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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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.


Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin:

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Azinger 'lobbied' to captain Ryder Cup team a second time

By Rex HoggardOctober 22, 2018, 1:47 pm

In 2008, Paul Azinger became the first U.S. Ryder Cup captain in nearly a decade to lead a team to victory, doing so at Valhalla with his innovative “pod” system and a player-driven approach to leadership.

In the wake of that victory there were many, including the vast majority of his players, who said Azinger deserved a second chance to captain, but at the time the 12-time PGA Tour winner appeared to be undecided and the PGA of America named Corey Pavin the 2010 captain.

On Monday, Azinger was named NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst starting next year and among many revelations during an extended interview on “Morning Drive” he explained how much he wanted a second chance to captain.

“I wanted to do it again, I lobbied to do it again after we won in ’08, but I think I waited a little too long and they had already made a decision,” Azinger said. “The excuse I got was that there are more captains than there are Ryder Cups and I thought that was fair, but then they asked [Tom] Watson to do it again shortly afterward and I was like, ‘What, huh?’”

Watson was named captain of the 2014 U.S. team, which lost by five points and led to the creation of the Ryder Cup task force, which adopted many of Azinger’s ideas including his use of four-player pods.

It’s even more curious that Azinger was never given a second chance considering that Davis Love III was also named a captain twice, first in 2012 and again in ’16.

“I didn’t do it again, I didn’t carry the flag to Europe in 2010, which is fine, and now I’m never going to get to do it again,” he said.

As for who may be named the next U.S. captain after another loss to the Europeans last month in France Azinger could only speculate. “Looks like Wisconsin [site of the 2020 matches at Whistling Straits] and Steve Stricker are going to be a perfect match,” he said.