Mark Frost’s latest book, The Match (Hyperion, $25), is a dramatic account of an epic 1956 battle at Cypress Point in which Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, in the twilight of their careers, took on Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, the best young players in the game. In this excerpt, the foursome reaches the sixteenth tee with the pros one up.
Two hundred and twenty-two impossible yards across turbulent open water, the green rests above the craggy, bleached, sheer face of a forbidding cliff rising straight from the sea. An elevated, rocky promontory, perfected by geologic chance, surrounded by ocean on three sides, is linked to the land by a narrow spit of ground to the left, where a lone cypress splits a swath of fairway; the green—broad, squarish and flat—looks the size of a dinner plate from the tee, surrounded by five bunkers that compound its inspired and terrifying prospect.
Ben Hogan never believed that the possible rewards of a tee shot taken straight at the sixteenth green justified the risks. From a man who calculated every angle of every last variable on a golf course with the precision of a geometry professor, this constitutes a powerful argument for leaving your earthly pride in the bag beside the driver and slapping a four-iron toward the twisted tree.
On this day, as they emerged from the tangle of gnarled cypress and approached the sixteenth tee, spikes crunching on the crushed-shell path, Hogan spoke to his caddy, Turk, before they arrived.
"Driver," he said.
That perked everyone’s ears up. Venturi watched closely as Hogan teed up his ball, suddenly and vibrantly aware that his young life had come full circle; here he was at the very spot where he used to idly dream of playing his boyhood heroes, and there they both were, Hogan and Nelson, matched against him in the battle of his life. He nearly had to pinch himself.
Silent and taut, the slight, sinewy Hogan took his stance, staring across at their uncompromising target. Then a flash of efficient, explosive action and all eyes found the ball, piercing the sky, rising in a promising arc—eyes darting down to find the cliffs, mind racing to unconsciously measure the odds, back up to the ball—to watch it drop so much farther away than it appeared, yes, safely, front of the green.
Hogan watched his drive all the way in, eyes squinting, then the slightest nod of satisfaction. The risk taken, the bet cashed. Putting for birdie, about thirty feet to the flag in the center of the green.