Ben Hogan was going to kill me. I could picture the front page of the next day's Tulsa Daily World: BOLT WINS BIG ONE, with the subhead HOGAN MURDERS YOUNGSTER WHO COUGHED. On the previous hole someone had clicked a Brownie camera, and Hogan had turned and stared into the gallery with a look that could have melted glass. Now I, an 11-year-old boy with a tickle in his throat, was standing eight feet from the great man as he addressed a tee shot during the final round of the 1958 U.S. Open.
Hogan. White cap, pleated slacks, polo shirt with tight sleeves, weathered face with tight lips. Hogan. Hit it, I prayed, trying to ignore the army of dust mites dancing on my larynx. Hit it! Hogan finally swung, and my asthmatic wheeze expelled the foreign bodies just as his driver met the ball. With everyone's eyes focused on the shot, I slipped through the raptly attentive grownups and sprinted into the trees, where I coughed until my eyes watered. When I came out, Hogan was gone.
That, my friends, is what I remember most about the 1958 U.S. Open. That and the insufferable heat.
Understand, I'm not working from notes here. If you want details of John Daly's winning the 1991 PGA at Crooked Stick, I'm your man. I know how the sky looked when Jean Van de Velde went barefoot into the burn at Carnoustie in '99 (stormy), and last year I filled two notebooks following Tiger Woods on his record-setting turn at Pebble Beach. In the summer of '58, however, I was a gangly sixth-grader in scuffed loafers, khaki pants, a plaid cotton shirt and tortoiseshell glasses. To produce even this modest memoir of the Blast Furnace Open, I had to call my brother, Tom, in Houston. "Crank up the Wayback Machine," I said. "I need everything you can remember about the '58 Open."
"Uhhh, I don't know if I recall enough to help you."
"You were a couple of weeks shy of 21," I prompted, "a hotshot golfer at Missouri."
"That," he said, laughing, "I remember."
Actually, Tom's recall wasn't bad. He remembered, for instance, that we weren't in Tulsa for the entire tournament, only for the final 36 holes on Saturday. "Dad never missed an opportunity to see the pros play, but this wasn't a carefully planned trip," Tom said. "We drove down from Kansas City and bought tickets at the gate."
As my brother and I talked, it came back to me in dribs and drabs, a long-ago June day in the heartland. Dad always liked to get an early start, so we were into the car an hour before dawn. We stopped for waffles and ham steaks at the Toddle House diner on 63rd Street, filled the tank at the Brook-side Sinclair station and then sped out of town on two-lane Highway 71. We were halfway to Harrisonville, Mo., by the time the sun had cleared the hills. Telephone poles divided the farmland into discrete frames, like stills from a movie.
The car was the most luxurious chariot Dad would ever own: a red-and-white 1956 Buick Special with three teardrop vents on each quarter-panel. We had music. When Dad wasn't crooning How Are Things in Glocca Morra at the wheel, we had the radio tuned to rock and roll station WHB, which, the deejays endlessly reminded us, stood for World's Happiest Broadcasters. Sprawled across the backseat, I read Archie and Sergeant Rock comics, the wind from the open windows blowing my hair flat against my forehead. (Comic books had been proved in studies to cause juvenile delinquency. I had the biggest collection in Missouri.)