Ben Hogan’s Breakthrough

The PGA Tour returns to Texas at the end of May and to one of the courses most closely associated with the most revered and enigmatic champion of all: Ben Hogan. In his hometown of Ft. Worth, The Hawk won five times, including his last professional victory, at Colonial Country Club, which was founded in 1936 by his close friend Marvin Leonard. There’s even a statue of Hogan at the club and a museum dedicated to his career featuring great memorabilia from his 68 victories.

It all started 75 years ago, at the 1940 North & South Open in Pinehurst, N.C. His first individual win, it came after seven winless years on tour and as he was seriously contemplating packing it in once and for all.

In those days, top 25s didn’t lead to a cozy lifestyle like they do today. The purses weren’t very big, so you needed to win. But Hogan had earned a reputation as someone who couldn’t close the deal. In fact, when he pulled into Pinehurst, he had bald tires on his car and just $30 in his pocket.

It wasn’t an easy road on or off the course. He once had the tires stolen off his car on the way to a tournament. He routinely dropped off the tour to make money, working as a bellhop and card dealer at a casino, or at non-prestigious golf clubs where he tried to eke out a living selling balls and giving lessons.

But the three-stroke victory over Sam Snead in the North & South and the $1,000 first-place check changed all that. It was the first of three straight wins and was the launching pad for his legendary career. “Ben told me that if he hadn’t won at Pinehurst, he might well have quit the tour,” journalist John Derr, who knew him well, once said. Hogan himself called it his most important win.

So what happens if Hogan doesn’t win in Pinehurst? Perhaps no swing that so many tried to copy. Maybe no digging it out of the dirt. No comeback from a car wreck. No 1-iron at Merion. No three majors and an unbeaten season in 1953. No nine major wins in 16 starts. No famous instruction book. No legend.

And no statue and museum at Colonial.

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