In his new book Miracle
at Merion: The Inspiring Story of Ben Hogan’s Amazing Comeback and Victory at
the 1950 U.S. Open, author David
Barrett pretty much covers it all.
Barrett, a former longtime editor at
Golf magazine, spins 15 chapters of
prelude before he gets to the first round. It’s good stuff. But the best stuff, by far, comes in the
final few chapters in which Barrett
details the 36-hole final on Saturday and the playoff on Sunday, in which Hogan prevailed over Lloyd Mangrum and hometown favorite George Fazio.
Coming on the heels of his near-fatal car
crash, the ’50 Open not only
established Hogan as an iconic
figure in sports, it also put Merion GC
in the pantheon of great U.S. Open
Coupled with the Bobby Jones’ victory in the 1930
U.S. Amateur to polish off the Grand
Slam, the ’50 Open makes Merion the setting for two of the most
compelling, historic events in the history of the game.
Here’s a Q & A I did with Barrett on Friday morning.
Question: How did you come to write
the book? It’s a famous Open, and Hogan is Hogan, but what
interested you enough to write the book?
Answer: A few things, I guess,
starting with that being one of the iconic U.S.
Opens -- the tournament and the story of Hogan’s comeback. And I
liked the idea of getting into one event and finding out everything I could
about it and writing about it. That
was a good event to do that with.
The extra thing that got me into it was not
only was Hogan’s story good but I
think a lot of the other players have interesting stories to tell as well and a
lot of them are kind of forgotten.
Q: Tom Fazio has told me that if his Uncle George had won that Open, he, Tom, would never have become a golf course architect, because George would have never become an
A: I talked to Tom in researching the book to get some
details about George and he told me
the same thing.
Q: I was surprised to read that in a
pre-tournament poll, Sam Snead was
favored to win by 85 percent of the players in the field.
A: 1950 had been Snead’s greatest year, along with 1938
and ’39. He had actually gone into
a slump in the late Ô40s, largely because of his putting, then he came back
when he regained his form on the greens sometime around ’49.
In 1950, by the time of the U.S. Open in June, Snead had won six or seven tournaments that year. He finished the year with 11 wins. So that is probably why he was a heavy
favorite, even though he had never won a U.S.
Open, and never did.
Q: Did you turn up anything in
your research that really surprised you?
A: One surprising thing was
that Hogan spent the weekend before
the Open playing in a national
celebrities tournament in Washington.
That is not how you would envision him preparing.
I was surprised by Hogan’s third round.
Contrary to his reputation, he kind of sprayed the ball around the
course. He kept himself in it by
scrambling. In fact, he even hit a
drive out of bounds during that round.
Q: How is the course different
now than it was for the ’50 Open?
A: It is pretty much the
same. They’ve restored the
bunkering to the way it was in 1930.
On the 10th hole, there were two bunkers put in on the right
side of the fairway at the suggestion of Richard
Tufts of the USGA. They were put
there as a penalty and another reason was to keep people from going through the
fairway and ending up on the 11th tee. The bunkers were taken out because when
they did that renovation and used 1930 as their benchmark.
Q: I was surprised to read that Hy Peskin, who took that famous photo
of Hogan hitting the 1-iron at the
18th, was covering his first golf tournament that week.
A: He wasn’t that old but he
was a pretty famous newspaper sports photographer, who was shooting for Life magazine. He had a reputation in New York for
getting good angles, shots that nobody else got covering basketball and
baseball games. Life sent him to the 1950 Open, which was his first golf
I pointed out in the book that that shot can’t
be replicated today. Back then,
there were no fairway ropes. No
photographer can get out there today.
They have to stay within an arm’s length of the ropes.
Q: There would not have been a
playoff if Hogan hadn’t blown a
three-shot lead on the final holes on Saturday. What happened?
A: It happened after he almost fell down on
the 12th tee and had to grab onto somebody. He had the leg problems
and his legs were wrapped in elastic bandages. Nobody was sure if he could go 36 holes.
While Jim Finegan* recalls that Hogan
did appear to be in pain walking, he also said that it didn't seem to
affect his swing. Perhaps it contributed to an iron shot on the 12th that he
apparently caught thin and hit over the green for the first of his three
But the worst blow was
three-putting from 25 feet on the 15th. On the par-three 17th, Hogan appeared to hit a good long iron
that would have hit the green if it either faded or carried a little less far.
But it ended up in a bunker and he eventually missed a six-foot putt.
(*Villanova golf writer and historian Jim
Finegan, then a student at LaSalle
College, followed Hogan on
Saturday and was interviewed by Barrett
for his book.)
