Thursday, November 29
A Conversation with Ben Hogan's Practice Partner
(Fred Hawkins, center, played on the 1957 U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Also pictured are Doug Ford and Ed Furgol.)
I met Fred Hawkins this year at Grand Champions events on the Champions Tour. Fred played on the PGA Tour from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s. He won twice and had 19 runner-up finishes, including a second-place tie in the 1958 Masters won by Arnold Palmer, the first of Arnold’s four green jackets.
Fred finished fourth on the 1956 money list (earning about $25,000) and played on the 1957 U.S. Ryder Cup team.
We covered a range of topics in an October telephone interview. Following are excerpts about Ben Hogan.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Let’s talk a little bit about Hogan. You played a lot of golf with him, I imagine.
FRED HAWKINS: Yes, I played a number of practice rounds with him because I lived in El Paso at that time [1950s] when he wasn’t playing very often. And he’d always ask me to come down to Fort Worth a couple of days early so he’d get a little competition, practice that way. And we’d play a $5 Nassau, a normal game back in those days. It doesn’t sound like much now, but it was a pretty good game.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: I guess it doesn’t matter what you’re playing Ben Hogan for. It’s a good game, right?
FRED HAWKINS: It’s a good game. I beat him a lot of times. He liked to have some competition before the tournament. I don’t know how much you know about golf, but nobody gets their game going a certain way and says now I have it. I’m playing this way from now on. That doesn’t happen, if you really know anything about golf.
The top players are making continuous adjustments. They may get it for a few days or weeks, and hold on to it even a little longer than that, where everything is working nice. And all of a sudden, nothing is working out right. You’re still trying to do the same things, but you’re not.
That’s why some of these coaches are quite an advantage to the modern-day players. We never had them. But Hogan was always trying out something different. It sounds stupid to say that for a guy of his caliber, but that’s just the nature of the game. Everybody is making adjustments all the time.
As much change as there’s been with the equipment in golf -- the clubs and the ball -- there’s probably been just as huge an improvement in the condition of the courses. Outside of playing occasionally good courses for the National Open, but even their fairways weren’t like they are today at all.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: That’s what others have told me too, Fred. They said it was inconsistent. Sometimes you would have a fluffy flyer lie, and another place in the fairway you might have a bare lie. You really had to play the game with feel.
FRED HAWKINS: I was going to tell you a couple of anecdotes [about Hogan]. We used to play these Nassaus. As I said, he wasn’t really bearing down like he was in a tournament. He was trying hard, but he’s working on changes that we all make to see if it was going to work in the tournament for him. I probably beat him as much as he beat me in the practice rounds.
But he had a number of things that I thought were unusual. One would be he would come in and say, “How did we come out?” I’d say, “Don’t give me that stuff. You know damn well how we came out.” One of his favorite sayings was, “What did you shoot –- 50 what?” “50! I had 66.” “Anybody that makes that many putts ought to be in the 50s.” It burned him up.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: I found out you were in a playoff with Hogan at the 1959 Colonial, the last time he won on Tour.
FRED HAWKINS: That’s right. It was an 18-hole playoff the next day. And the wind blew about 40 miles per hour. He shot 69; I shot 73, which is a pretty good score. But he said it was the best round he ever played under those conditions.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: I know it played tough because I’ve read some about that tournament. I think that year you both shot five over for 72 holes. I figured it must have been playing pretty tough.
FRED HAWKINS: It was always very narrow. It wasn’t all that long. Of course, courses weren’t all that long. You had to stay straight. Some of the greens were protected by trees on each side and so on.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Everything I read about Hogan -- even from the guys supposedly closest to him like Demaret -- they said Ben kept to himself and he worked on his game. What did you think he was like, just being around him?
FRED HAWKINS: Demaret probably knew him better than any of us, but I probably knew him as well as anybody outside of Demaret. But nobody ever knew him. I’ve always said he was the hardest man that I have ever known. If he told you he wasn’t going to cross the street, there was nothing in the world to make him cross the street.
At times he could be very gracious, he could speak well, and organize his thoughts. Other times, he’d go right by you. He was never really nasty to anybody that I know of. He wasn’t that way; he was just uncommunicative. He stayed in his own little world.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: How did Ben treat you?
FRED HAWKINS: He treated me fine.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: You got along well with him, it sounds like.
FRED HAWKINS: Yeah, but not all things good. I’ll tell you something he did to me. When I was getting ready to leave the regular Tour – I was in my early 40s – I applied for a job with a club in Los Angeles. It was a good job. They said who could I give for a recommendation, and I named Hogan and somebody else. Well, that would be wonderful if you could do that.
I called him [Ben] and asked if he’d send a letter of recommendation. He said that’s not the way to do it. They call me and I’ll give you a good recommendation, but I’m not going to write one and send it to them. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be done. I said OK. They didn’t call him or get the recommendation; I didn’t get the job, but I wasn’t broken up about it.
The next time I saw Ben he said, “How’s that job going?” I said, “What job?” “That job out there in California.” I said, “I didn’t get it.”
He just stopped and looked down at the ground. “You didn’t want that job anyhow,” he said.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: I don’t want to forget to ask you this: Did they used to call you the Hawk, too?
FRED HAWKINS: Some of the guys called me that, but the name really belonged to Hogan. Some of the others almost took exception that they were calling me that. He was like a hawk, you know. He was waiting for prey or something.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: He had several nicknames and I know The Hawk was probably one of the most popular.
FRED HAWKINS: He was The Hawk, with his talons always ready.
Fred Hawkins plays Grand Champions events on the Champions Tour. He lives in Sebring, Florida.