July 13, 2018

A Ben Hogan story from the 1953 Open Championship at Carnoustie

Ben Hogan only played in one British Open. That was in 1953 at Carnoustie. He had already won the Masters and the U.S. Open earlier that year. The PGA Championship and the British Open, in 1953, overlapped and therefore prevented a golfer from playing in both. The Grand Slam was not a recognized thing during this time. It became a coveted goal in the 1960's when Arnold Palmer talked about winning all four in one year. Hogan was persuaded to play in Scotland as something he should do at least once in his life. After winning the Open Championship at Carnoustie, Ben Hogan was given a "tickertape parade" through New York for his three major victories that year.

Sidney Lanfield was a Hollywood director and producer. He directed the 1951 movie of Ben Hogan's life and recovery from a near-fatal car crash in 1949, which was called "Follow the Sun" and starred Glen Ford as Hogan. Sidney and Ben became very close friends and they and their wives would socialize and take vacations together. I became friends with Mr. Lanfield when I was the assistant golf professional at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles. The Hillcrest members were the top people in business, the top in the movie industry, and included many actors, comedians, directors and personalities. It was a really fun and interesting place to work as a young aspiring golf professional in the early 1970's.

This Ben Hogan story comes directly from Sidney Lanfield. He swore to me that it was true, but even knowing Ben Hogan's legendary concentration and determination, you have to make up your own mind to the total believability of my story. However, it adds to the mystic and overall dedication to golf that Ben Hogan possessed. I believe it. I don't think Ben was kidding.

Sidney claims that he persuaded Ben to play in the British Open. He agreed and Sidney and his wife Shirley and Ben and his wife Valerie traveled by ship to Scotland to play the Open Championship at Carnoustie. During the ocean crossing they ate all meals together and socialized as a group. Once in Scotland, they stayed in the same hotel and had adjoining rooms. Sidney ate every meal with Ben and walked and watched every round of golf that Ben played in Scotland. They arrived two weeks ahead of the tournament so Ben could adjust to the smaller ball and the course conditions. The Open test was grueling in those days, because everyone was required to play a 36 hole qualifier to determine the 100 players to compete for the championship. The Scots called him "The wee iceman". He didn't smile and had a steely stare would bore right through you. His golf was stellar from tee to green, but putting held him back until the last day. His precision off the tee was legendary and even more so on the par five sixth hole where he fit his driver in the smallest part of the fairway between the "out of bounds" on the left and the penal bunkers on the right. Carnoustie has renamed the sixth hole as "Hogan's Alley". Sidney and Ben ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together all four days during the championship. Hogan opened with a one over 73, and then closed to within two of the lead with a 71. The last day was a demanding 36 hole final. Hogan shot 70 in the morning and was tied with Roberto De Vicenzo. In the final round Ben fired a course record 68 to win the championship by four shots. A reporter asked if the train bothered him on the ninth hole when he stood over a four foot putt for par. His response was, "I didn't know there was a train in this area". He had only been there for almost three weeks!

Now comes the part that creates Hogan's legend. Ben had finished his acceptance speech and the interviews with the reporters. Over an hour had passed and he finally had time to mentally come down from his victory. He then sees his good friend and buddy that has had every meal with him and walked and watched every golf shot for 72 holes and says to him, "F**** you Sidney, where have you been for three days? I bring you all the way over here and you don't have the courtesy to watch one f***ing shot!"

Let that sink in. Was his concentration that focused that he could totally block out any human interaction and be that tuned-in to the only thing that mattered to him? Hogan's concentration is legendary, but could he really be that single minded for 72 hours and not be aware of those around him? Sidney swore that it is true. Myth or fact, in either case it's another story to be added to the Hogan mystic.


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