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The Hogan Way

Hogan was such an intense perfectionist when he practiced that the few bad shots he hit stand out in the memories of his shag boys. Darwin vividly recalls the time that Hogan hit two duck hooks in a row from the fairway of the par-five fifteenth: "It was obvious that his knee had given out on both shots, but that didn't matter to him. He backed off the ball and lit up a Kent and smoked it all the way down, glaring at the one ball remaining. Then he stubbed out the cigarette and hit the next one on a frozen clothesline right at the pin."

One or two former shag boys report having received the Look from Hogan on occasion. This was the famous blood-freezing glare with which the "Wee Ice Mon" (as the Scots called Hogan) would sometimes anesthetize fellow competitors who were, for example, being too chatty. Kevin Pedigo, yet another former shag boy who later played professional golf, once got nailed with the Look for handling Hogan's clubs in the cart room after eating fried chicken and leaving a telltale greasy residue on the grips. (Hogan's clubs, stored apart from the other clubs against the back wall of the bag room, seemed to have had a talismanic effect on many of the shag boys.)

But for the most part the shag boys regard their days picking up balls for Hogan fondly. "On some days you dreaded it, especially when it was 105 degrees," said Hoyt. "But looking back now, every day I didn't go out was a mistake." Hogan was gruff and taciturn and not always comfortable around people, but he was not without grace. Darwin was touched once when Hogan offered him encouragement before the final round of the 1968 Fort Worth city junior championship, especially since he hadn't even been sure Hogan knew his last name, much less that he had been following his progress in the tournament.

And several of the shag boys actually received some instruction from Hogan. A disconsolate Hoyt got a lesson once, at Hogan's initiative, after Hoyt had washed out of an important qualifying tournament (this was several years after Hoyt had finished shagging). And Darwin received some instruction one day after he broke the cardinal rule of not speaking to Hogan while caddying. After Hogan hit a screaming fairway-wood shot that never rose higher than five feet off the ground, he blurted out, "How did you do that?"

"You know how you hit an iron shot low?" Hogan responded.

"Yes, sir."

"Same way."

End of lesson. For Hogan, learning golf was a matter of hard work and trial and error, not getting a tip you'll likely forget in a week. The taciturn "lesson" he gave to Darwin demonstrates Hogan's philosophy on this point as well as anything.

Hogan hinted at various times that he had a "secret" that explained his nonpareil ball-striking ability. Speculating on the nature of Hogan's secret preoccupied sportswriters and Hogan's fellow pros for many decades, but he never revealed it—except perhaps, without words, to the shag boys of Shady Oaks. The secret had nothing to do with a new and improved grip or a secret swing thought. It had to do with an attitude. No one ever practiced like Hogan, and perhaps no one ever will.


Most of us golfing slackers would be well advised to practice a lot more like Hogan than we probably do now, particularly in seeking out different lies, different wind conditions and real targets at which to aim. Few of us, it's true, have access to a nearly empty course and willing human targets we can reposition with a few deft hand motions, but there usually are empty fields and school yards nearby where we can sneak a little time hitting on uneven or unusual lies. And it's frequently possible, late in the day, to spend time hitting practice shots on a golf course. We can all seek to avoid hitting off mats in favor of grass, which provides far better feedback. We can also practice like we play, avoid hitting random, hurried shots even on the range and—above all—focus, focus, focus.

Hogan's obsessive, analytic style, however, might not be for everyone. Wally Payne, for one, sometimes wishes he had never shagged for Hogan, as much as he admired and grew to like the man. "I was a good golfer before I started," Payne said. He had won both the Texas state junior and the Texas high-school championships. "But within a year of shagging for Hogan, my game had left me. I started analyzing everything too much, I can see in retrospect. I lost almost all my intuitive feel for the game." Only now, in his late forties, is Payne starting to regain the "feel" game he had as a youth.


One of the latest additions to the impressive library of books about this special player is Ben Hogan: The Man Behind the Mystique, edited by Martin Davis (The American Golfer, $60; 203-862-9720). The book includes a memoir by Hogan's late wife, Valerie, a swing analysis by Jim McLean and an essay by Dan Jenkins. But the best thing for Hawkophiles is the photography, which includes scores of never-before-published images of Hogan on and off the course.


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