SI Vault
Herbert Warren Wind
August 08, 1955
The most highly publicized, widely discussed but best-kept secret in modern sports has been "Hogan's Secret." Now that he has decided, at 42, to enter semiretirement, the great golf champion this week disclosed his still unguessed private formula
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August 08, 1955

Hogan Reveals His Secret

The most highly publicized, widely discussed but best-kept secret in modern sports has been "Hogan's Secret." Now that he has decided, at 42, to enter semiretirement, the great golf champion this week disclosed his still unguessed private formula

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Ever since Ben Hogan announced two springs ago that his majestic successes as a tournament golfer were yoked hand in hand with a discovery he had made in 1946 and mastered in 1948, one of America's favorite outdoor and indoor pastimes has been trying to guess "Hogan's Secret." Most professionals and technique-wise amateurs knew the general area in which to look: Hogan's Secret clearly had something to do with the adjustments Ben had made which had transformed him—on those occasions when he failed to meet the ball just right—from the anguished captive of a hook (in which the ball moves in an often disastrous right-to-left parabola) into the proud and happy owner of a cultivated, controllable fade (in which the ball moves in a gentle left-to-right parabola and usually expires only a few yards off the desired line). The guesses included just about all of the age-old, stand-by remedies of the Ancient and Honorable Society for the Prevention of the Hook. Some were obviously "warm" but there was no knowing exactly how warm, for Hogan had no intention of making his personal formula known to his rivals as long as he remained a full-fledged competitive golfer.

In line with his post-Open declaration that he is entering semiretirement and will henceforth eschew his customary all-out preparations for victory when he does play in a tournament, Ben Hogan at length decided to reveal his secret and he does so this week in LIFE magazine. "The mechanics of a good swing demand a hook," Hogan writes, leading up to his militant measures against it. "To get distance, the hands roll into the ball just before the point of impact, and after it is hit the wrists roll over the top of the shaft. When hit this way, which is the way the best tournament players hit it, there is nothing for the ball to do but take off low and hard. It curls from right to left at the end of its flight. It comes into a green or fairway hot, like a fighter plane landing...A hook is hard to judge. Maybe one week you will be able to judge it adequately, but then the next week you aim a little farther over to the right to compensate. Sometimes a hook gets so exaggerated that you don't know where to aim."

In 1946 Hogan was in the throes of just such a dilemma. As he intimates, many fine golfers had been there before him—in fact, all but a very few of the top tournament golfers since Harry Vardon, the last of the natural fade exponents. Gene Sarazen, for example, had to fight a hook throughout his career. Sarazen's solution was 1) to make certain his hands remained glued to the club at the top of the backswing and 2) to allow for the possibility of a hook by aiming, when in doubt, down the right-hand side of the fairway. At the stages in his career when he had to battle a hook, Bob Jones, in the view of his contemporaries, pronated his right wrist at address in order to open the club-head a shade. The mystery of the multiple "collapses" of Macdonald Smith, the greatest golfer who never won a major championship, was partially cleared up for many observers when they studied slow-motion pictures of Mac's beautiful swing and detected that, under the strain of the big events, he had a tendency to come into the ball with a slightly closed club face.

On pages 20 and 21, the three adjustments Hogan arrived at for exiling his hook and still extracting maximum manageable power from his swing are described in graphic detail. As Hogan himself warns, they will not prove a panacea for the average golfer. Moreover, although his left-thumb adjustment should help accomplished golfers who are afflicted with a hook, it would seem that mastering Hogan's other measures would be at least as difficult as mastering a positively correct method of swinging. In short, Hogan's Secret is probably best viewed not as a prescription for other golfers' ills but as an example of one man's resourcefulness in solving his own particular problem and, with his amazing concentration and will power, turning himself from a great golfer into a great champion.

This is the hook-proof position Hogan has mastered. The salient feature is the superbly strong left hand—a wall solid enough to restrain the natural tendency of the smashing right hand to overpower the left and shut the face of the club. For the measures that the hook-plagued Hogan took to insure that he arrive at this position, study pages 20 and 21.


One night in 1946 as he was lying awake in bed and wondering what he could do to harness his hook, Ben Hogan decided to experiment with some personal variations on the old, discredited technique called pronation. When a golfer pronates, the left wrist gradually rolls to the right on the backswing, the palm of the left hand gradually rolls downward, and this action gradually opens the face of the club. On the downswing, the corollary action, supination, takes place. The left wrist rolls to the left, the palm rolls upward, and the club face gradually closes so that, in theory anyway, it is absolutely square when it arrives at the ball. Pronation by itself, as Hogan states, is no cure for a hook and, in truth, encourages one. However, he felt that by making certain adjustments, pronation could serve as a base for a reliable, hook-proof method of striking the ball. The adoption of the pronation technique plus the working out of two related adjustments are what constitute Hogan's Secret.

The first adjustment Hogan made was to alter his grip, moving his left hand about �-inch to the left so that the thumb lies directly on top of the shaft. (This revised position was visible, of course, and has already been copied by many pros.) The second adjustment—the heart of the secret—was invisible. It was a slight movement of the left wrist on the backswing, cupping the wrist in. As a result, the back of the left hand is gradually twisted upwards, so that at the top of the back-swing it is tilted some six to eight degrees above its normal position. "At this position," Hogan says, "the swing has been made hook-proof." Hogan used this private formula on 90% of the shots he played, forgoing the adjustments only on those relatively rare occasions when a hook was required.

The gradual cupping in of the wrist on his backswing was a movement Hogan never committed to "muscle memory" and on which he concentrated during each swing. At the top of the backswing, with the back of the left hand tilted 8� above its normal plane, with club face open to "the widest practical extreme," Hogan felt safe from hooking. "No matter how much wrist I put into the downswing," he explains, "no matter how hard I swung or how hard I tried to roll into and through the ball, the face of the club could not close fast enough to become absolutely square at the moment of impact. The result was that lovely, long-fading ball which is a highly effective weapon on any golf course."

From an anatomical point of view, this is roughly what takes place at the top of the backswing when a golfer pronates and additionally tilts his left wrist in the Hogan manner: the tendons, ligaments and muscles are compressed, and tension is added to the hinge formed by the radius (the dominant forearm bone) and the metacarpal bones of the hand. In conjunction with the inflexible position which the left thumb assumes when placed on the shaft as Hogan places it, this tilt produces a faint lock in the hinge and a definite feeling of being "set"—that is, for a sensitive golfer.