Four!

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By this time Ben Hogan was the biggest name in golf. The Jones era had overlapped the prime of Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen. On their heels came a distinguished company—Tommy Armour, Johnny Farrell, Craig Wood, Denny Shute, Ralph Guldahl, who won two Open championships back to back and then unaccountably forgot how to play golf. Out of the West Virginia hills came the sweetest swinger of them all, Samuel Jackson Snead. Broad-shouldered Lawson Little won the National Amateur twice in succession, turned pro and won the Open. During the war, a tall and sunburned Texan named Byron Nelson won almost every prize in sight, and Jug McSpaden took what was left.

Then here came Hogan, cold, withdrawn, his dark face grim beneath the flat white cap that was his trademark. He and Nelson had been caddies at the same club, Glen Garden in Fort Worth, and there was a lively rivalry between them as young professionals. They tied for the Masters title in 1942 and Nelson won the play off, but in 1946 Hogan was the Professional Golfers Association champion and in 1948 he scored a double in the U.S. Open and P.G.A. His score of 276 on “Hogan’s Alley”—the Riviera course in Los Angeles—was the lowest ever made in the Open and remained lowest until Jack Nicklaus beat it by a stroke nineteen years later and Lee Trevino shot another 275 the next year.

On February 2,1949, Hogan was smashed up horribly in a head-on collision with a bus. He was on his back for two months. For another month he ran around and around in his bedroom. When he got outdoors he ran on country roads with his wife, Valerie, accompanying him by car, and he ran and ran until he collapsed into the auto, sobbing.

In December he played eighteen holes of golf with his legs bandaged from ankles to hips. In January he entered the Los Angeles Open at Riviera and shot 73-69-69-69—280 to tie Snead for first place. Snead won the playoff, but the pros had got the message: The Hawk was back.

In June, Hogan teed off in the National Open at Merion. Sixteen months had passed since the highway crash. On the first day he shot 72, returned to his room and lay down with his legs in traction. The next day he shot 69 and put his legs in traction. On the third day he went thirty-six holes, scoring 72-74 to share the lead with George Fazio and Lloyd Mangrum. On the fourth day he killed them in the playoff with a 69.

In 1951 he won the Masters and National Open. In 1953 he swept the Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open. In 1954 he tied for first in the Masters but lost to Snead. Going for his fifth U.S. Open championship in 1955, he tied for first but was beaten in the playoff by Jack Fleck.

Jimmy Demaret, the laughing boy, was one of Hogan’s few close friends. He did a book called My Partner, Ben Hogan. Jimmy didn’t find Ben tactiturn. “When we’re playing, he talks to me on every green,” he said. “He turns and says, ‘You’re away.’ ”

In one respect the history of golf in America is similar to the history of baseball. Both had their beginnings as recreation for amateurs. When Alexander Cartwright wrote the rules of baseball, young men calling themselves the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club were playing the game for fun beside Sunfish Pond in a meadow on Murray Hill in Manhattan.

That was in 1845. In 1869 Harry Wright organized the Cincinnati Red Stockings and paid salaries ranging from $600 to $1,400. Today players make from $21,000 to $1,000,000 a year and amateur baseball is one with Nineveh and Tyre.

In the beginning, a considerable number of the best golfers were sons of well-to-do families who had time to attain the proficiency of professionals. As the leisure class diminished, golf’s attractions for pros blossomed. In 1936 when the late Fred Corcoran became tournament manager for the P.G.A., the leading money winner on the tournament circuit was Horton Smith, who collected $7,682. That figure was exceeded in 1978 by seventy-two players on the women’s tour; Nancy Lopez won $189,813 and Tom Watson led the men with $362,429.

In 1952 Corcoran turned in his contract with the P.G.A. in exchange for a five-year assignment of television and radio rights to all P.G.A.-sponsored events. “Golf isn’t a spectator sport,” said Tom Gallery, sports director of National Broadcasting Company, when Fred tried to sell his product. A few years after Fred’s option expired, Arnold Palmer was a bigger television star than Richard Nixon’s dog Checkers.

Palmer was the U.S. Amateur champion of 1954; the Masters champion, as a pro, in 1958,1960,1962, and 1964; the U.S. Open champion in 1960; and the British Open champion in 1961 and 1962. Thousands trooped at his heels and millions followed him on the tube, especially after his victories in the Masters and U.S. Open of 1960.

In the Masters he reached the seventy-first tee needing a par and birdie to tie Ken Venturi. He shot two birdies and won. In the Open at Cherry Hills in Denver he finished with a wild charge that made up ten strokes on Mike Souchak, the leader after three rounds. Arnold played the last eighteen in 65, the lowest last-round score for any winner.