Tuesday, April 22

New Series: Playing With Hogan

Shelley Mayfield told me, "I played a lot of golf with Ben Hogan ... maybe more than anyone else." In this new series, I'll share Mayfield's memories of Hogan as a golfer and a person. Along the way, I'll tell you about Mayfield and his long and rewarding life in golf.

Shelley Mayfield in 1963.
GOLF LEGEND BEN HOGAN DIED on July 25, 1997, in Fort Worth, Texas. Hogan was nineteen days shy of his 85th birthday. Three of the men who served as pallbearers at Hogan's funeral at University Christian Church were Hall of Fame golfers—Sam Snead, Ken Venturi and Tommy Bolt.

Another pallbearer with a distinguished golf career was not well known to the public, but he might have been the closest to Hogan, especially from the 1960s on. His name was Shelley Mayfield. This is a story about Mayfield's life in golf and his friendship with the enigmatic Ben Hogan.

* * *

I called Shelley Mayfield in November 2008. I don't remember how I found his phone number, but I'm glad I did.

Along with rising stars such as Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Mike Souchak, Bob Rosburg and Peter Thomson, Mayfield was featured as part of golf's "young guard" in a U.S. Open preview in the June 20, 1955 issue of Sports Illustrated. I wanted to get Mayfield's recollections of the 1955 U.S. Open for the book I was writing about one of sports' greatest upsets. I got a lot more.

This is what happens when you work on a book. You hope to strike gold, uncovering precious material for your story. Sometimes you do, and in the case of Mayfield, the veins ran in other directions. Not all of the "gold" fits and goes into the book, but you recognize its value and silently promise that you'll share it someday.

Mayfield was 84 when I talked to him. He lived on a ranch in Carrizo Springs, Texas, not far from the Mexican border. He liked to hunt and was surrounded by wildlife—deer, quail, turkeys and wild hogs. The Seguin, Texas, native spoke easily and with a respectful tone, as if we were old friends. He was a gentleman, saying "Yes, sir" in conversation with a man about half his age. He chuckled fairly often, amused about aspects of his life in golf and his friendship with Ben Hogan.

When we completed our two long telephone conversations, Mayfield asked me to send him a copy of my book when it came out. I said I would, but he died sixteen months later in March 2010.

THE LONGEST SHOT eventually published in May 2012 when the U.S. Open returned to the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Books can take a long time. Three golfers I interviewed—Mayfield was the third—died before I got the book out. The first to pass away was one of the other Hogan pallbearers—Tommy Bolt.

* * *

I asked Shelley Mayfield what I asked all the other old-time tour players. Tell me about Ben Hogan. Tell me what he was like as a person and what you thought of him as a golfer.

Next time I'll share what Mayfield told me about Hogan.

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