The most underrated standard that Hogan left golf was his toughness and grace in defeat. Throughout his career Hogan carried on despite some cruel setbacks. Just his rivalry with Nelson would have broken a lesser man. Beginning with the caddie championship at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth, when they were both 15, Nelson edged Hogan several times in head-to-head competition. It last happened when Nelson beat Hogan 2 and 1 in the quarterfinals of the 1941 PGA.
In 1946, the year before Nelson stopped playing the Tour full time, Hogan suffered what some consider to be the most devastating back-to-back losses in major championship history. At the Masters he had an 18-foot putt for a birdie on the 72nd hole to win his first major. Hogan ran his first putt three feet by the hole, then missed coming back. Two months later at the U.S. Open at Canterbury in Cleveland, he was in an identical situation on the final green. Hogan three-putted again. At that moment no one would have been surprised if his career had come crashing down. Instead Hogan went to the PGA Championship at Portland Golf Club and won, beginning his never-equaled hot streak in the majors.
After the run ended with a win in the British Open in 1953, Hogan endured bitter disappointment in pursuit of a record fifth U.S. Open title. At Olympic in 1955 Jack Fleck caught him with a miracle finish in regulation, then sustained his "Open coma" to defeat Hogan in a playoff. The following year at Oak Hill, Hogan was tied for the lead on the 71st green but missed a three-footer and wound up second again. Finally, in 1960 in Denver, at 47, Hogan was again tied for the lead on the penultimate hole, only to hit a short pitch into the water to make a bogey 6 and then close with a 7 on the par-4 18th. Two pars would have put him into a playoff with the eventual winner, Arnold Palmer.
Hogan handled all of the setbacks with equanimity. He had been steeled early in his pro career, always contending that his greatest accomplishment was being able to make a living playing golf after going broke several times starting out. Left unsaid was the effect of his father's suicide. Ben was nine when Chester Hogan, a blacksmith, took his own life in their Fort Worth home. After such an experience, perhaps it was easier to take whatever golf dished out. Resilience was a way of life.
No one ever quite took on the game the way Hogan did. He followed his code completely. The closest he ever came to wavering was his occasional carping about what he considered the disproportionate importance of putting. Hogan wasn't perfect, but it's impossible to imagine him ever doing anything that could be construed as phony.
His code was born of love, something that didn't have much of a place in Hogan's dealings with people other than his wife of 62 years, Valerie. Hogan grew estranged from Nelson. He was never close to Snead and had an edgy relationship with Palmer. Hogan dedicated his first book to Henry Picard, who was widely believed to be Hogan's good friend. Yet Picard, when contacted by Curt Sampson for the biography Hogan, said, "Ben and I hardly know each other, even today." Even Jimmy Demaret, author of the book My Partner, Ben Hogan, said, "Nobody gets close to Ben Hogan."
The love that Hogan found so hard to project to other men, he poured into the game. It was a tough love—the toughest—but it had a tender core. While lying delirious in a bed at Hotel Dieu Hospital in El Paso after his 1949 accident, Hogan gripped and regripped an imaginary club and waved back to an imaginary gallery. In 1965 he told the British writer Pat Ward-Thomas, "I know that I have had greater satisfaction than anyone who ever lived out of hitting golf shots." In 1991 he said, "I liked to win, but more than anything I loved to play the way I wanted to play."
That's why we loved Hogan. He showed us what true greatness takes, and despite our pretensions to emulate him, what a distinct man he was.