Hogan's secret. Uncovered.
Or, more aptly, between covers, where, 13 years after his death, Ben Hogan thrives as a publishing phenomenon. The mystique attached to the man attached to the swing attached to that dollop of hope that the rest of us might glean the insight needed to strike a ball as purely as he did just once sells books.
Consider: More than half a century after its first appearance, Hogan's Five Lessons remains the granddaddy of all instructionals, a perennial atop the Amazon golf listings. That it has probably tied more golfers in knots than could a jamboree of Boy Scouts hardly matters it's Hogan. Since the turn of the millennium, nearly two-dozen volumes have tried to make sense of Hogan's life and his art, and the word processors keep whirring. In the past month, another foursome of Hogan-devoted volumes rumbled off the presses.
The Hogan secret? It lives in the combination of his personal story, his aura, his work ethic, his look, the Peskin picture, and that swing. "There's been nothing else like it in the game," insists publisher Bill Shinker, whose Gotham Books just added Kris Tschetter's, Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew to its growing list of golf titles. "People have an unquenchable thirst when it comes to this guy."
Neatly fitting the niches that Hogan-mania spans instruction, reminiscence, and history each of these latest offerings satisfies in its own way. Most appealing are the narratives, David Barrett's Miracle at Merion and Tschetter's. The first burnishes the legend. The second thaws it.
Hogan's rise from the ashes of his 1949 crash to an Open championship a year later stands among the most remarkable and moving comebacks in sports. Recreating the drama with thrilling detail, Barrett mercifully lets the story tell itself without swelling the strings. What emerges is a solidly struck chronicle that clearly lays out how five rounds on shaky legs at Merion turned a golfer into a star and a man into a legend.
LPGA-winner Tschetter, on the other hand, scrapes the plating off the icon in her breezy account of the way Hogan took her under his wing when she was a collegiate golfer practicing at his beloved Shady Oaks Country Club. The Hogan she portrays is open, funny, avuncular and wise. Hmmm. So, 'The Wee Ice Mon' had warm blood in his veins after all.
In Ben Hogan's Short Game Simplified, Ted Hunt, a golfing neophyte who's doggedly worked to pinpoint that elusive X-factor to Hogan's swing, presents a useful breakdown of the Hogan game from full wedge to the bottom of the cup. Will it help? The mind, yes, but the rest, as Hogan would tell you himself, is still only found in the dirt.
Which is pretty much what Hogan does tell you in his own first instructional, Power Golf, originally published in 1948. As a period piece, this latest reprint is fascinating but incomplete. What is missing are the first-edition photos including swing sequences of Hogan that were shot at Augusta and replaced by drawings in subsequent printings.
What is amazing, though, is that 62 years later, Power Golf will still fascinate the Hogan enthusiast, and what golfer worth the extra spike isn't? "With Hogan," says senior editor Mark Weinstein, who oversaw both "Merion" and "Simplified" at Skyhorse Publishing, "we have a great chance to succeed not just this year but for years to come because his story isn't going anywhere. Lord knows, there are few, if any, sure things in publishing, but Ben Hogan is a pretty safe bet." You can book it.
'Miracle at Merion: The Inspiring Story of Ben Hogan's Amazing Comeback and Victory at the 1950 U.S. Open' by David Barrett. Skyhorse Publishing. New York. 308 pp. $24.95
'Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew: An LPGA Player Looks Back on an Amazing Friendship and Lessons She Learned From Golf's Greatest Legend' by Kris Tschetter with Steve Eubanks. Gotham Books. New York. 256 pp. $22.50
'Ben Hogan's Short Game Simplified: The Secret to Hogan's Game from 120 Yards and In' by Ted Hunt. Skyhorse Publishing. New York. 168 pp. $16.95
'Power Golf' by Ben Hogan. Gallery Books. New York. 178 pp. $15.00