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.

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