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Be Prepared - The Motto of a Master

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece talks to fellow Golf Journalist, Dan Jenkins, about the genius of Ben Hogan and look at his unique style for conquering golf

Posted Jul 27, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

ben hogan

               Meeting the celebrated American golf writer, Dan Jenkins, at this time of year is always rather special, because it happens to coincide with the anniversary of his great friend, Ben Hogan.  After a remarkably long life, given the horrific injuries he sustained in a potentially fatal car crash in February 1949, Hogan died on July 25th 1997, aged 84.

               Jenkins, meanwhile, is fast approaching his fourth decade yet makes light of the years by continuing to make delightful contributions to "Golf Digest".  As it happened, the recent Open Championship at Turnberry was his 201st major and he looked like he could continue for quite a few more.

               Whatever the circumstances, he needs no prompting to reminisce about the great man; about the times they chatted and played golf together as fellow Texans.  "I was fascinated by everything about him - and with good reason," said the veteran scribe. "There was the time in 1951 when I was a sophomore at college and working in my spare time at writing golf for the Fort Worth Press.  And I would describe myself as a pretty useful golfer, playing off scratch."

               He went on:  "One day on one of my regular visits to Colonial, I went into the golf shop and asked: 'Where is he?'  I didn't have to say more; I knew he'd be out on the golf course somewhere, practising. They immediately understood. 'He's on 11,' I was told.  So I grabbed a cart and went out to see him.

               "There he was hitting balls to a shag-boy (practice caddie). They were little knock-down three irons from 152 yards. I waited for the proper moment when he lit a cigarette, before approaching him. I said 'Ben. What the hell was that all about?'
His reply was that he would need the shot at Oakland Hills.

               "I don't know whether he used that particular shot at Oakland Hills where he scored that famous final round of 67 when winning the US Open for a third time.  The point was that he had the shot in his bag, if needed.  Hogan never left anything to chance. That was the occasion, you'll recall, when he talked about bringing the Monster to its knees.

               "Be prepared, was his motto.  And he always told me that he never wanted a scorecard that told him distances. 'I don't want to know that it's 157 yards,' he would say.  'I may want to hit a two iron, if that's what the shot feels like.' That's how he played."

               How would Hogan have handled the winds at Turnberry?   "In a situation with, say, a 35mph wind and cold damp conditions, he'd put on an extra sweater, hit the fairways and greens and do a score that he believed would be good enough to win," responded Jenkins.  "Remember, having been the player who invented practice, he had acquired supreme skills at working the ball, whatever the weather.
               "I know it sounds like a crazy simplification but, in essence, he would play the course as he felt it needed to be played and shoot the score he thought he needed to shoot. And if somebody was good enough to beat him, he would just shake his head and remark 'They must have played wonderfully.'  That comment would have been based on the genuinely-held belief that anybody who succeeded in playing the course better than he did, deserved every credit."

               He continued: "I played with Ben numerous times and have precious memories of our games together at old Colonial, which was a very tough golf course. It had smaller greens, more trees, tighter fairways and a lot more unmanicured areas than the way we know it today.  I was a youthful, slender, long-hitting collegiate in those days. I'm talking about the 1953, the year when he won the Masters, the US Open and the British Open.

               "Anyway, in one of those games we had together, Hogan shot a 66.  Afterwards, when we were having a drink, I said: 'Ben, that was as good a round as I've ever seen played.'  But he looked at me and replied: 'That wasn't a good round of golf at all.'  Taken aback, I suggested he must be joking.  He eyeballed me again.  'I didn't hit one shot that turned out the way I wanted it to,' he said.  So I asked him to define what, in his view, was a good round of golf.

               "'A good round of golf,' he said, 'is when you can hit three shots that turn out exactly like you envision them before you swing the club."  That was Hogan, who provided countless moments of magic for everyone he came in contact with. And in this regard, I happened to be luckier than most."

- Dermot Gilleece





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