In simple terms, a great swing sends the ball to the target shot after shot. There is a big difference between a great swing and a pretty one. With cameras and computers, today’s golfers spend a lot of time comparing their swings to Tiger Woods’ in search of an esthetically pleasing motion. But Ben Hogan always looked for a swing with pleasing results.
The differences between Hogan’s and Woods’ careers are fascinating. Hogan was in his eighth season on tour before notching a win, while Woods had 39 victories at the same point in his career. Tiger had 10 major titles before turning 30, while Hogan didn’t win his first until he was 34. It may have taken more time, but once Hogan figured out the best swing for him, he owned and controlled it better than Tiger or anyone else.
The stories about Hogan’s precision are endless. My favorite takes place on the 2nd hole at Augusta National. One year at the Masters, Hogan drove the ball over a hill to a small flat spot tucked in the corner of the fairway, not visible from the tee but providing a perfect angle to the green. Hogan placed his drive in that tiny area all four days. Most tour pros today would have trouble hitting that spot four days in a row with a wedge.
Ben was the only player who surprised his fellow pros when he missed a fairway or green. Even though he was one of the longer hitters on tour, Hogan could go a full season and not hit a drive 40 yards off line.
By comparison, it’s rare for Tiger to play a round without spraying a drive well into the trees. He can’t put the ball in play consistently with the driver, and as long as that is the case, his swing can’t be classified as one of the game’s greatest.
In Tiger’s defense, today’s higher clubhead speeds allow for a much smaller margin for error. But it’s interesting to note that when Tiger hits his controlled “stingers,” he gets closer to looking like what Hogan was trying to do. I really like that shot in Tiger’s bag; I think he could play his stinger exclusively—the way he did at the 2006 British Open—and win more often than he does now.
Tiger is still young, so it’s possible that he will one day master the swing the way Hogan did, but so far I haven’t seen it.
Here’s why: Tiger is the greatest athlete to ever play golf at the highest level. His talent, his instinct for playing golf shots, and his short-game skills are the most refined the game has ever seen. Today, tour golf is so power-oriented that you can win a lot of tournaments with a driver, wedge and putter.
Under pressure, Tiger’s the best with two of those three.
Frankly, he doesn’t need the best swing to dominate, which is why he may never develop a swing as good as Hogan’s was.
Bob Toski is a member of the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame and led the PGA Tour money list in 1954.