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Letter from St. Andrews: My Showdown With the Hawk

Our intrepid editor goes toe to toe with the Hawk and emerges a chicken

By: George Peper

Appeared in Summer 2012 LINKS

It was one of those surreal moments. Roughly 30 years ago, I was sitting in my office at Golf Magazine, going through the morning mail, when the phone rang. It was answered by my secretary Ellie, a feisty Bronx-born and bred lady roughly two decades older than I whose confidence in her office skills was surpassed only by her ignorance of all things golf. 

“Mr. Peppa’s office,” she said in her inimitably officious way. “Yes, he is. Who may I say is calling?” Apparently unsatisfied with the reply, she went to her bread-and-butter screener, the question she used to weed out salesmen and kooks. In a tone of sneering condescension: “Does he know you, sir?”

A tetchy back-and-forth ensued after which Ellie, having decided the guy was vaguely legit, albeit annoying, pushed the hold button and bellowed through my doorway: “Gawge…

Ben Hogan on line 2…he says he’s a professional golfa.”

Right…sure…the Wee Ice Mon, a guy known as much for his grim reclusiveness as his ball-striking genius, had called me to chat…as if that would ever happen. No, the clown on the other end clearly wasn’t Ben Hogan, it was either one of my wise-ass golf buddies or some nut who’d managed to slip through Ellie’s radar. Okay, I thought as I reached for the receiver, I’ll play along.

I was about to open with, “Hey Hawkster, how’s your Apex hanging?” when I had a sudden, unsettling thought. Our next issue was about to go on press, and one of the instruction articles involved Larry Nelson who had just won the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Nelson, remarkably, had not taken up golf until after a stint in the Army, and had learned largely from Ben Hogan’s book, Five Lessons The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. We’d secured the rights to print an eight-page excerpt from that book, annotated with comments by Nelson. 

Surely this couldn’t be about that. Surely, this wasn’t the real Hogan calling…

Surely it was. 

“Mr. Peper,” he began in a voice I recognized immediately, “I understand you’re planning to excerpt my book.”  

“Yes sir, yes sir we are,” I said. 

“I’m afraid I can’t allow that,” said Hogan. 

What? No…This can’t be happening…

“Uh…why is that, sir?”

“Because if that excerpt appears, the future sales of my book will be jeopardized, and I can’t let that happen.”

Has he lost his mind? His book is an all-time bestseller—and we’re using only about five percent of it. Hell, this is free promotion. If anything it’ll give his sales a shot in the arm!

“Um…it’s only an eight-page excerpt, sir, and the main focus will be Larry 

Nelson and how he learned from it.”

“Nonetheless, I can’t allow it.”

Can’t allow it? Can’t allow it! You silly old git. Don’t you know we have a contract with your publisher? If they didn’t tell you about it, it’s their problem, not mine! 

“I understand how you feel, sir. But you see, we have a signed agreement with A.S. Barnes. I have it right here in front of me.” 

“I’m sure you do, but you have no such agreement with me.”

Yeah, and we don’t need one either, pal. Don’t mess with me. Remember Jack Fleck? Get ready for  Fleck II, baby!

“Uh, all I can tell you is that we are well down the road with this—we have a million copies ready to go on press. If we have to retool at this point it’s going to cost us a great deal of money.”

“I suppose it will, Mr. Peper, but let me assure you of something—if you do not remove that excerpt from your magazine, it’s going to cost you a great deal more.”

Gulp.

“Uh, let me get back to you, Mr. Hogan.” 

I replaced the receiver and stared at the wall for a while. Then I walked  down the corridor to the corner office of my boss, told him what had happened, and suggested it was a fine time to insert that riveting eight-pager we’d been holding on The Best of Myrtle Beach. 

I’d gone toe to toe with The Hawk and emerged a chicken. It’s a decision I always regretted, until recently when old friend and writer colleague David Mackintosh contacted me with a story he’d uncovered—a remarkable story about Ben Hogan, publishing, and a lawsuit. It appears on page 28 and having read it, I’m retroactively relieved we never took the Ice Mon to court.                         

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