The contrast in the personalities of Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan has always been considerable, but never more than in their later lives. While Nelson has remained a part of the golf scene, as approachable as any person in the game's history, Hogan has become a recluse. That was about to change. Hogan was scheduled to make three public appearances this month, which is what made his hospitalization last week all the sadder.
Complaining of stomach pain on May 7, Hogan was taken to All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth. Doctors found a tumor and removed his spleen and part of his colon. At week's end he was in stable condition.
The 82-year-old Hogan had planned to attend a dinner in Dallas on May 8 for past Ryder Cup captains and a luncheon in his honor on Monday in Fort Worth as part of Ben Hogan Week festivities leading up to the Colonial Invitation. In what was to be Hogan's final public hurrah, he was scheduled to be at the Colonial on May 23 for the unveiling of a seven-foot bronze statue of him that will overlook the 18th green.
"There was no warning that anything like this would happen," said Hogan's wife, Valerie. "He didn't feel like eating lunch Sunday, then he developed severe abdominal pains. Until then he'd been feeling fine and was looking forward to [ Hogan Week]. I know this is a big disappointment to him."
Although they live 25 miles apart, Nelson has always respected Hogan's desire for privacy. "Ben likes to be left alone," Nelson says. "I've known Ben all his life, so I've left him alone. The only way you can find him is to go to Shady Oaks [Country Club], and I never go to Shady Oaks."
Mark Calcavecchia credits his victory in the BellSouth Classic two weeks ago—his first win in more than three years—to "Billy," the old Ping Anser copper putter that he used while winning the Honda Classic in 1987, the Australian Open in 1988 and the Phoenix and Los Angeles opens in 1989. "I had basically bent it to death several times, and it was just like retired," Calcavecchia said after shooting 64 in the first round of the Byron Nelson Classic, "I shoved it in my closet and said, 'This thing's history. I can't ever use it again.' It was looking just horrible. It had about eight degrees loft. It was hooked. The shaft was bent."
Calcavecchia sent Billy to the Ping factory in Scottsdale, Ariz., with instructions to make it like new. When he got the putter back, he took it to Greensboro and finished fifth. That was his first top-10 in seven tournaments.
"Billy's been partially dead in lakes, but I always retrieved him," Calcavecchia said. "The worst thing I ever did to him was at Las Vegas Country Club. I threw him into a cement wall as hard as I could on the last hole. You couldn't even have putted with him if you tried. But here he is, he's back, he's resurrected."