News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports Columns

May 27, 2012

RUB OF THE GREEN: Hogan, small of stature, left big footprints

TERRE HAUTE — With the Crowne Plaza Invitational being played at Colonial Country Club today, it conjures up images of the man himself, Bantam Ben Hogan, who won so often at Colonial it became known as “Hogan’s Alley.”

The truth is, Ben was not as “bantam” as many might have thought. With broad shoulders and strong muscular forearms, Ben could more than hold his own. Fighting a “duck hook,” Hogan was not an immediate success when he turned pro and tried to make a living playing golf.

Americans have always enjoyed rooting for the underdog and there couldn’t have been another athlete who characterized the word “underdog” more fervently than Ben Hogan.

Born into a family that was destitute, Hogan’s father committed suicide when Ben was just a youngster. Ben arose early each morning to sell newspapers and caddy at the local golf course to earn money for his family.

Since Hogan was small in stature, some of the caddies who liked to bully the younger boys would put him in a barrel and roll him down a hill.

Little wonder that he grew up pretty much a loner as well as being distrustful of others. Once, he and his wife Valerie came out of their motel only to find their car jacked up and four tires stolen.

With a taciturn personality, Ben Hogan went on to have some success on the pro tour. But when a bus struck Hogan’s auto in a horrible head-on accident, some of his doctors indicated he would never walk again. By the end of the year, in which he battled his injuries and not only walked, but entered a golf tourney and finished in the runner-up spot despite having both legs wrapped in elastic bandages from his ankles to his thighs. Ben battled those injuries the rest of his life and still became one of the most outstanding golfers ever to swing a club.

Later Hogan’s “secret” would become the subject of multiple articles and books. Still, it seemed that Hogan preferred everyone mind his or her own business.

Although Hogan “warmed up” to some extent as the years rolled by, it was always “Mr. Hogan” when addressing him. Even though Ben’s relationship with others may have been rocky, Hogan’s ability to play the game and win at the highest level was unbelievable.

Hogan, along with his many other accomplishments, won four U.S. Open titles. Unheralded Jack Fleck deprived Ben of a record fifth when he upset Hogan in a playoff back in 1955. Ironically, Fleck used Hogan’s clubs.

I believe Hogan became more popular when it was learned that he threw himself in front of his wife to save her when they were involved in their accident. This act also saved his life when the steering wheel crashed into the roof of their car. I can’t think of any golfer who has overcome the injuries he suffered and fought back so valiantly.

I I I

A few years back I wondered, “How proficient are the college golfers who represent their respective schools?” When I witnessed the final day of the Big Ten tournament on the Indiana University course at Bloomington, I quickly found out.

Par was taking a severe beating. Red numbers were all over the scoreboard as many of the teams were submitting aggregate scores of nine or 10 under par for nine holes. That’s counting the four best totals out of the six players who comprised each team.

This year, the Big Ten was contested at a new venue, The Pete Dye Course at French Lick, and red numbers were almost nonexistent. In fact, only one player — Luke Gutherie of Illinois — was able to break par for 72 holes with a 5-under effort. Gutherie also was the medalist in 2011.

When the final putt was holed, Illinois was picking up its fourth straight team championship, but not before a strong challenge by the Indiana team. Actually it wasn’t until the final hole that Illinois forged to the front to claim a three-shot victory over the Hoosier linksmen. The Big Ten golf tournament will return to the Pete Dye layout for the next two years.

The Michigan State squad won the Big Ten women’s tournament with a 10-shot victory over its nearest pursuer.

I I I

Don Tyler was the author of golf’s most spectacular feat recently when he holed his second shot, a 190-yard three wood, for a rare double eagle on the 16th hole at The Landing.

It’s always gratifying to see a player who works diligently on his game achieve the success he deserves. Witnessing Tyler’s deuce on the par-five was Tom Ellingsworth. Tyler carded nines of 43 and 37 for his round, which includes a shot he will never forget. Tyler credits several players for their help on the course through the years — Don James, Les Brown, Jack Myers, Dr. Jerry Baker and this writer.

I I I

Watch for our next tip.

Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.

Bob Arnett can be reached by e-mail at subob@aol.com.

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