Tuesday, March 17

Ben Hogan's Early Years as a Teaching Pro at Century Country Club

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

IN 1938, CENTURY COUNTRY CLUB of Westchester County, then one of the prominent Jewish country clubs in the county, went searching for a professional golfer to work as the teaching assistant to Dan Mackie, the club’s home pro.

Ben Hogan practicing at
Century Country Club.
(Image: Jules Alexander
via John Coyne)
Someone mentioned Ben Hogan, who was playing on the fledgling PGA tour, as a possibility. Hogan was playing in California and it was decided to check out Hogan through Frederick Hellman, brother of former member Marco “Mickey” Hellman, of the Wells Fargo Bank.

In February 1938, Ted Low wrote Hellman thanking him for his help, and saying, “I received your telegram saying that you had seen Ben Hogan and that he made a nice appearance.”

Hogan was hired and went back east to take over as the teaching pro at the club. His salary was $500 a year, plus food and lodging.

Hogan himself would admit he was not a gifted teacher of the game. In his classic book, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf written with Herbert Warren Wind and published first in 1957, a book that still sells nearly 100,000 paperback copies a year, Hogan would write, “I didn’t and don’t have the ideal temperament for teaching,” In this book he also would write, “Quite early in my career when I was serving as the professional at the Century Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., I did a great deal of teaching.”

And when he wasn’t teaching, he was practicing.

“He lived on the practice range,” says Nelson Long, the club’s long-time head pro. “We had a member here who passed away a few years ago but remembered Hogan from his time at the club. He said that whenever Hogan played with a member, however, he had the habit of looking away when the member swung, so as not to be influenced by a bad swing.”

Hogan did, however, draw on his time at Century, in writing Five Lessons. He writes, “There was a young businessman at my club, Fred Ehrman, who had this ability to learn, and we did a very satisfying job together. He was a 90-shooter in April. Five months later he was playing in the 70s and won the club championship.”

It was while giving lessons at Century that Hogan began to develop his understanding of the dynamics of the golf swing, which, he said, he fully understood by 1946, his first great year on the PGA tour. “Beginning in 1946,” Hogan writes in Five Lessons, “I was able to win some of the big championships, and being able to win was the proof I needed that what I felt was correct was indeed correct.”

In 1940 Dan Mackie was pensioned off at Century Country Club and Hogan became the head pro. He would stay, however, only that summer.  In the years before and after World War II, and into the 1960s, pros at northern clubs only worked from April to the end of October.

Would anyone surpass Hogan’s ability?

In 1940, Hogan wrote, “It is my conviction that in the years ahead there will be many changes in style and form, just as there have been in the past. We never come anywhere near reaching perfection—there is always something left to improve.”

Well, also came the Big Bertha drivers, the Pro V1 golf balls, and, of course, Nicklaus and Tiger.

John Coyne is a bestselling author of three golf novels and more than 20 other books. Pay him a visit at John Coyne Books.

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