Q: One of the most interesting stories is the debate about whether Hogan hit a 1-iron or a 2-iron at the 18th on Saturday in
that famous photo. What is
your best explanation as to whether it was a 1-iron or a 2-iron?
A: I ended up going with it
being a 1-iron, mostly because both the Philadelphia
Inquirer and the New York Times said
the next day in their reporting on the fourth round that it was 1-iron. And Charles
Price, the golf writer, did a magazine story on Hogan for which he talked to Hogan
two weeks after the Open. Hogan
told Price then it was a 1-iron.
Now, later on, he wrote in Five Fundamentals that it was a 2-iron, and he told writers on
several occasions that it was a 2-iron.
Dan Jenkins was the writer
who was closest to him and he always told Jenkins
it was a 2-iron. I talked to Jenkins and told me, "One time he even
said it was a 3-iron."
Hogan later went back to saying it
was a 1-iron. I went with 1-iron
because the accounts closest to the event had it as a 1-iron.
Q: One of the things that was
almost inconceivable to me was that during the playoff, when Lloyd Mangrum hit his approach shot
over the green at the 12th hole and over Ardmore Avenue, next to the
13th tee. And the most
plausible explanation anybody has come up with is that caddie handed him a
6-iron instead of a 9-iron and he didn’t notice it. That’s almost unbelievable.
A: Yes, that seems almost
unbelievable to me. I put that
explanation in there because, as implausible as it sounds, it fit the facts of
how far over the green he hit it.
It is covered in newspaper accounts but they kind of glossed it over.
I don’t know if anybody has ever written the
9-iron/6-iron confusion story before but that came from Merion historian John Capers
talking to Ike Grainger, the USGA official, a number of years after
Q: The other interesting story
is the Merion legend about Hogan saying he couldn’t go on after
the 13th and that his caddie said to him, "I don’t work for
quitters; I’ll see you on the 14th tee." Any way to know whether it is true or
A: I went into writing book thinking it was
false. But in talking to John Capers, he said that Hogan had confirmed it two times --
once to Charles Price late in Hogan’s life.
By the Ô80s it was certainly a story told at Merion. Capers
knew Price and he asked Price to ask Hogan about it. Hogan confirmed it to Price. And later, Capers had a chance to visit Hogan
and he asked him about it. Hogan said, yeah, it happened.
I found it hard to believe because there were
just five holes left. Yes, he was
limping, but a man with Hogan’s determination,
I figured he would do whatever he had to do. This could be one of his recollections
where later in his life, you’re not sure whether you can go with it what he
said. On the other hand, would he
have admitted it if it wasn’t true?
What I don’t buy is what the caddie said, about "I don’t work for
Q: Hogan is such a controversial figure in golf. After all this research, did your take
on him change?
A: My thinking about him didn’t
change too much. I would say that
the idea that he changed because of his accident is pretty accurate. After he had the accident, letters and
telegrams poured into his hospital room.
He was really affected by that. He realized people really cared about
him, and it contributed to loosening up his "Ice Man" persona a little bit.
The warm reception he got from galleries after
his comeback made him a little more willing to interact with galleries. He loosened up a little bit but he was
still a hard man, very focused, all the way through his life. A lot of the "Hogan mystique" is really true.
Q: The ’50 Open is celebrated as Hogan’s
greatest victory in a major, but he went on to win the Masters and the Open in
1951 and three majors in 1953.
Arguably his best years came after the accident. What is your assessment of his career?
A: He won six of his nine
majors after the crash. He was
concentrating on the majors, so maybe it was just focusing on those events so
much might have helped him give his maximum performances in those events.
In a career sense, the accident was such a
tragedy because he was on such a roll in 1948, with one of the best years
anybody ever had. At the time of
the crash, I think he had won nine of his last 13 tournaments. He won 11 tournaments in 1948, so he was at his peak. He might have won more tournaments than Snead without the crash. I think there was a very good chance he
In that sense, the crash hurt his career. On
the other hand, it turned him into a more sympathetic figure, a guy that people
warmed to more than they did when he was the Ice Man.
Q: Do you care to venture a guess as to how
Merion will do as the Open venue in 2013?
A: I think it will be great. I
hope so. They have added length on
a number of holes and yet the short holes are still short but interesting. I
think it will challenge the players from just about every aspect of their game.
The one question mark is that it doesn’t test
their driving as much as some courses.
There will be a lot of holes where they don’t hit driver. Overall, it think it will be great.