Sports Columns

April 12, 2013

Loran Smith: Jenkins, Hogan tied together

AUGUSTA — The legend of Ben Hogan will never retreat.  Even today, 16 years after his death and 46 years since he last played a competitive round at the Masters, there are countless fans who never saw the great man swing a golf club but remain fascinated with details of his life and career.

The primary interest has to do with Hogan’s remarkable ability to strike a golf ball more accurately and proficiently — especially at the height of tournament action and pressure — than anyone who has ever played the game.

If you want to know anything about Hogan, from his superior ability to swing a club to the history of his signature moments — even his peeves and his eccentricities — the most knowledgeable Hogan aficionado is Dan Jenkins. The golf writer extraordinaire is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame with an unrelenting taste for barbecue, conservative politics and college football.

Not only did Jenkins, an accomplished author, know Hogan, he often played golf with the nine-time major champion. Jenkins even won a two dollar Nassau from Hogan at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth but refused to take Hogan’s money.

“Ben, I made all those lucky putts on the back, I don’t feel that I earned it,” Jenkins said.

Hogan shoved the money in Jenkins’ direction and told him caustically, “Never apologize for winning.”

These and other anecdotes and vignettes in Hogan’s life and career will be chronicled in Jenkins’ forthcoming memoirs. Jenkins covered Hogan’s career from 1950 to the end of Hogan’s life.  He knew Hogan’s habits and private thoughts, what he ate and what he drank.

Most of all, he knew what made Hogan approach golf the way he did and how he mastered the game.

Nobody living knew Hogan as well as Jenkins.

“Ben didn’t suffer fools,” Jenkins said this week in Augusta National’s media center, where he spends time in his coverage assignment for Golf Digest. “He wasn’t anti-social. In Fort Worth, he enjoyed the elite parties and even attended debutante balls. He was comfortable in the company of rich and successful people. He also enjoyed his privacy, especially when he was preparing for a golf tournament.

“When he came here for the Masters, he stayed at the Richmond Hotel, the best hotel in town. He ordered room service and played gin with his wife, Valerie. Before coming to Augusta, he spent six weeks at Seminole Golf Club, preparing for the Masters. He came early and enjoyed visiting with Cliff Roberts and Bob Jones. He would play 18 holes and then practice until sundown.

“The course today is so different than it was in his time. Take No. 10, for example, Ben would hit his tee shot, a 3-wood, to the right side of the fairway and then sky a 4-wood to the green. That was the only way to hold the green. Today, they hit drivers and wedges. He always said that you never go for thirteen and fifteen if you are leading the tournament.

“He believed to succeed in golf you had to have a repeatable swing that would stand up under pressure. The next best thing was to have good eyesight. You could judge distances effectively with good eyesight.

“Ben and Byron Nelson were rivals from the time they were caddies in Fort Worth. They were cordial to each other but they were not really close. A lot of people don’t know this, but Ben and Sam Snead were very good friends.

“Something else — Ben knew the writers by name. He enjoyed conversation with them if they asked intelligent questions. Ask a dumb question and he would stare a hole through you. He didn’t mind letting a writer know when he had asked a dumb question.”

Also in Jenkins’ memoirs is his recollection of the conversation he had with Andre Laguerre when the managing editor of Sports Illustrated called to offer him a job. Jenkins replied, “Let me think about it for ten seconds.”

Thus accelerated a career as distinguished in journalism as his friend Ben Hogan’s career was in golf.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

1
Text Only
Sports Columns
  • Whitfield, Chris.JPG Chris Whitfield: Football fans may lose, but Mora will win with decision

    Throughout my career, I have been lucky enough to see some of the finest athletes this state has ever produced. From professional athletes who went on to the NFL, MLB and the NBA to college washouts who still rank as the finest high school athletes I have ever seen, I have been blessed.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Larry Case: Camping a sure cure for the big city blues

    In case you haven’t noticed, we are looking right down the gun barrel at winding down on another summer.

    July 25, 2014

  • Chris Whitfield's Fairways & Greens: Nob North prepares for 'big date'

    Like anyone getting ready for a big date, golf courses get dressed up when it is time for a major event. But while a woman may put on a little makeup and a man may add a spray of cologne, Nob North Golf Course in Varnell is getting something more akin to Botox.

    July 24, 2014

  • 7on7 day 2 '14 17 mlh.jpg Devin Golden: Friday signals gridiron days’ official start

    Seven-on-seven football was a good placeholder, but it’s time to begin talking about the real thing.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Loran Smith: Golf now in era of McIlroy after Open

    Royal & Ancient officials, under whose auspices the Open championship is conducted each year, were blessed with a sun-kissed start of the final round of the 143rd playing of this historic event.

    July 21, 2014

  • Loran Smith: McIlroy at his peak at Hoylake

    HOYLAKE, England — It’s the setting which enraptures those who appreciate the things that accompany a championship, The British refuse to let a downpour or two, intermittent and inconvenient, to make them fret.

    July 20, 2014

  • Loran Smith: Change is needed for major titles

    HOYLAKE, England — This is a good time to be Bubba Watson — long off the tee which brings golf aficionados through the gates, two Masters titles which puts him in the pantheon of the greats at Augusta, deal-makers hovering about, more perks than a palace prince, exempt status to the end of the decade and a cash flow that resembles a raging river.

    July 19, 2014

  • Loran Smith: Harman is living his childhood golf dream

    HOYLAKE, England — One thing about golf that has remained constant since Young Tom Morris won his fourth Open in a row in 1872 — when Ulysses Grant was president of the United States and Brigham Young was arrested for bigamy (he had 25 wives) — is that a little man can play the game.
    Football players are becoming bigger — often illegally — and basketball players are growing taller, but a golfer can excel at any dimension if he hones his skills enough to get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes. Golf is not a behemoth sport; there are no concussions, no strikeouts and no fistfights. Let the game prosper.

    July 18, 2014

  • Loran Smith: Brits know how to hold classy affairs

    HOYLAKE, England — Summertime is a royal time for the British, who have more sporting options in a six-week period than some societies have in a lifetime.
    If you think the U.S. is keen on sport — with the NBA finals lasting into June and baseball and golf dominating the scene — consider what takes place in the land of our forebears. Wimbledon gets underway the last week in June for a fortnight of resonating excitement. Wimbledon is like Augusta National or Churchill Downs — a memorable experience regardless of who walks away with first prize.

    July 15, 2014

  • A Look Ahead: State golf coming to Nob North

    My history as a golfer can be summed up with some well-known words from 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes — “nasty, brutish and short.”

    July 14, 2014