Hogan's swing: Lessons of a lifetime


In 1957 Ben Hogan, with a stylized assist from golf writing legend Herbert Warren Wind, penned “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.”

Initially the “Lessons” were released in a five-part series in Sports Illustrated. More than five decades later, Hogan’s work is still considered by players and swing coaches the Holy Grail of instruction and remains in demand.

“I just got an e-mail asking about the possibilities of printing ‘Five Lessons’ in Russian,” laughed Robert Stennett, the executive director of the Ben Hogan Foundation.

Considered by many to be the most widely read golf tutorial – although Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book” could make a similar claim – the work has aged well. There is an iPad application complete with a video component and many of the game’s most influential instructors still consider Hogan’s scientific and structured take on the golf swing relevant even for the modern game.

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“It’s timeless instruction,” Hank Haney said. “Most instructors looked in Hogan’s book and found something that they would think about or teach. There are only so many different ways to swing the golf club. There are a lot of different ways to package instruction, but when it’s all said and done instruction is not that much different.”

For Haney, “Five Lessons” is required reading and something of a reference resource even 55 years after it was initially published. There are two books on Haney’s desk, “Five Lessons” and one of his own instruction tomes.

“If you look at what Hogan talked about, clearing the left hip, getting the body to rotate through faster, everybody has that theory. That’s basic golf instruction,” Haney said. “His book and his instructions will always be relevant. Every teacher I know has studied it.”

Even some of the game’s most forward-thinking swing theorists still adhere to the simplicity of Hogan’s ideas.

“There is definitely still a connection between the ‘Five Lessons’ and what’s important in the golf swing today,” said Sean Foley, whose instruction has evolved thanks to the detail he can now secure from TrackMan, but he still references back to Hogan’s seminal work. “The fundamentals remain as relevant today as they were back then.”

Although Hogan fostered the idea that he possessed a swing “secret,” those who spent the most time with him suggest his ideas, as outlined in the “Five Lessons,” remained consistent throughout his career and the only secret was the countless hours he spent hitting golf balls.

The most-telling validation of the “Five Lessons” can be gleaned from how his principles still apply despite dramatic advances in golf club and golf ball performance.

“What Hogan did so well was how he shallowed out his golf swing at impact. He could do whatever he wanted with the ball from there,” said Jonathan Byrd, whose swing is often considered a modern-day version of Hogan’s.

“The cool thing about Hogan is how far he took it to understand the golf swing. What he accomplished with his swing without a video camera was amazing.”