I am a very fortunate man. Even though I never got to meet Ben Hogan, I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity over the last 21 years that I have been a golf pro, to spend time with some of those who knew him well.
My old coach, Bob Torrence, father of the famous Sam, taught Hogan principles, and was was one of the few teachers in the game to have a direct access to the great man. Bob traveled to Shady Oaks to study the modern fundamentals. I think he has in his video collection, almost every shot that Mr. Hogan ever struck before a TV camera, and a fabulous collection of still photos, all of which I have had the opportunity to study. I came to the conclusion that the man was a human elastic band. It was impossible to tell where his backswing ended and his downswing started, such was the fluidity of his action. He was Fred Astaire with a golf club.
I’m also a member at the Four Seasons Resort and club, home of the Byron Nelson Classic, and frequently bump into Mr. Nelson in the office he shares with my present coach, the director of golf, Mike Abbott. I treasure the conversation I am able to have with Byron Nelson. Even though they started together as caddies and were life long rivals, Mr. Nelson will tell you that he never really got to know the real Ben Hogan. He never visited his house, yet the mutual respect and admiration was always there.
In an era before gallery ropes and crowd control, and in the midst of thousands, Hogan seemed to be alone, totally absorbed by the game. Yet my friend and colleague Ken Venturi, tells me stories of a different man, often generous and sensitive, nearly always modest and shy–except when he needed to win. Then he seemed to develop a disregard for his opponents, evidently capable of flicking an internal switch that enabled him to enter his own private zone. The chances are, no one else will ever enter that domain, for there are too many other activities now that occupy the time of great players today. He might be the only one to have touched golf’s Holy Grail. And they say that you can’t take it with you? I for one suspect that he is resting peacefully, with a wry smile.