SI Vault
Jacquin Sanders
October 27, 1969
How Mantle mocked me, Hogan ignored me and a lady racehorse owner gave me the cold shoulder
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October 27, 1969

The Kelso Bit, Or A Career Nipped

How Mantle mocked me, Hogan ignored me and a lady racehorse owner gave me the cold shoulder

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To my surprise, the cultured voice took pity. "You must be a very young journalist," she said.

"Well...I've been young."

Suddenly the lady was down to earth, if not downright earthy. She launched into an unabashed account of the gelding process and its effect on masculine aggressiveness. "There were half a dozen male yearlings on the farm the year Kelso was foaled," she said, "and we had a space problem. It's difficult to keep stallions together—they fight so." Therefore she and her trainer decided to geld the ones that seemed least promising, among them Kelso. By now I realized that it wasn't delicacy that had brought the ice to her voice but merely annoyance at being reminded of an irretrievable error—and perhaps a wistful regard for the million dollars in stud fees that might have been if Kelso had remained a stallion.

I reported the conversation to the editor and asked if I'd been wrong to make the call. He shook his head slowly and said he'd decided to write the Kelso story himself. Then he told me to go and watch Ben Hogan, "a golfer," trying to make a comeback at the age of 50 at the Thunderbird Classic in nearby Westchester County. Interview first. " Hogan's tough to get to—won't return calls, won't come to the phone," he said, adding bitterly, "just your meat."

Piqued at his attitude, I decided to ignore his warnings. I phoned the country club where the tournament was being held and asked the switchboard girl where Hogan was staying. She connected me to his room at the club. He answered the phone himself and couldn't have been nicer. We made an appointment to meet on the veranda. When I told the editor how easily I'd managed it all, he muttered something about refusing to be surprised by anything I did and closed his eyes again. I thought I might mention this bad habit of his to him someday, in a friendly way, after I'd settled a little more into my new job as sports editor.

Hogan was on time—a short, worried man who shook hands wordlessly and led me to a deserted corner of the veranda, overlooking a lovely landscape. Silently, we sank into comfortable chairs; silently, we looked at each other. I now understood why the press referred to him as "dour, driven, uncommunicative." I smiled nervously. He gave me a sharp look, and when I didn't say anything he smiled back. A tentative smile, but appreciated—the first I'd had in several days from anybody. I was reluctant to spoil the moment with questions; in fact, I was tongue-tied. It wasn't awe, as with Mantle. It was only that questions seemed so inappropriate. What do you ask a 50-year-old former champion? Do you hope you're still good? Would you like to win? How's the old four-iron these days?

As the moments turned into minutes it became increasingly more difficult to think of anything to ask. We just sat there. The old champion grew more relaxed. After a while he put his legs straight out and sank deep into the chair. We exchanged more smiles. We gazed at the landscape. Peace. Finally he looked at his watch. "Well," he said, "I've got to be going." I said I did too.

Later I passed nearby as he was talking to another reporter. The reporter told me afterward that Hogan had pointed at me as I walked away and said, "Bright fellow. Knows his golf."

At sundown I returned to my leader. He looked terrible. Where earlier he had hidden only his eyes, now his whole prematurely aged face was shielded by his hands. Yet somehow, even before I spoke, he knew it was me.

"Another blow," he said to the copy paper on his desk. "Emily's come out in little pink spots—and pain, pain.... All that, and an Olympic-class violinist already warming up at Carnegie Hall."

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