Story behind photo of Hogan's 1-iron shot at Merion

By Joe PosnanskiJune 10, 2013, 6:57 pm

There is something about the most famous golf photograph ever taken that you probably do not know and certainly will not believe. I have told it to several people now, and each one immediately said, “Come on, that’s not true.” But it apparently is true or, if nothing else, the hero of our story claimed it was true.

The photograph is … well, if you are a committed golfer you can probably just look up right now (in your office, in your house, at your favorite sports themed restaurant, at your golf club) and see that picture on the wall. And if it’s nowhere nearby, you can probably just close your eyes and see it. The photograph is of Ben Hogan, looking down the fairway of the 18th hole at Merion, standing in perfect balance after hitting the 1-iron shot for the ages.

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Everything about the photograph – and the moment – seems miraculous. Just start with the most basic of facts: Hogan was hitting a 1-iron, which is all but impossible to do. Lee Trevino was once struck by lightning and was asked how to avoid such a fate. He said, “Stand in the middle of the fairway and hold up a 1-iron. Even God can’t hit a 1-iron.”

But more, much more, Hogan himself was miraculous. This was the U.S. Open, 1950, and it was his first tournament back after his car crashed head first into a bus, a crash that, by all logic, should have killed him. It almost certainly would have killed him but it seems just before impact Hogan leaned over to protect his wife, Valerie, and this move not only saved her life, but his own. He fractured his collarbone, pelvis, ankle and rib, and doctors proclaimed his golf career over. Sixteen months later, Hogan was at Merion for the U.S. Open.

In those days, the U.S. Open demanded that golfers play 36 holes on the usually scorching final day, a physical toll under the best of circumstances. The effort almost broke Hogan. David Barrett, author of the engrossing “Miracle at Merion,” points out that on the 12th hole Hogan almost fell down, and he could barely walk after that. Hogan himself would admit almost quitting after the 13th hole; his caddie pressed him to go on. A competitor, Cary Middlecoff, actually marked Hogan’s balls on the greens because Hogan was in such agony.

Still, he played brilliantly. How was it possible? That was Hogan. There was something otherworldly about him, how purely he hit his shots, how dedicated he was to practice, how distant he was from competitors. He was something of a golf ascetic. He claimed to have learned the secret. The legend is he did not carry a 7-iron at Merion, and when asked why he said: “Because there are no 7-iron shots at Merion.”

When Hogan came to the difficult 18th hole (then 458 yards … this year, it will be 521 yards so that golfers, even with better equipment, will have to replicate Hogan’s grueling second shot), he needed a par to force a playoff. Hogan hit a drive to the middle of the fairway, and then pulled out his 1-iron.* The fairway, as you see in the photograph, was lined with people, though there were no ropes keeping them in place. An American flag is in the distance.

*Hogan would write in his book that he hit a 2-iron, but he had said at the time that it was a 1-iron, and he later admitted that his book was mistaken. 

The photograph, taken from behind Hogan, captured him at the end of his follow through, poised as if posing, in perfect form, facing the green, left foot planted deep into the grass, right heel up, his 1-iron almost perfectly parallel to the ground. His ball hit the green and held, Hogan two-putted to force a playoff, and the next day won the U.S. Open. It was so incredible that only a year later Hollywood would make a movie about it – “Follow the Sun” with Glenn Ford playing Hogan, and Anne Baxter as his wife Valerie.

The 1-iron club itself would be stolen, as if the story needed any more color, and would not resurface for more than 30 years. How it resurfaced is an amazing story in itself: In 1983, an old man who never gave his named showed up at The Players Championship with what he said was a bag of eight old irons and four woods. He sold the bag to a golf club dealer named Bobby Farino for $150, and did not even mention that there were actually nine irons in there – there was a 1-iron in there, and it had a tiny but clear wear mark on the face, in precisely the spot where only a true master could hit a 1-iron.

Farino immediately guessed this was Hogan’s 1-iron. Doug McGrath, who was vice president of sales at the Ben Hogan company, was there when the club was presented to Ben Hogan.

“Mr. Hogan examined it from the playing position, from face, back and toe,” McGrath wrote in an email to Golf Channel’s Alan Tays, at the time a golf writer for the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “and said: ‘It’s good to see my old friend back.’”

As amazing as all of this is … the most amazing story of them all might be the one about the photograph.

Hy Peskin grew up in Brooklyn, during the Depression, which meant that he was always looking for another angle. He was just a teenager when his father, a Russian immigrant, lost his job as a tailor. Hy was selling newspapers then, and making a decent living at it. He promptly got his whole family selling newspapers.

“I saved my family with the newspaper selling,” he would tell John Thorn, who was to co-author a book about Peskin’s life that was never published.

“Remember that old Reader’s Digest feature, ‘My Most Unforgettable Character,’?” says Thorn, who is now the official historian of Major League Baseball. “For me, Hy was that person, a dynamo, a force of nature, a man of such intensity even in his late 80s that you can see why he alienated so many people, in his personal and professional lives.”

Yes, well, Peskin was a tough character. He was always angling for something, pushing for something, hustling for something. He went from selling newspapers to working for the New York Daily Mirror as a sportswriter. There, he got into a fight with the sports editor Dan Parker (another classic character; Damon Runyon called him “the most consistently brilliant of all sportswriters”). That forced his move into the Daily Mirror photo department where he took a few photos, but mostly developed the photos of others and wrote their cutlines.

