Wednesday, September 5

Ben Hogan: Lessons at Century Country Club

By John Coyne

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

I HAVE MADE A LIFETIME HOBBY of mine researching Ben Hogan’s history, and even based one of my novels, The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan, on the Hawk. Since I live in Westchester, New York, a few years ago I went searching for his early career, when he was the home pro at Century Country Club in nearby Purchase.

What I learned was that in 1938 Century went searching for a professional golfer to work as the teaching assistant to Dan Mackie, then the club’s home pro. Someone mentioned Ben Hogan as a possibility. It was decided to check out Hogan through Frederick Hellman, brother of former member Marco “Mickey” Hellman, of the Wells Fargo Bank, when the fledging PGA tour reached California.

According to records kept at the club, in February of 1938, Ted Low wrote Hellman, thanking him for his help, “I received your telegram saying that you had seen Ben Hogan and that he made a nice appearance.”

Hogan was hired and that summer of ’38 he went back east to take over as the teaching pro at Century. His salary was $500 a year, plus food and lodging.

It was also that year, in September 1938, that Hogan, paired with Vic Ghezzi, won the Hershey Four-Ball, his first pro victory.

Hogan always admitted 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 wrote, “I didn’t and don’t have the ideal temperament for teaching.” In this book he also notes, “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.”

When he wasn’t teaching, he was practicing.

“He lived on the practice range,” says Nelson Long, the club’s current and 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 gave a playing lesson 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 draw on his lessons at Century in writing Five Lessons. “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 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, “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.”

Hogan would win 13 times in ’46, including his first major, the PGA.

In 1940 Dan Mackie was pensioned off at Century and Hogan became the head pro. He was 28 years old. Hogan would stay as home pro only that summer. He moved next to Pennsylvania and replaced Henry Picard at Hershey Country Club. Also in 1940, Hogan would win his first PGA tournament on his own, the North and South Open.

Ben Hogan would play onto greatness. In all those years to come everyone asked: Would anyone ever surpass Hogan’s ability?

Hogan answered that question himself.

In 1940 he said, “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.”

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest book is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.


Average Golfer said...

I like the part where he looked away while giving a lesson. Wonder if any students protested.

TheFireFInder said...

I know very little about Hogans early career. It is interesting that he was able to do so much work on the range in the beginning. If practice makes perfect, then it seems he had the ticket. Also, I love the fact that he was making money teaching students while at the same time perfecting his game. Great piece, thanks.