If not for some gentle prodding by his two sons, Jules Alexander might never have shown the world some of the best photographs ever taken of Ben Hogan. The subject of publishing the pictures came up in January 1989, while Jules; his wife, Danna; and their older boy, 25-year-old Paul, were visiting the younger son, Carl, then a 23-year-old senior at Arizona. In the car one day, Paul said, "Dad, you've got to share your Hogan photos."
Carl seconded the notion. "Yeah, Dad. Pros like Chip Beck and Gil Morgan spend hours at the house drooling over them," he said. "They're magical, and it's not fair to keep them hidden. You're the only one on the planet with those pictures." The rest is history.
Alexander, 72, grew up in the Bronx idolizing Ansel Adams and took his first picture when he was 12. At 15 he was shooting the likes of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra for Down Beat magazine. Three years later Alexander attended the Naval Photography School, then did photographic reconnaissance work in the South Pacific during World War II. After the war he returned to New York City and became one of the city's preeminent advertising and fashion photographers.
Although sports photography wasn't on his mind, Ben Hogan was. Alexander first met Hogan in 1953. "My friend John Muller had the Foot-Joy account and asked if I wanted to help shoot Hogan, who was on his way home from [winning] the British Open," says Alexander. "I wasn't a golfer and didn't know much about Hogan, but I went anyway." Alexander was awestruck when Hogan entered the studio. "He was cool and elegant, wearing a smart suit and a tie," says Alexander. "I was mesmerized."
Six years later the U.S. Open was played at Winged Foot, 20 miles northeast of New York City. Alexander assigned himself to cover the tournament, but the focus of the assignment narrowed considerably once he arrived at the course. "Hogan was amazing—totally alone but magnetic," says Alexander, who shot no one else but the Hawk. "He never spoke, but he was tranquil, even smiled some, and he smoked constantly."
Alexander was pleased with his Hogan photos but never considered trying to sell them. "I didn't know what I had," he says. However, watching Hogan, who tied for eighth, five strokes behind the winner, Billy Casper, inspired Alexander to take up golf. He taught himself to play by studying his photos and reading Five Lessons, Hogan's classic instruction book.
Not until 1971, when the family moved to a house adjacent to the practice range at Westchester Country Club, in suburban Harrison, N.Y., did Alexander learn the value of his Hogan collection. Friends would come to his house and gawk at the pictures for hours. So would the Tour pros in town for the Westchester (now Buick) Classic. As word of the photos spread, Alexander received offers to market them but always said no. "It's the only thing I've ever been possessive about," he says. "I felt a strange attachment—like the pictures were a part of me. I didn't want to see them commercialized."
Alexander partially relented in 1986, and two of the shots were published in the U.S. Open program. Suddenly Alexander and his photos were a hot commodity. The day after the Open, his phone rang. "Do you have more Hogan pictures?" asked Jim Dalthrop, an executive at Tracy-Locke, the advertising agency that handled the Ben Hogan Company account.
"Are they for sale?"