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.

Wednesday, November 28

Jack Nicklaus to Youth: Don’t Just Play Golf

Sergio Garcia and Greg Norman watch Jack Nicklaus tee off.
(Gunnsteinn Jónsson/Flickr)

In a story published yesterday at, Jack Nicklaus said that specializing in golf at a young age is idiotic.

“To play all the sports is great,” Jack was quoted as saying. “I played everything. My dad played everything. Golf to me was just another sport until I was about 19. When I won the National Amateur at 19, I finally said, ‘Hmm, I must be a little better than I think I am.’”

Added Nicklaus: “Eventually, if you want to specialize in something, that's fine. But go out and enjoy, and be happy to be able to play other things.”

The Armchair Golfer

Tomorrow: Interview with Fred Hawkins, who talks about competing with Ben Hogan.

Monday, November 26

A $650,000 Putt

I didn’t see it, but Stephen Ames walked off with most of the dough when he sank a seven-footer on the final hole of the Skins Game. The putt was worth $650,000 and by dropping it Ames won the silly season event for the second consecutive year.

“You kind of let the other guys beat themselves up and then you sneak in there when you need to,” he was quoted as saying.

The “other guys” were Fred Couples, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich. Couples won $325,000, another nice pay day for a guy who hasn’t competed since the Masters because of chronic back problems. (Freddie has collected $4.2 million in 14 Skins Game appearances.) Zach and Brett were shut out. Ouch.

The Skins Game isn’t what it used to be. Still, a putt for $650,000 is mind boggling to me. Visors off to Ames for knocking it in.

The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, November 24

Searching for a Putter on Black Friday

I ventured out into the post-Thanksgiving shopping madness yesterday. I went because my wife and two daughters were intent on shopping. I was the chauffeur. This is what I do to spend more family time. I did something really smart this time: I brought a book.

While they were looking for jeans at Penneys, I visited Dick's Sporting Goods to see what they had in the way of putters.

(A digression here: My 20-year-old Slotline putter broke this summer. Since then I've been using a friend's classic Bullseye putter, and although it's a good stand-in, it's no long-term solution. Plus, it's too short. I'm tall with short arms. I need at least a 35-inch putter.)

Back to Dick's. I have no idea what I want, so I was just doing research. (It's actually easier for me to determine what I don't want.) Dick's didn't have a big selection, but I did knock a few putts around with a couple of putters that felt pretty good -- a new Taylormade model and a Nike putter. They also had some Odyssey putters, although I didn't test them.

I wasn't there long. Young kids kept coming up to hit putts so I didn't linger. Another store didn't have anything worth trying.

I came away thinking I would check eBay. I poked around this morning, but instead of finding a putter I bid on a used set of Ping irons (inch over). I'm so overdue for a new (or newer) set of irons it's ridiculous.

The putter search will continue. I have a new strategy. One, I think I might try to pick something up online, perhaps off eBay. Two, instead of investing in one putter, I'm leaning toward getting two. I'd have a backup putter for when my putting is shoddy (too often), plus an extra for when visitors come and want to play golf.

The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, November 21

I'm Thankful for Eric

Why? Because Eric is the friend who made me play golf today, the day before Thanksgiving.

OK, OK. Eric didn’t make me. But he did twist my arm. Really. Smiling, he walked up, grabbed my arm, and twisted.

I hadn’t played a round of any kind since mid September. Pitiful. No good excuse. I’ve just been jamming hard on some projects and golf -- at least the playing variety -- has not been a priority. It should be, but sometimes I just let it go when I’m trying to make my time count in other areas.

So we went out this morning and played nine holes. It was great, terrific, fantastic. I don’t know how much I miss the game until I play it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Armchair Golfer

Monday, November 19

Lorena Ochoa: Million Dollar Woman

(N Gottwald/Flickr)

Lorena Ochoa won the ADT Championship on Sunday with an unlikely birdie on the final hole. The two-shot victory over Natalie Gulbis earned the women’s No. 1 golfer a $1 million first prize.

That’s eight wins and more than $4.3 million for Ochoa in 2007, tying her with Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez for most wins in a season and obliterating the money mark set by Sorenstam five years ago.

Welcome to the reign of Lorena.

The Armchair Golfer

More on Lorena Ochoa at Down the Middle.

Friday, November 16

Oops! Armchair Golf Misquotes Sigmund Freud

“These golfers have turned away from outer reality; it is for this reason that they are more aware than we of inner reality and can reveal to us things which without them would remain impenetrable.”

(not said by) Sigmund Freud

Biographical note: Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist.

This misquote brought to you by The Armchair Golfer.
Getting it wrong for the love of the game.

Wednesday, November 14

Hall Inductee Curtis Strange Glad to Make Team


Upon entering the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier this week, Curtis Strange said something that many who have played this game can probably relate to:

“I have been extremely lucky and blessed to play golf. I love this game, and sometimes I hate it. It frustrates us and excites us at the same time. I’ve gone to bed many nights questioning my ability and you wake up the next morning and can’t wait to play.”

The first time I saw Curtis Strange in person was in the mid 1980s at the Tournament of Champions at La Costa outside of San Diego, California. I was leaving as he was approaching the resort course on the opposite side of a driveway. We made eye contact and I noticed that his head turned slightly away and his pace quickened.

I got the impression Curtis thought I might approach him with some kind of request, an autograph or something. I’m no predatorial golf fan, nor an autograph hound, and I continued on my way.

