1912: A Year That Changed the Game - Sultans of swing

By Randall MellMarch 13, 2012, 1:00 am

They beam like three stars in a magnificent constellation.

Memories of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead continue to dazzle long after their deaths.

While their brilliance still impresses, the real marvel is how their star power radiated with such distinctly different hue and resonance.

They burst into the universe in the same year, 1912. That would have made this their 100th birthday year.

They weren’t just born before television. They were born before FM radio. They were born before the crossword puzzle, the modern zipper and the pop-up toaster were invented. They were born the same year Fenway Park was built, China’s Manchu Dynasty was overthrown and the Titanic sank.

John Byron Nelson Jr. was born first on Feb. 4 outside Waxahachie, Texas, Samuel Jackson Snead on May 27 in Ashwood, Va., and William Benjamin Hogan on Aug. 13 in Stephenville, Texas.

The centennial is being commemorated at GolfChannel.com with a series of stories, starting with this overview of the triumvirate’s legacy, a look at how their distinctly different games and personalities helped save the sport in America and shape a modern, new era of golf.

Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead

Hogan, Nelson and Snead (pictured above with Arnold Palmer) were each born into hardscrabble circumstances, poor kids coming of age in the Depression, each finding work and meaning in jobs as young caddies.

They learned to love the game, even to make the indomitable sport yield to their wills, but they did it showing us there is no single blueprint for building a champion. There is no singular path to greatness in golf.

“They defined an era like we had never seen, with three completely different swings, different attitudes, different personalities and different ways of life,” said Ken Venturi, the 14-time PGA Tour winner, 1964 U.S. Open champion and former CBS analyst. “They are the triangle of the game.”

Photos: Hogan | Nelson | Snead

Video: Celebrating Hogan, Nelson and Snead

Venturi knew Hogan, Nelson and Snead as well as anyone got to know all three.

When Nelson died, Venturi delivered a eulogy. When Hogan died, Valerie Hogan told Venturi that he was her husband’s first choice to be a pallbearer. Venturi was close to Snead as well.

If you follow golf, you know the major themes of the Hogan, Nelson and Snead stories. You know Hogan as “The Hawk,” “Bantam Ben” or 'The Wee Ice Mon.” You know him as the intensely private man who didn’t suffer fools, as the obsessive blacksmith’s boy forever complicated by the discovery of his father’s messy suicide when he was 9. You know Nelson as “Lord Byron,” the Christian gentleman, an affable and guileless spirit who retired at 34 believing he had a larger calling to help people in and out of the game. You know Snead as “Slammin’ Sam,” the Virginia hillbilly boy with the sweetest swing the game has ever seen.

What’s harder to know, even in all the exhaustive biographies and articles examining their lives, is what they really thought of each other. The relationships they built with one another remain a complicated study.

Given they never fully understood each other, how were historians supposed to figure it out?

“I think, as competitors, they wanted to be apart,” Venturi said. “They didn’t want to be too friendly because they knew they would be in competition. Remember what Hogan said: `There are three ways to beat somebody. You can outwork them, outthink them and intimidate them.’ They were individuals. That’s what they were.”

They were competitors in one of the most ferociously competitive times in the sport, in the wake of the Great Depression, with jobs hard to come by and with paltry tournament purses.

“Those were different times back then,” said Bob Goalby, the 1968 Masters champion. “There wasn’t much money, and there were, maybe, just the top 20 places getting paid. It was much more dog-eat-dog back then.”

As different as they were, Nelson saw clearly the bond they shared.

“The one thing that Hogan and Snead and I had in common was that we wanted to beat somebody,” Nelson once said.

Ben Hogan

They didn’t just win. They dominated, and they became stars.

The first generation to play with steel shafts and painted persimmon woods, they redefined how the game was played. They saved it doing so.

James Dodson is the author of “American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf,” a new book scheduled to go on sale next week. Dodson documents how the triumvirate rescued professional tour golf from a possible collapse before the PGA Tour was officially formed.

“It was such a formative time, and the game really could have gone the other way after Bobby Jones left the sport in 1930,” Dodson said in a telephone interview. “The game went into hibernation. The Depression nearly killed it. There were all kinds of conversations about whether they were going to continue the tour from about 1933 to 1937. Half the tournaments folded, and there really were no stars.”

Snead and Nelson changed that, delivering big victories in 1937. Snead won five times in his first full year on the tour. He did so with a country-boy charisma that turned the game on its head. Nelson won the Masters that year in a popular victory. Hogan, who failed mightily as a young pro, would create a spark finally breaking through for his first individual victory in 1940.

Hogan, Nelson and Snead attracted separate die-hard followings as three of the most prolific winners in the game’s history. They combined to win 198 tour titles. That's 39 more than Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player won as the Big Three.

Hogan won three major championships in ’53, and he might have won them all if he could have played the PGA Championship, too. He won five of the six events he entered that year. Hogan’s performances were limited after a nearly year-long absence recovering from his well chronicled head-on collision with a bus on Feb. 2, 1949. Hogan ultimately won 64 PGA Tour titles, nine major championships, with a remarkable six of those majors coming after the crash.

Ben Hogan car crash

“If Hogan hadn’t been hit by that bus, there’s no telling how good he could have been,” said Hall of Famer Doug Ford, the ’57 Masters winner.

