in the California Open. Although he eventually lost that day in the playoff to Sam Snead, his performance captured the hearts of golfers and non-golfers alike. The greatest golfer of the era had just commenced one of the most extraordinary comebacks in professional sports history. His victory five months later in the U.S. Open made clear that it was no fluke.

William Benjamin Hogan was born in 1912 in Dublin, Texas, the son of a struggling blacksmith. As a poor kid made poorer by his father’s suicide when he was 9, Hogan came into the world of country clubs and golf through the service entrance. He began caddying at age 12, earning 65 cents a round.

He learned to play and turned pro at 17. After two unsuccessful campaigns on the pro tour, in 1931 and ’34, he returned for good in 1937. By 1940 he was the tour’s top money winner. Service in World War II from 1943-45 took him out of the game, but he quickly stormed back to reclaim his crown as the game’s top player, winning 37 tournaments between August 1945 and February 1949.

Then disaster struck. While driving with his wife on a small highway in West Texas, Hogan’s car was hit head on by a Greyhound bus that had entered his lane attempting to pass another vehicle. In the split second before impact, Hogan hurled himself in front of his wife in a heroic attempt to protect her.

Hogan’s valor saved two lives that night — his wife’s and his own. Had he remained in his seat, he would have been impaled by the steering column, which shot through to the back seat on impact. Still, the accident left Hogan in grave condition, with his pelvis fractured in two places, plus a broken rib, ankle and collarbone. Worse, he required several operations to keep blood clots in his legs from causing a heart attack.

Many wondered if he’d live. No one thought he would ever play golf again.

Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo

Subscribe to one of our great value packages.

By the summer of 1949 it was clear that Hogan would live, but his career certainly seemed over. He could barely walk and only for short distances. Weight loss (he dropped from 150 to 95 pounds) and inactivity left him too weak even to swing a golf club.

Six months later, when a gaunt and slow moving Ben Hogan showed up to play in the California Open, people were stunned. Could he possibly go 72 holes on those legs? Perhaps, thought many, it was a symbolic gesture, part of his long-term rehabilitation.

How wrong they were. As anyone who knew Hogan could attest, he was no ordinary professional. He possessed an inner drive, work ethic, and sense of purpose that few could match. It was what made him a champion in the first place and it’s what enabled him to come back from the brink of death to dominate his sport once again. "He’s the standard of excellence," said a five-time British Open winner, " against which we all measured ourselves."

Hogan topped his incredible resurrection performance in the California Open with a victory at the U.S. Open five months later. He did it in dramatic style, nailing a 1 – iron approach shot on the 18th and final hole to set up a putt that tied him with two other players. The next day he won the 18-hole playoff by four strokes.

Although his legs were in constant pain, Hogan kept playing — and winning — for several more years. By the end of his career, he’d posted 63 PGA tournament victories, including nine majors (six coming after the accident). He was one of only four players to win all four majors. The 1951 film "Follow the Sun," starring Glen Ford, chronicled his incredible career and comeback.

An intensely private man, Hogan enjoyed a quiet retirement in Texas. He kept busy playing golf and working as an advisor to the Ben Hogan Golf Company he started in the 1950s and later sold. When he died in July 1997 at the age of 84, nearly every obituary and tribute said the same thing: never before or since had there been a player who so embodied grit and competitive intensity like Ben Hogan.

"I don’t like the glamour," he once said, "I just like the game."

HIBERNIAN HISTORY WEEK

Jan. 10, 1922: Arthur Griffin is elected President of the Irish Free State.

Jan. 11, 1970: The IRA splits, forming the Provisional IRA and Official IRA.

Jan. 12, 1971: Former priest Philip Berrigan is indicted along with five others for anti-war actions.

Jan. 14, 1882: Boxer John L. Sullivan KOs Paddy Ryan in Mississippi to gain the heavyweight crown.

Jan. 15, 1896: famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady dies in poverty in New York City.

HIBERNIANS BIRTHDATES

Jan. 12, 1729: Statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke born in Dublin.

Jan. 14, 1919: TV commentator and writer Andy Rooney born in Albany, N.Y.

Jan. 15, 1921: Archbishop of New York John Cardinal O’Connor born in Philadelphia

Jan. 16, 1822: co-founder of Fenian Brotherhood Thomas Clarke Luby born in Dublin.

Readers may reach Edward T. O’Donnell at odonnell@PastWise.com.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese