An Odd Couple

By Rex HoggardMay 26, 2010, 8:35 pm

It crops up every year, like Love Grass at Pinehurst and heartbreak in Wrigleyville. Each season on the eve of the PGA Tour’s annual stop at Colonial the golf world inevitably pauses to remember Ben Hogan. Driven, introverted and, more often than not, curt, Hogan has spawned more tales of woe and wonder than perhaps any other person who has played the game.

Ask any professional who has been around long enough to have played persimmon woods and conforming grooves, before there were non-conforming grooves, and chances are they’ve got a “Hawk” story.

Al Geiberger remembers playing on his first Ryder Cup team in 1967 when Hogan was the captain. What words of wisdom did his skipper have for the rookie?

“Just two, ‘Don’t lose,’” Geiberger laughed.

Gary Player once called Hogan in search of a swing tip. Hogan, angry with the South African for not playing Hogan Co. clubs, asked what clubs Player used. “Dunlop,” Player answered. Hogan told him to call Mr. Dunlop and hung up.

Fans look at a statue of Ben Hogan at the Colonial
Fans look at a statue of Ben Hogan at the Colonial Country Club (Getty Images)
“Hawk” stories flow like purely hit shots off Hogan’s famous 1-iron, but all one ever had to know about the man is that he lived most of his life in a one-bedroom house with his wife, Valerie.

All of which makes a recent conversation with former LPGA great Jan Stephenson that much more remarkable.

“He was an absolute sweetheart,” Stephenson said without a single qualifier or the faintest hint of hyperbole.

That’s Hogan, Ben – the winner of nine majors, five Colonials and the author of golf’s greatest comeback after a 1949 car accident?

“He was certainly not the Hogan that I had heard about. Maybe he enjoyed female company better than men,” said Stephenson, who met Hogan in the late 1970s when she became a member of Shady Oaks, Hogan’s Fort Worth-area club. “Everyone said to call him Mr. Hogan, but I called him Benny, because in Australia you always put a ‘y’ on the end.”

Shady Oaks is less than a five-minute drive from Colonial – one of two golf courses and a golf hole, along with Riviera and the sixth at Carnoustie in Scotland, dubbed “Hogan’s Alley” – and it’s where Stephenson knew she could find Hogan nearly every afternoon, eating lunch, hitting balls, enjoying an afternoon cocktail.

“He did the same thing every day from 9 (a.m.) to 12. Have his meal. Go out and practice and then two vodka martinis,” she said.

It was that routine that Stephenson was drawn to. Hogan wouldn’t hit balls on Shady Oak’s practice tee. Instead he set up shop near a tree adjacent the club’s nine-hole par-3 course. With each club he would hit two fades, two draws and one straight shot before moving under the tree where he would create a recovery shot because, “you never know when you’ll need that shot.”

It’s interesting that Stephenson was spared the Hawk’s wrath when she switched from Hogan Co. equipment to that of a competitor. “If some company is crazy enough to pay you that much (money) you have to go,” Hogan told her.

It’s also worth noting that Stephenson didn’t actually play much golf with Hogan during her 15 odds years at Shady Oaks. Instead, the two would hit balls together, the young Australian phenom studying the legend’s routine and attention to detail.

“You need to go practice,” Hogan would tell her.

“You need to hit this shot,” he would bark, and when Stephenson said she couldn’t hit a particular shot, “Why not? You need to learn to do it.”

“He always wanted to help me but when he did I hit it horrible,” Stephenson remembers.

That certainly doesn’t sound like the same man who once told Mark O’Meara, according to a recent story in Golfweek magazine, he would watch him hit balls but, “I might say something, I might not.”

Stephenson does, however, remember a quintessential Hogan hang up – putting. Hogan, never considered one of the game’s better putters, believed that putting was over-rated, so much so he once proposed a variation of the game to the U.S. Golf Association that diminished the importance of the flat stick.

“He practiced putting for 15 or 20 minutes every day. I used to laugh at him, ‘It’s like your penance,’” Stephenson said. “If Ben broke it down technically like he did his full swing he could have been a good putter. If things could have been different . . . I wish.”

For Stephenson, an extrovert with an outgoing and inviting personality, Hogan was different. The man who called most people “fella,” including legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, was different at Shady Oaks.

“I remember eating lunch at Shady Oaks one day, he always had lunch in the men’s grill, and he came out and said, ‘Why are you not dressed in golf clothes,’” Stephenson recalled. “He told me, ‘Go buy some clothes.’ I’m not going to buy clothes. We were like a couple.”

An odd, and endearing, couple, to be sure.

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.