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HOGAN
May 06, 1996
Twenty-five years ago this month Ben Hogan made his last appearance on the PGA Tour, playing in Houston, site of this week's stop on the pro circuit. This excerpt from the recently released biography "Hogan" ($24.95, Rutledge Hill Press) by Texas author Curt Sampson looks back at that final tournament and the years that followed.
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May 06, 1996

Hogan

Twenty-five years ago this month Ben Hogan made his last appearance on the PGA Tour, playing in Houston, site of this week's stop on the pro circuit. This excerpt from the recently released biography "Hogan" ($24.95, Rutledge Hill Press) by Texas author Curt Sampson looks back at that final tournament and the years that followed.

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"Does he play our clubs?"

"No," Hueber answered.

Hogan swirled the chablis in his glass. "I think I'll just finish my wine," he said. He didn't watch Faldo.

After his retirement from tournament golf, Hogan's daily routine became a well-worn path. Two hours in his office at the Hogan Company, from 10 to noon; lunch at Shady Oaks, alone at a table for eight overlooking the 9th and 18th greens; golf or practice if the weather was warm enough. If it wasn't warm, he would change out of his suit and try to drive the stiffness out of his aching body with a half-dozen Tylenols and a long, hot shower. On weekends, he would come to the course in golf clothing and watch football games on television.

A small break in his predictable days occurred in the late '70s, when he called Gene Sheeley into his office. "Gene, can you make me a putter this long? Two grips, one here, one here."

Ben Hogan, golf's symbol of traditionalism, used a high-tech long putter? "He lasted two days with it," Sheeley says. "They made so much fun of him at Shady Oaks."

The Hogan Company fell into decline in the late '70s and early '80s. The firm had the wrong products, missed the boat big-time in its marketing, and finally it was not clear who or what was in charge. In 1984 corporate raider Irwin Jacobs bought AMF, Hogan's parent company, and merged it into his Minstar conglomerate. After the company lost $2.5 million the next year, a new president, Jerry Ostrey, was hired.

"Ben, we're in trouble," Ostrey said in his daily meetings with Hogan. "Karsten Solheim [whose company makes Ping, one of the top-selling brands] has a greater voice than you do in golf equipment, and he can't play his way out of a paper bag." Ostrey helped wear down Hogan's resistance to the company's first nontraditional design, a new golf club to compete against Ping irons. The Hogan Edge would have a big cavity in the back, like Ping's easy-to-hit clubs, but the heads would be forged metal, not that hard cast stuff Ping used.

While the Edge was being developed and manufactured, Ostrey commissioned a market survey. The results should have surprised no one: What everybody wanted from the Ben Hogan Company was Ben Hogan. "I realized we had the greatest asset in the world over in the corner and we should have him speak for the company," Ostrey recalls. When he asked Hogan to consider hitting the Edge for a TV commercial, he chose his words very carefully. "You always gave him options," Ostrey says. "If you just asked a yes or no question, you might not like his answer."

Hogan agreed to do it. He even assented to traveling to the West Coast for the shoot because the winter-brown grass in Fort Worth would not look good on camera. So in March 1987, Ben and Valerie got on a plane for the first time in seven years. They shot the spot at Riviera in four days. The resultant commercial was simple: just gauze-filtered images of a 74-year-old man hitting golf balls, and of longtime Riviera teaching pro Arturo Rios pretending to be his caddie. The ad became one of the great successes of modern advertising. Hogan Company sales zoomed from $50 million to $70 million in the 12 months after the commercials ran.

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