You can't help but wish that Hogan could have ended his run in a more fitting posture than sitting in a golf cart. Perhaps a more appropriate farewell would have been the 1967 Masters when, suddenly, inexplicably, and on television, he shot a course-record 30 on the back nine in the third round. Augusta National's endlessly repeating galleries are the most jaded in the world, filled with applause-withholding, I-saw-Man-grum-hit-it-closer-than-that-in-'59 types. But they realized they were witnessing something special on that Saturday afternoon, and they gave Hogan a standing ovation at every green.
"You talk about something running up and down your spine," Hogan recalled years later. "I think I played the best nine holes of my life on those holes. I don't think I came close to missing a shot." Everyone wanted to talk to him afterward, of course. For a final time, he had everyone's attention. Tomorrow's my last round as a competitor, he could have told the press, but he didn't.
Later that year Hogan captained the Ryder Cup team. That, too, might have been an opportune time to say farewell. Instead the '67 Ryder Cup became better known for the friction between the captain and the team's top player. Arnold Palmer innocently asked Hogan if he had brought any British-sized balls, which were then optional and preferable. Palmer had obviously forgotten to practice with the smaller, 1.62-inch ball. "Did you remember to bring your clubs?" Hogan snapped back. "Anyway, who says you're playing in the match?" Arnie's stock with Hogan fell still further when, on the day before the match, he took one of the British players for a ride in his jet. Showing off, he buzzed the course with a few low-altitude barrel rolls. Palmer rode the bench on the morning of the second day. The U.S. team won 23½ to 8½ and Palmer won all five of his matches.
There were, however, other ways to remember Hogan. Jay Hebert recalls the drumbeat of rain on canvas, the odors of sweat and dirt, and the feeling of solitude and work. "One time at Champions the round got called off because of rain," Hebert says, "so most of the guys get on the phone and call their girlfriends or go to the movies. I went back out to the course that afternoon, even though it was still raining, and I hear this whomp, whomp coming from a big tent. I walk over and inside is Hogan. He's rolled up one side of the tent and he's inside hitting balls out to his caddie in the rain. 'Jay,' he says, 'if you miss one day, you've got to work twice as hard the next.' "
Hal Underwood remembers Hogan as a mythic figure. Late in the afternoon of the day before the 1970 Westchester Classic, Underwood and another pro stood by the 10th tee, preparing for nine more holes of practice before dark. A smoky, metallic voice behind him said, "Boys, I'm Ben Hogan. Mind if I join you?"
"I was petrified," Underwood says. "He eagled the 12th hole—a drive and a three-wood to two feet. Then on 16, a par-3, he shanked it, and the ball rattled around in the TV tower behind the 15th green. Hogan held out his hand, his caddie put another ball in it, and he ripped it right into the center of the green. He and the caddie walked right past that first ball. I hesitated. Should I pick up the ball for him, or get it and keep it for myself? But the way he acted...it had me convinced that first shot never happened." Underwood didn't pick it up.
When Nick Faldo recalls meeting Hogan in November 1992, he shakes his head and laughs. They ate at Hogan's private table at Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, the one in a nook by the window, and they got along famously. Hogan signed Faldo's dogeared copy of Five Lessons. The Englishman asked what he needed to do to win the U.S. Open. "Shoot the lowest score," Hogan shot back.
"After lunch, I'd really appreciate it if you'd watch me hit," Faldo said.
Hogan paused. "Nick, you're a pretty good player, aren't ya? If I tell you something, you'll forget it. You'd be better off if you figured it out for yourself." But he hadn't said no, and Faldo excused himself to go out to the range.
David Hueber, president of the Ben Hogan Golf Company, slid into the seat next to Hogan. "Well, Ben, are you ready to go out and watch Nick hit some balls?" he asked. A cart for Hogan had been parked right outside the door.