It was the purest stroke I've ever seen." So said Cary Middlecoff of the 213-yard 1-iron that Ben Hogan struck on the par-4 72nd hole of the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion. It's considered Hogan's greatest shot, and not only because he found the green, made par, and won the next day in a playoff. The swing came after 35 grueling holes in the first major that Hogan had played since fracturing his pelvis, collarbone and ankle in a collision with a Greyhound bus 16 months earlier. What's more, the moment was immortalized by Sports Illustrated photographer Hy Peskin (above, left).
WHAT WE DID
We wanted to see if a typical Golf Magazine reader could duplicate Hogan's amazing shot from the same spot in Merion's 18th fairway, using a replica of Hogan's forged stainless steel MacGregor 1-iron and some mealy balata balls. New Jersey resident Bob Sartin, 32, (above) was up for the challenge.
Swinging like Hogan is a big ask for a 15 handicap, especially one using stone-age implements, so we gave Sartin a dozen chances to pull off the feat, a real-time lesson from Merion golf professional Scott Nye… and an old-timey cap! With a clubface better suited to spreading marmalade than striking a ball 200-plus yards to a well-guarded green, here's how it played out.
SWING 1: Sartin knocks his first off the toe, about 150 yards. "Dang, the vibration [on mis-hits] goes right up your arm," he says.
SWINGS 2-5: Four cuts, four worm-seeking missiles. "Phew! Unforgiving," Sartin says. Nye offers a tip: "With a forged 1-iron, the sweet spot is closer to the hosel, so you have to risk hitting a shank."
SWINGS 6-9: Sure enough, a shank skids to the right, then three more toe-jobs. Sartin laughs. "I miss my hybrid! How did Hogan hit this thing?" Nye shortens his student's backswing ("Going past parallel makes you release the club too early") and moves Sartin back a yard to a slightly more uphill lie. "Now your 1- is a 2-iron," Nye says.
SWINGS 10-11: With only three balls left, Sartin's contact grows more crisp. Ball No. 11 nearly scoots onto the front of the green. "That's as good as I can hit it," Sartin says. Or is it?
SWING 12: With one chance left, a breeze kicks up from behind, Sartin swings, and the club's dime-size sweet spot collides with the final balata. His ball hops twice in the hollow in front of the green and disappears from view. But where?
Hogan limped to the green on bandaged legs that day. Sartin and Nye power-walk in anticipation. They find Sartin's ball long and left, about three paces off the back. In a way, he had out-Hoganed Hogan — granted, with a generous gust from the gods and 11 practice swipes.
"Wow. To stand where Hogan made history and pull this off with this club, it gives me the chills," says a humbled Sartin.
So, Bob, are you ready to add a 1-iron to your bag? "If you think I'm giving up my hybrid, you're crazy!"