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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U.S. Amateur playoff: 24 players for 1 spot in match play

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2018, 1:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer and Daniel Hillier were tied at the top after two rounds of the U.S. Amateur, but the more compelling action on Tuesday was further down the leaderboard.

Two dozen players were tied for 64th place after two rounds of stroke play at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. With the top 64 advancing to match play, that means all 24 will compete in a sudden-death playoff Wednesday morning for the last spot in the knockout rounds.

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They'll be divided into six foursomes and start the playoff at 7:30 a.m. on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach, where Tom Watson chipped in during the 1982 U.S. Open and went on to win.

The survivor of the playoff will face the 19-year-old Hillier in match play. The New Zealander shot a 2-under 70 at Spyglass Hill to share medalist honors with the 18-year-old Hammer at 6 under. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas who played in the 2015 U.S. Open at age 15, shot 68 at Spyglass Hill.

Stewart Hagestad had the low round of the day, a 5-under 66 at Pebble Beach, to move into a tie for 10th after opening with a 76 at Spyglass Hill. The 27-year-old Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and earned low amateur honors at the 2017 Masters.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

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On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."