The year 1949 began in equally promising fashion as he won the Long Beach Open in a playoff and finished second the next week, after losing in a playoff, at the Arizona Open. Both the playoff victory and the loss were to his friend Jimmy Demaret.
Deciding that they needed a little time off, Ben and Valerie Hogan climbed into their black Cadillac and set off for their new Texas home. Ben Hogan was driving when a heavy fog descended like a thick blanket upon the west Texas highway. In response to the conditions, Hogan reduced his speed to a mere crawl. While they were crossing a cement-lined bridge a Greyhound bus, that was passing a truck, suddenly pulled into the Hogans lane without any possibility of avoiding a collision. Hogan jerked his car to the right as far as he could. Honey, hes going to hit us! screamed Valerie Hogan seconds before the nearly 20,000-pound bus hit them head-on on the drivers side.
Ben Hogans devotion to his loving wife has never been in question and he demonstrated his selfless commitment to her by throwing his body across her a mere fraction of a second before the crash. Hogans act undoubtedly saved his wife from being thrown through the windshield, and she escaped with minor injuries. Hogan likely saved his own life as well, as the force of the crash drove the steering wheel through the drivers side seat. However, Hogans legs were still on the cars crushed left side, where the engine now stood. His legs were badly injured. It took an hour to extract the Hogans from the mangled wreckage. In total, Hogan sustained a broken collarbone, a smashed rib, a broken ankle, a double fracture of the pelvis, bladder injuries, and deep contusions to his left leg.
Hogan was rushed to an El Paso hospital where doctors feared the legend would not live, and that if he did, he might never walk again. Hogan developed blood clots that reached his lungs. The doctors performed abdominal surgery and tied off the main vein to his leg to prevent further blood clots from reaching his heart. A second clot was discovered, and Hogan was operated on again.
Ever the fighter, Hogan would slowly recover from his devastating injuries, although it would take more than eleven months before he could make it back to a golf tournament.
As tenacious a competitor as Hogan is remembered as being, nothing he ever did with a golf club compares to his heroic determination to regain his championship form.
Hogan would return to the Tour in 1950 at the Los Angeles Open and would, remarkably, take Sam Snead into a playoff, which Snead eventually won, in his first tournament back. But Hogan would never again be as strong as he was before the accident. Hogans legs would ache after each tournament, and he decided to concentrate his efforts on golfs Major tournaments.
Needing to soak his legs after every round and playing golf with his legs wrapped in Ace bandages, Hogan faced his greatest obstacle at the 1950 U.S. Open, which at that time required thirty-six holes of golf on the final day.
It was a mere sixteen months after his horrific accident when Hogan hit his most famous shot. He hit a perfect 1-iron on the eighteenth hole at Merion that set up a par and secured his position in a playoff the next day with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio. Hogan would shoot a 69 during the playoff to secure the victory. Interestingly, he would do it without the 1-iron he used the day before ' the club was stolen from his bag the night before the playoff and not returned to the legend for thirty-six years.
Hogan would go on to win six Majors after the accident and a total of nine for his career.
Ben Hogans record, particularly in Majors, is among the best the game has ever known. However, when viewed from the perspective of what he had to overcome to achieve it, it becomes clear why Hogan is one of the games great icons.
Copyright 2006 Matthew E. Adams Fairways of Life
Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a reporter for The Golf Channel, equipment expert, twenty-year veteran of the golf industry and speaker. In addition, he is a New York Times and USAToday bestselling coauthor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and author of Fairways of Life, Wisdom and Inspiration from the Greatest Game. Fairways of Life uses golf as a metaphor for life and features a Foreword by Arnold Palmer. To sign up for Adams Golf Wisdom email quotes or for more information, go to www.FairwaysofLife.com.