As some of you may know, I’m a Ben Hogan fan (What! You haven’t read my novel, The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan? ) But more importantly, forty-five years ago Hogan turned back the clock at the Masters when in 1967 he shot a back-nine 30 in the third round at Augusta. Hogan had won the Masters in ’51 and ’53 but now at the age of 54, suffering still from the 1949 car accident that nearly killed him, he had bad legs and a left shoulder that was plagued with bursitis, scar tissue and calcium deposits, and now in the morning he had cortisone shots just to be able to swing a golf club.
Hogan shot 74-73 to be seven shots off the lead but he made the cut to play on the weekend. He teed off with Harold Henning of South Africa and turned the corner on the front nine at even-par 36. Then sudden, as Ken Venturi his good friend for many years said recently, “He was no longer that [54-year-old] person. He was back in the early 1950s playing golf. He was in a zone.”
Hogan started out with birdies on No. 10, 11, 12. He always played the par-5 13, not going for the green with his second shot. Now he hit a 4-wood to leave him a 15 footer. He two-putted for his fourth straight birdie. He had par on 14, followed that with a two-putt birdie at No. 15 after another perfect 4-wood onto the long par-5 hole.
On every hole there were standing ovations. These were the days before hooting and hollering. No one yelled or screamed; fans applauded, and they applauded long for the great golf shots, great golfers. Golf is not a sport that catches the attention of rookies. Golfers know how difficult the game is and they appreciate and honor those players who have been around longer, played many matches over many years. And they knew and respected and honored Bantam Ben Hogan for how he had come back from his automobile accident where doctors said he would never walk again to go onto win nine major championships, including the Grand Slam of golf.
Frank Chirkinian, who for many years directed the broadcast of the tournament on CBS, said he was crying watching Hogan wearily walked up the final fairway, his legs nearly gone, each step painfully taken. Hogan had left his approach 25 feet below the hole and though he was battling putting woes, that afternoon at Augusta National, he couldn’t miss and finished the back nine by holing a 25-footer for a final birdie and a nine hole total of 30. It gave Hogan a 66 for the day and left him just two shots off the lead going into the final round.
Friend of Hogan’s writer Dan Jenkins, who was covering the Masters for Sports Illustrated, said, “I knew 66 would be his last hurrah.”
Hogan did not come back the next day to win the Masters, that is only the story of novel. In fact, Hogan never returned to the Masters after that weekend in 1967 and the fans that Sunday afternoon must have realized it for they stood on every fairway as he walked by and they stood as he approached every green to give him one last ovation, honoring the man and his long career, saying goodbye to the player famously known as The Hawk.