The story of how Hy Peskin became a full-fledged photographer is typical of his outsized personality and extraordinary talent. After returning from World War II, he bought one box of color film (all he could afford) and went to St. Nicholas Arena on West 66th Street for a boxing match between a once-great fighter named Lou Nova (who had once fought Joe Louis) and someone called Gunnar Barlund. Peskin would tell Thorn that he was so nervous about running out of film that he took only three photographs the entire fight. All three, though, turned out perfectly – “three of the greatest pictures of my life.” He rushed over to the offices of Look Magazine, and the editor there immediately bought the pictures. Hy Peskin was a photographer.

He was no ordinary photographer. He was a genius. Many consider Neil Leifer the greatest sports photographer ever – Leifer took the famous photograph of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston among countless others – and Leifer has said repeatedly that Peskin is the greatest ever. Peskin shot hundreds of sports covers for various magazines. He famously shot Joe DiMaggio smiling (something photographers almost never could capture) and Willie Mays in full follow through. It was Peskin’s deep and rich black and white photo of Ted Williams that Sports Illustrated used for the cover of its tribute issue when he died.

It wasn’t just sports. Peskin also took the iconic Life Magazine photo of John Kennedy and his then fiancée Jaqueline Bouvier on a sailboat – a photo that many think made Kennedy a national figure for the first time. That was a doubly amazing achievement because Peskin could not swim and was deathly afraid of the water.

What made Peskin different was his insistence on doing things his own way. When others shot from the press box, he went to the field. When others went to the field, he went to the other side. Nothing could keep him from the photograph he wanted. His most famous photographing exploit – other than Hogan, of course – was probably shooting three action photos on the same baseball play. He shot the batter in full swing then ran madly to third to get a photo of the runner sliding there. When the ball got away from the third baseman, he ran home and captured a shot of the play at the plate. He was so inescapable, that the legendary sports columnist Jim Murray would write about seeing Peskin run around in search of the indelible photograph. “I think Hy’s 72-yard dash across the infield under full equipment was the finest I have ever seen,” Murray wrote.

“Anticipation,” Peskin told Thorn when talking about what separated him. “Anticipation is the key word in the coverage of all sports. For example, one day I was shooting for Life Magazine a game, maybe at Detroit, and I shot as usual when nobody was on base from the first-base side of the batter as he hit. Close by. Oftentimes, I really endangered my life by edging closer to the baseline to shoot him when it is very possible for a batter to lash one out right at your nose. But I did it often. “

Peskin quit in his prime or was retired, it’s hard to say which. He was sent to the first Ali-Liston bout – Leifer’s famous photo was from Ali-Liston II – and his camera lights malfunctioned. He had not checked the lights before the fight. All of his photos were dark and unusable. Peskin would say that Sports Illustrated essentially cut him off then. It’s not hard to imagine: Peskin at his best could be a hard man to deal with. He went on his own as a promoter – he and Ted Williams tried to start the World Series of Sports Fishing, which was too far ahead of its time. He said that he almost went broke.

And then, strangely, he changed his name to Brian Blaine Reynolds – taking the middle names of his three sons – and he started something he called the “American Academy of Achievement.” The idea was to match up some of the most accomplished people in the world with some of the most talented and promising young people. It was a brilliant idea, and it remains one – the Academy of Achievement is a hugely successful nonprofit where legends from Ronald Reagan to Steve Jobs to Maya Angelou to Steven Spielberg have talked with gifted student delegates (these have included singer Taylor Swift, running back Herschel Walker and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who co-founded Google).

But the Academy doesn’t publicize its connection to Hy Peskin or Brian Blaine Reynolds. In fact, you can scour the Website and not find a single mention of his name. In the later years of Peskin’s life, he and his sons had a fierce legal battle over the Academy (a battle Peskin won). He did not have many friends in those later years. Peskin was erratic. For instance, he refused to get dressed; he would go out wearing pajamas and slippers. He would tell Thorn that his own family was trying to make him out as crazy ”just because of the pajama thing.”

Photos: Ben Hogan through the years

Hy Peskin/Brian Blaine Reynolds died in 2005, in Israel, where he had moved. There were a few nice obituaries written about him, mostly by fellow photographers who marveled at his brilliance. And, of course, his most famous photo, the photo of Ben Hogan and his 1-iron, was republished in various newspapers across the country.

Peskin had never said much about that photograph – in truth, he rarely talked about his work. He preferred to let the images speak. He would not even remember exactly what kind of camera he used (“most probably a Speed Graphic,” he said). He, of course, understood the magnitude of what Hogan did that day at Merion. Everyone understood. But, in the moment, he only knew there was something he wanted to capture that he could not quite grasp. “Hogan was a mystery to me,” he told Thorn. “But I didn’t think about it. He was distant. You shot pictures of him, he was (in the) distance. Sammy Snead – friendly. Ben Hogan – distant.”

When it was time for the 18th hole, most of the other photographers went in front of Hogan to shoot his face. That was the obvious play. Peskin thought different. He thought that the brilliance of the moment – the brilliance of Ben Hogan at his apex – could not be seen in his face. “Ben Hogan – distant.” Peskin walked in the fairway behind Hogan. They don’t let photographers stand back there now; we’ll never get another photograph quite like that one. Peskin saw the scene as he stood back there. And he knew. This was it. This was everything. And he took the photograph that would be on the wall of a million golfers for a half-century to come.

So what is that unbelievable detail that was promised at the beginning of the story? Well here goes: Hy Peskin would say he followed Ben Hogan around for 17 holes and … did not take a single picture. Not one. None of it struck him. He just followed Hogan around and studied him and waited for the inspiration. He said the picture at the 18th hole, the most famous golf photograph ever taken, was the only image he took the entire day.

Of course, that cannot be true. Can it?

“I had in my mind what I was after,” Peskin said. Then he added simply: “And I was able to click in the right moment.”

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”