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