Ford played the last 36 holes with Hogan when Hogan won his final PGA Tour event at the Colonial Invitational in 1959.

“He hit the best shot I ever saw,” Ford said. “At the 11th hole, a par 5, he drives it maybe 8 yards in front of me. With trees left, out of bounds on the right. I laid up, but he gets to his ball in the fairway and he takes out his driver. He hit this shot that ended up 3 feet from the hole. That was the best shot I ever saw. After, he says, `You know, that’s the first time I’ve ever reached this green in two.’ That was funny, because this was his home course. He played it all the time, but it just showed how he plotted his way around, how much he didn’t like to take a gamble as a player.”

If Nelson had not retired as a full-time player in 1946 at age 34, there’s no telling how much more he might have won.

Nelson claimed 52 PGA Tour titles. He won five majors, but he is most remembered for his record tear in 1945. That’s the year he won 18 PGA Tour titles, a staggering 11 in a row. While critics have scoffed that the titles came against depleted fields in the war years, history shows Snead and Hogan played in most of the events that year.

“Sam Snead thought Byron was the best he ever played,” Goalby said.

Bob Toski, the PGA Tour’s leading money winner in 1954 and a Hall of Fame teacher, admired Nelson’s swing, one of the first real upright strokes.

“I loved watching Byron play, the way he stepped into the ball,” Toski said. “He moved into it like a dancer. I tell you, if Tiger Woods could drive the ball like Byron Nelson did, he would have already passed Jack Nicklaus’ record.”

Byron Nelson and Sam Snead

Snead won a record 82 PGA Tour titles, seven of them major championships. Of course, he was tortured over never having won the U.S. Open.

“Hogan was convinced Sam had the finest swing of anyone who played the game,” Dodson said.

And yet Hogan cringed at what he perceived as Snead’s occasional reckless course management.

“Sam doesn’t know a damn thing about the golf swing,” Hogan was quoted saying by Curt Sampson, who wrote “Hogan,” a biography. “But he hits the ball better than anyone else . . . If he could have played golf with my brain, he would be the only name in the record book.”

While contemporaries say Hogan, Nelson and Snead were cordial and had great respect for each other’s games, they weren’t especially close. And when they got closer than they liked, there were sometimes difficulties.

Nelson and Hogan, who grew up as boys caddying together at Glen Garden Golf & Country Club in Fort Worth, appeared to be close in their youth. They traveled together as pros in their early tour years, sharing a car and hotel rooms.

“They were definitely close, early in their lives, no question,” said Mark Frost, author of “The Match,” the book that documented the pairing of Nelson and Hogan against amateur champs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward in a monumental competition in 1956. “It just became harder for Byron, mostly because it was hard for Ben, who was just a different guy, with a lot of internal turmoil and resentments. It was hard for Ben to get close to anyone.”

Nelson was hurt when Hogan called him “lazy” in a radio interview before Nelson beat him in a Texas Open playoff in 1940. They slowly drifted apart after that.

Still, even in the time they traveled together, Nelson never felt like he really understood Hogan.

“We never knew that Ben’s father had died the way he did until after Ben died, and it appeared in one of the golf magazines,” Peggy Nelson, Byron’s surviving wife, said. “That obviously explained a number of things about his personality and being a private person. Byron said: ‘I always considered Ben to be a good friend.’ Ben came to the opening of his tournament, the Byron Nelson in 1968, but we did not have Ben’s personal phone number, and Byron was never invited to his home.”

Hogan was the first of the American Triumvirate to die, passing in July of 1997, after a bout of bronchitis and two years after colon cancer surgery.

With Hogan’s passing, Nelson was quoted saying he wished Hogan would have opened up more to the world.

“It always struck me as unfortunate that Ben Hogan never really permitted the world to see who he really was,” Nelson said. “And by that, I mean to say not just the cold and intimidating figure so many people think of, but the nice man I knew growing up, and the friend I grew close to when we traveled together.”

Dodson says Hogan’s wife, Valerie, was so offended by the comment that she scratched Nelson’s name off the pallbearer’s list. Snead, however, was among the pallbearers.

“Sam told Valerie in the car, `I loved Ben, he was just the best there ever was,’” Dodson said. “And Valerie reached over and patted Sam and said, `He loved you, too. He loved you best.’”

Even in death, the relationships were complicated by what was won and lost over the years. But Dodson said even after Hogan and Nelson drifted apart, Hogan never forgot the kindness and support Nelson offered as Hogan struggled early in his career.

Snead died in 2002, six weeks after the Masters, four days before his 90th birthday.

Nelson was the last to go, passing in September of 2006.

“It’s an extraordinary story, these three guys,” Dodson said. “We’re in a time where athletes grow up preordained from an early age, where there are systems for growing athletes. These three guys never imagined they were going to be wealthy or famous. That always surprised all three of them. They became so dominant, and they did it traveling across the land in cars and sleeping in crummy little motels. It’s an extraordinary story. It’s very American, their story.”

Byron Nelson: Admired for his character as well as his talent

Sam Snead: Much more than a simple country boy from Virginia

Ben Hogan: The game's most mysterious figure, shrouded in legend

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”