How Ben Hogan used ‘club-hawking’ loophole to help win U.S. Open

November 6, 2019
Ben Hogan at the 1953 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

If you’ve wandered near golf’s hot take furnace in recent days, there’s a good chance you’ve felt the heat of various commentators (and commenters) chiming in on the rules controversy that came out of last week’s LPGA Q-Series.

To recap the incident: One player (Kendall Dye) gestured to the caddie of her playing partner (Dewi Weber) to ask what club they’d selected on a par-3. Their third playing partner (Christina Kim) noticed, consulted with a rules official and brought up the incident after the round. Rule 10.2, which covers “advice and other help,” dictated a two-shot penalty for each player involved. Those penalties were costly, and neither player made it through qualifying.

But although golf’s rules don’t allow one player to ask another what club they selected, there are no rules against, uh, careful observation. Enter Ben Hogan.

Jeff Martin, a golf historian working on a book about Hogan, posted an insightful newspaper clipping to Twitter in which The Hawk described his strategy for finding out his playing partner’s club selection. The article, written by Arthur Daley for the New York Times, recapped Hogan’s win at Oakmont in the 1953 U.S. Open. The selection in question:

“On Ben’s final two rounds he was paired with Dick Metz. Invariably Metz had the “away” ball, requiring him to shoot first. So Hogan unfailingly walked across the fairway, stationed himself alongside of Metz’ caddie and waited for Dick to select a club. Did that mean anything?

‘Of course it did,’ answered Hogan with a grin. ‘If Dick was short with a 2 iron, I’d use a 1. Or if he was long with it, I’d switch to a 3. He helped me make up my mind. We agreed most of the time although he did use the wrong club on the eighteenth.’ Metz overclubbed into a trap. Hogan hit the green for birdie.”

What you can learn from Hogan is this: You’re more than welcome to go observe what club someone else is hitting as long as you don’t ask or, say, move a towel in that player’s bag to get a better look at their clubs. You can look! You just can’t ask — or touch.

This tradition lives on at every level of competitive golf, of course. Tiger Woods peeks at competitors bags on the tees of par-3s. Phil Mickelson does it, too. Stewart Cink’s caddie Kip Henley acknowledges that he’d make the same extra effort as Hogan to cross the fairway to conduct some research of his own, too, with this philosophy: “information is important sometimes.”

Tough to argue with that.