Sixty-three years ago this spring, a golfer experienced the breakthrough of his life. He discovered something that transformed him from a very good golfer to a legend in his life, with an enduring reputation as the best ball striker the game has ever known. Ben Hogan discovered something in 1946 and then hinted and finally acknowledged that he had discovered a “secret”. A secret that allowed him to achieve a goal that he sought for almost 14 years on the professional tour, namely, how to produce a constant, powerful and repetitive swing that allowed him to obtain almost total command over the golf ball. Debates continue to this day about who is the greatest golfer of all time. But as Jack Nicklaus recently observed in response to a question about whether Tiger Woods is the best forward he’s ever seen, “No, no, that would definitely be Ben Hogan.” And we’ve probably all read the comment attributed to “Terrible” Tommy Bolt, a champion golfer in his own right, who remarked that “all I know is that I saw Nicklaus watching Hogan’s practice, but I’ve never seen Hogan watching. to Nicklaus practice. “
For several years, Hogan only acknowledged that he had discovered a secret. Several professional golfers speculated about his secret in Life magazine of April 5, 1954. The following year, Hogan revealed his secret for all to see in Life magazine of August 8, 1955. The article was simply titled “This is my secret, “with Hogan detailing how he had further weakened his grip by moving his hands to the left so that he could barely see 2 knuckles, with the V of both hands pointing directly at the chin button. I say he weakened his grip even further because he had previously moved it to the left or to a neutral position in 1938 based on a spike to avoid a hook from Henry Picard. He had also adopted a so-called shortened thumb position after his discharge from duty in 1945. The shortened thumb gave him better club control on the backswing by reducing his tendency to “John Daily it”, particularly with the driver. The secret he described involved the use of the Scottish technique of deliberate pronation. This technique involved a twisting or cupping of the left wrist on the backswing. The movement was believed to make it difficult to close the clubface on the way down, thus avoiding a hook. Most expert golfers considered it a technique not only suitable for throwing the ball in the air, but also for promoting a hook. He also described how he “supinated” his left wrist through the ball. Hogan further warned that his secret would not be worth it to the average golfer and would be ruinous for a bad golfer, particularly one who already fights for a slice. But it certainly worked for Hogan, as he won 33 tournaments and 3 majors from 1946 until his career interruption by his car accident on February 2, 1949. This was a phenomenal hit streak that took him to the top of the golf world. .
Perception of another secret.
Several months before the revelation of his secret in Life magazine, Jack Fleck defeated Hogan in a playoff for the 1955 US Open Championship. Fleck was little advertised and less well known and is considered one of the biggest upsets in history. of the US Open. Hogan was devastated by the loss and announced that he would be a “ceremonial golfer” from then on. The victory would have given him a record for a fifth U.S. Open Championship and atoned for his perception of being belittled for his 1942 Hale Open victory, which was held as an Open in all but name, including awarding an identical medal that matched Hogan’s other four. Hogan later published in the spring of 1957 a series of Sports Illustrated articles that were later included in his classic instruction manual “Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.”
The book is still relevant and a classic more than 52 years later. However, the book was not without controversy, as the secret revealed in 1955 was nowhere to be found in the book. There was little to no discussion of “pronation” except for a brief mention of the ruinous effects of early pronation on the downswing. However, there was quite a bit of information about “supination”. With its focus on the basics of golf, Hogan’s philosophy held that proper application and practice of the basics of the swing was all that was needed. The basic elements consisted of approximately 8 total movements that were put together in a chain action to produce a repetitive golf swing. He felt that a golfer of average athletic ability could exceed 80. Golfers became skeptical when the book did not quickly lead to the promised results. There were about 18 pages in the grip alone. After all that coverage, the relatively weak grip advocated in Five Lessons was viewed by many instructors as an example of poor beginner technique, as it exacerbated most golfers’ nightmare, the dreaded cut. For golfers who are already prone to hitting the ball, the focus on a strong grip of the right arm and elbow to the side, coupled with the inside swing, often produces the worst type of shot that destroys confidence, snap or ball. duck hook. The recommendation to move the hips as fast as possible, as if they were attached to the wall by an elastic band, wreaked havoc on the strokes of golfers whose arms could not keep up with the body and often ended up swinging violently or pulling. . her arms through impact like a rag doll. Finally, a key swing principle presented in the book as a kind of breakthrough, the airplane, turned out to be too complex, a bit esoteric, and a subject few understood.
A book before or after its time?
To be fair to his book, a new generation of “franchise” golfers was emerging in the form of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player to a lesser degree, and amateur star Jack Nicklaus. The era of swashbuckling golf was in full force and Palmer’s style, with a unique swing style that only an athlete could produce, apparently bore little resemblance to the style championed by Hogan. Then there was Nicklaus, with a flying right elbow, reverse “C” and prodigious length that was described by Hogan’s hero Bobby Jones as “A style of golf that I am not familiar with.” The reverse “C” gained prominence on the tour and the style was quite different from that advocated on Five Lessons. Despite Hogan’s reputation as a great striker and having earned the admiration of his fellow golfers, Hogan’s style paled in comparison to Palmer. Palmer’s golf was compelling, emotional, and created a surge of fan support that became known as “Arnie’s Army.” Golfers wanted to play and be like Arnie. There was no lost love between Palmer and Hogan, whose insistence on referring to Palmer as “Fella” irritated Palmer throughout his career. The relatively conservative style of golf played by Hogan fell out of favor during the period in which Palmer peaked, Player began to be a force to be reckoned with, and Nicklaus came to the fore.
What about the secret?
There was a hint of unfinished business over the years when Hogan closed his career. From time to time, over the next several decades, there were hints that there was more to his golf swing and his knowledge than had been revealed in his golf books or Life magazine articles. He often introduced himself as “Henny Bogan” when meeting people or talking on the phone, which was an apparent joking reference to himself. He did an interview with Nick Seitz in December 1984 which was added as a foreword for a reprint of Five Lessons as he was approaching 30 years in print. Hogan revealed the importance of pronation and the trials and tribulations that led to his discovery. He also insisted that “I wouldn’t change anything at Five Lessons and that everything I knew about the full golf swing was there.” There was further speculation and doubts about these statements, as the book did not mention the secret that it revealed in 1955. At some point over the next decade, Hogan allegedly offered to reveal his real secret that he apparently did not reveal in the book. Life magazine article. There were rumors and speculation that the technique would allow a professional to shoot in the 1950s. The requested figure was reportedly $ 100,000. The deal never materialized. There was an update in one of the golf magazines that provided a summary of much of the information known to date on the secret, but no new information was presented.
Hogan did not reveal any more information during his lifetime. Several books have been published over the last decade by credible people who claim to reveal Hogan’s secret as told, in some cases, by Hogan himself. While many of these present interesting stories, in some cases the books are fiction and in other cases the premise of the secret is based on emphasizing the fundamentals described in Five Lessons. Many have speculated that there was nothing more to know and that Hogan was just misleading people. Others have a hard time explaining why, if there was more to the story, an honorable and upright man like Hogan didn’t reveal it during his lifetime. Others have postulated that Hogan’s secret was in his head, or was an 8-letter word that “started with a P and ended with an E” (practice). Byron Nelson said he was hitting it near the hole and making the putts. Others insisted that whatever secret there may have been, it is no longer relevant in the modern game with new technology and the focus on target golf and distance. Jim McLean observed on The Ben Hogan Collection DVD that Ben Hogan’s secret in the final analysis was many little things. That may be closer to the truth than anyone realizes.