Ben Hogan was, famously, a man of few words, but he made every one of them count. His reputed remark after winning the 1951 U.S. Open at fearsome Oakland Hills—"I finally brought the monster to its knees"—is part of golf lore. His 1990 advice to the earliest Hogan (now Buy.com) tour players, a pithy "Watch out for buses," is, too. No less telling was his comment about Fort Worth's Colonial Country Club, where a larger-than-life bronze statue of Hogan overlooks the 18th green. "A straight ball," he said, "will get you in more trouble at Colonial than any course I know."
Colonial's tree-lined and doglegged holes make it the ultimate shotmaker's course, requiring players to attempt all sorts of shots in all sorts of directions with all sorts of trajectories. The first three tee shots call for, in order, a slight fade, a high monster fade and either a hard slinging hook around or a moon shot over the trees. Hogan, who won the Colonial five times, was the shotmaker nonpareil. If you played with him at Shady Oaks, his home course only a few minutes up the road, and didn't play the shot that was called for—say, a fade around the corner on a sharp dogleg right—you were not invited to play with him again. Hogan didn't just believe in shotmaking; he insisted upon it.
These days, shotmaking supposedly has gone the way of persimmon woods and orange balls. Perimeter-weighted irons and metal woods make the ball go straighten Many young Tour players have one-dimensional games and most Tour courses are long and soft. "Just hit it as high and as hard as you can," says Jim Furyk. But Colonial is different. It's a slalom course between towering oaks and has tough bunkers and restored greens. If last week's MasterCard Colonial proved anything, it was that shotmaking is not a lost art.
Start with Phil Mickelson, who stole the tournament with a seven-under 63 on Sunday and replaced Tiger Woods as the game's hottest player. Mickelson, who lost in a playoff the week before, now has as many victories this year (three) as Woods has, and Sunday's was dramatic. Playing three groups ahead of the leaders, Mickelson was seven shots back with nine holes to play. He birdied five of those holes to finish at 12-under 268, then sat back and, watched the leader, Stewart Cink, turn into a verb. Cink needed to par the last four holes to win his second tournament of the season, but he bogeyed three of them and tied for second with—oh, no, not again!—Davis Love III.
The book on Mickelson is that he's not effective in the wind and doesn't fade the ball well. Hmmm. Maybe someone can explain the 67 he shot in last Thursday's minigale? Mickelson is also much improved at moving the ball right to left. Already a genius around the greens, he has built a solid base on a game that appears to be major-ready.
One more thing. The guy is not afraid to create a shot, Mr. Hogan. On Sunday, as Mickelson stood in the 11th fairway, he was as far from the green (292 yards) as he was from being in contention. He figured if he could blast a ripping hook with his three-wood, he might roll the ball onto the green. He ripped a hook, all right. "Just awful," Mickelson said. "I snap-hooked it right into the hazard." Mickelson's ball was headed for the Trinity River and a bogey—or worse—when it hit one of Colonial's trees and kicked back into the fairway, 90 yards from the green. Mickelson dropped a wedge shot to within four feet and made the putt for birdie. He didn't pull off the outlandish three-wood, but just trying such a gutsy play might have made the stone-faced Hogan smile. O.K., maybe not.
Certainly Hogan would have appreciated Mickelson's final stroke, a 30-foot birdie putt from the back of the 18th green. Mickelson was two shots behind Cink and thought he needed a birdie to have any chance of forcing a playoff. The putt was in long before Mickelson pumped his left fist.
That pure stroke was no accident. Feeling that his putting was slightly off, Mickelson was the last man off the practice green the night before. He kept at it until, putting from 10 spots in a circle around the cup, he holed 100 three-footers in a row. If he missed one, he started over. Mickelson says that if he's putting well, it takes about 20 minutes to make his 100. On Saturday he needed 45 minutes. (The first time he tried, the drill lasted four hours.) "When I make 100 in a row, I know my stroke is where it needs to be," he said on Sunday. "That paid off. I had a really good putting day today."
Even though Cink dropped this tournament as if he had been handed a hot branding iron, he plays a variety of shots, too. He likes to fade his long irons and woods and draw his middle and short irons. "I love playing at Colonial because it's a precision course," says the 27-year-old Cink, who was a three-time All-America at Georgia Tech. "Hitting it both ways off the tee here separates the true players. You can't get away with hitting a fade on 18, for example; otherwise there's a huge tree in your way. There are so many holes where you have to fit your tee shot inside the trees. It's great."
Knute Rockne would have killed for the kind of Saturday that Cink had last week. Since Friday's second round was suspended because of thunderstorms, Cink played 31 holes on Saturday, finishing off a 64 and following with a 65. The highlight reel shows Cink in a fairway bunker on the 15th hole, 160 yards from the pin with a tree blocking his way. He aims left of the green, where a creek lurks dangerously, and slices a risky eight-iron shot around the tree. His ball comes to rest within three feet of the hole. "That was probably the best shot I've hit this year," said Cink, who hit plenty of good ones down the stretch while overtaking Ernie Els to win last month's MCI Classic. Memo to self: Draft Cink in the U.S. Open office pool. Memo to IRS: We don't really have an office pool and last year's winner didn't really pocket $500.