A few years later Strange was the first Tour pro to win $1 million in a single season. Curtis also won two consecutive U.S. Opens in 1988 and 1989, a remarkable achievement, the first back-to-back national champion since Ben Hogan in 1950 and 1951. One came in an 18-hole playoff against Nick Faldo.

Strange won a total of 17 events on Tour. He had some Ryder Cup successes -- and a few failures, too.

The new Hall inductee offered a fitting summation of his place in golf:

“I understand I won’t be in the starting rotation on this team, but I will be on the team. That’s enough for me.”

The Armchair Golfer

At Down the Middle: Hubert Green Induction

Monday, November 12

Paula Creamer: The Power of Pink

Creamer in black. (N Gottwald/Flickr)

A good year got even better for Paula Creamer this past weekend with her dominating win at the LPGA’s Tournament of Champions in Mobile, Alabama. Creamer cruised to an eight-shot victory, firing a final-round 68 for a 20-under total of 268.

The only question in Paula’s mind seemed to be if she could win with the pink ball. The answer was an emphatic yes.

“All of my other tournaments that I won have been with the white ball. So, this was a little added pressure I put on myself with that, but I’m glad I won with my pink ball,” Creamer told the press.

It’s been a solid year for Paula, who won early at the SBS Open in Hawaii and is now finishing strong with a late-season win. Creamer has risen to third on the money list and No. 6 in the women’s world rankings.

In an August email interview with the ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG, Paula said her goal for 2008 is to “WIN MAJORS!” (The caps were hers.)

The 21-year-old star is proving she is capable, no matter the ball color.

The Armchair Golfer

Go to Paula Creamer Q&A

Friday, November 9

All-time Best Dressed Golfers posted another one of its galleries. This one is the all-time best dressed golfers. It's a good list in my fashion-challenged opinion, although it doesn't include any women.

There's a mix of modern-day players and old-time pros. Check out the gallery here.

Here's the list with comments from yours truly.

10. Camilo Villegas
Brazilian pretty boy with fashionable duds.

9. Jesper Parnevik
Colorful, tight-fitting attire on a walking two iron.

8. Ian Poulter
About anything goes. Wild patterns and colors.

7. Davis Love
Ralph Lauren on a Southern gentleman.

6. Payne Stewart
Plus fours and a tam-o-shanter.

5. Teddy Rhodes
Hipster style influenced by jazz greats.

4. Doug Sanders
Peacock of the fairways.

3. Ben Hogan
Impeccable tailoring.

2. Jimmy Demaret
They called him "Sunny Jim" for his personality, but his clothes were bright, too.

1. Walter Hagen
Plus fours, two-toned shoes and a chauffeur-driven limousine distinguished The Haig.

The Armchair Golfer

Go to Best Dressed Gallery

Wednesday, November 7

Love Hurts

Speaking of putting (previous post), someone who really struggled on the greens this year was Davis Love. I read the other day that Love was ranked 195th out of 196 on Tour in putting. That’s dismal.

It was just the beginning of Davis’s problems. He had quite an off year that saw him drop to 51st in the world rankings. To add injury to insult, in late September Love tore tendons in his left ankle when he stepped in a hole. Not good.

At age 43, I wonder how competitive Love will be until he’s eligible for the Champions Tour in 2014. Davis has always been a fine ball-striker, so it’s hard to dismiss him.

But that ankle will have to heal well and he’ll need some semblance of a touch on the greens.

The Armchair Golfer

Monday, November 5

Practice Your Putting

(Russ Glasson/Flickr)

See the guy above practicing his putting? That’s Mathias Gronberg, European and PGA Tour professional.

After the season’s final official money tournament on the PGA Tour, Gronberg slipped into the No. 125 spot on the money list with $785,180. Which means he keeps his PGA Tour card. Which means he can enter PGA Tour events next season.

Yesterday Gronberg finished in a tie for 37th at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. “I did not play very well, but I managed to grind it out,” Gronberg said on his Web site.

All Gronberg’s time on the practice putting green evidently paid off.

Now, go practice your putting. I’ll practice mine, too. (As soon as I find a new putter I like.)

The Armchair Golfer

Friday, November 2

3,000 Golf Quotations

A few weeks ago Skyhorse Publishing sent me a review copy of The Gigantic Book of Golf Quotations.

Selfishly, I was glad to add it to my golf library. I love quote books, in general, and golf quote books, in particular. This one might just be the granddaddy of them all.

The title is not hyperbole. This puppy is gigantic, with 3,000-plus quotes ranging from the golf pioneers to modern-day players, celebrities and various observers of the game. It has the heft of a hardback collegiate dictionary. Arnold Palmer penned the foreword. Jim Apfelbaum wrote the chapter introductions.

The quotes are broken out across 21 chapters that each focus on a subject area such as competition, history, instruction and more. You can also locate quotes by using the “Those Quoted” index. That’s my usual method.

For example, just when you think you’ve heard all of Yogi Berra’s quotes, there are more. At least two are golf related. Here’s one:

One time I was complaining that my shot was going to wind up in the water. So my friend Kevin Carroll told me that I should think positive. So I told him okay, I was positive my shot was going to wind up in the water.

−Yogi Berra

There are plenty of wise, inspiring and thought-provoking quotes, too. If you’re a golf book person, put The Gigantic Book of Golf Quotations on your buy list.

The Armchair Golfer