The date was April 1, 1940. A young Ben Hogan, looking to notch his third victory in a row, shot a final round 69 to clinch the Asheville “Land of the Sky” Open. The win earned him $1200 and put him in first place for money earnings that year with $6,438. His total winnings for that season? $10,655. That was a lot of money back in 1940, but it’s not why he played the game.
In 1922, Chester Hogan, Ben’s father, committed suicide. He had been arguing with his wife and he went into another room, pulled a .38 caliber pistol from his bag, and shot himself. Ben was nine years old at the time. It has never been confirmed that he actually witnessed the suicide, but he found a way to overcome it. At age 11, living in abject poverty with his widowed mom, Ben found a job as a caddie at Glen Garden Country Club.
To put this in perspective, Glen Garden was seven miles from Ben’s home, and there were no streetcars or buses in the depression era rural Texas town he grew up in. He walked to get the the job and walked every day to keep it. Though not a natural athlete, he conditioned himself and honed his skills with hours of practice at the club. In 1940, when he won Asheville at the still young age of twenty-seven, Ben was already one of the top golfers in the world.
The Accident that Nearly Ended it All
Hogan won sixty-three professional tournaments between 1938 and 1959, but his career and life almost ended on February 2, 1949. That morning, he and his wife Valerie, while driving across a fog-enshrouded bridge in Van Horn, Texas, were hit head-on by a greyhound bus. Ben, now thirty-six and in the prime of his career, fractured his pelvis, collar bone, and left ankle.
The steering column of the car Ben was driving actually punctured the back of his seat, but Ben wasn’t there. His first instinct when he saw the bus coming at him was to dive on top of his wife to protect her. He saved both their lives. Fifty-nine days later, on April 1, 1949, he left the hospital to begin the rehab process that would bring him back to professional golf in 1950.
Ben Hogan is our October Golf Magazine hero this week. He overcame the tragic death of his father and found a way to support his impoverished family when he was just eleven years old. He used his body as a human shield to protect his wife when lesser men might have frozen and died. Yes, he was one of the greatest golfers of all time, but let’s not forget that he was much more than that.
Ben Hogan’s will to overcome adversity is what we need to emulate during this current crisis, not his golf swing. The game will come later when golf courses re-open across the country. Just for today, we need to draw on our own inner strength and help those who don’t have any of their own. That’s what real heroes do.