SI Vault
Ben Hogan
June 24, 1957
BEN HOGAN Says: Open winners...epitomize golf at its best, and so does the Open....
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 24, 1957

Fame Calls On Dick Mayer

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Says: Open winners...epitomize golf at its best, and so does the Open....

When Ben Hogan, the favorite, was forced to withdraw from the 57th Open last week because of a back ailment, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED asked him to record the results of his minute, weeklong study of the course and the field. What follows is Hogan's.

There are few things harder to do when your heart is set on competing than to watch other people play golf. However, on Friday afternoon—the afternoon of the second round of the Open—my pleurisy felt much better, and I thought I would go out and walk a few holes and observe some of my old friends in action in this greatest of all tournaments. As I walked over Inverness, watching Jimmy Demaret and Peter Thomson and Jackie Burke and Cary Middlecoff and the other fine players in contention hitting their shots, a number of old and familiar thoughts I've had about the Open and what it takes to win this uniquely demanding championship kept circulating through my mind. They might be of interest to golfing readers of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.

To begin with, though there are some 160-odd players who annually have the honor of teeing off in the National Open, very few actually have a chance to win or feel, deep down in their hearts, that they can win. Quite a large percentage of the field simply hopes to perform creditably in order to return home with a well-earned if modest sense of glory. Then there is another type of player—those fellows who have their sights set on "making the cut" and playing the last 36 holes. And there are the players whose goal is to land with the top 10 or the top five players. But, as I say, the men who have come to win the Open are few in number.

These men who have come to win, who can win, must possess certain equipment. The Open is a stern test of golf. On the day of the second round this year, because of the heavy rains the night before, the greens could not be cut and several of the back tees were too muddy for use, and, as I saw it, the Inverness course was playing quite a bit easier than an Open course ordinarily does. The standard Open course is lengthy, and its fairways are extremely narrow, and the greens are the fastest you meet all year, and the rough is the roughest you meet all year. To cope with such a test of skill, a golfer, as I say, must possess certain equipment: he must have a truly sound and well-rounded game. Each course selected and groomed for the Open varies in some respects from other Open courses. A golfer cannot tell what one year's Open course will call for in the way of shot-making until he actually arrives at the scene and begins to practice. He must have a well-rounded game or else he cannot adapt it to the particular character of the particular test; he must be ready for all kinds of conditions.

However, you can be sure that wherever the Open is played, because of the narrow fairways and punishing rough, a serious contender must have two kinds of tee shots in his repertoire. First, he has to have a safe tee shot, a drive that he can be reasonably sure he can keep on the fairway regardless of how wasp-waisted it may be. Second, he must have an all-out tee shot, a bigger tee shot that he can be reasonably sure will end up somewhere on the golf course. I am purposely exaggerating in this latter case. What I mean is this: there are certain holes where getting out a good distance from the tee is so cardinally important that a player must be able to let out and hit a drive some 20 to 25 yards longer than his safe drive, even at the risk of ending up in the rough as he goes for distance.

Now, having these two types of tee shots in your bag presupposes having a certain over-all plan for playing the Open. This is absolutely essential. What you're trying to arrive at is the lowest score at the end of 72 holes. You're not trying to be a Goliath for nine holes or even for one particular round. You've got to think in terms of four rounds. To accomplish this, you must have a clear conception of how you're going to tackle each of the 18 holes.

Sometimes your plan won't work out, but you must start with a plan. You must decide clearly which are the holes you should play offensively (with an all-out tee shot) and which are the holes that will respond best if you play them defensively (with a shorter but safe tee shot). It is my very strong belief that Open courses must be approached defensively, in the main. Staying out of trouble by plotting your course prudently is the key to scoring well. At Inverness, for example, it was my plan to play defensively on 11 of the 14 par-4 holes. The only par 4s which I would have attacked with all-out tee shots were the 4th, the 9th and the 14th, each of which measures over 460 yards from the championship tees to the green and, consequently, is extremely difficult to hit with your second shot unless you hit a very long drive. The one par-5 on the course, the 12th, also had to be played offensively, in my estimation, for two good full woods would set you up for your birdie. On all the rest of the holes, let me repeat, defensive tactics seemed the wisest to me, with avoiding the troublesome rough the primary consideration. In this regard I had intended to play the 10th hole by aiming my tee shot down the adjoining first fairway. That first fairway is almost twice as wide as the extra-narrow fairway on the dogleg 10th. True, I would have needed to play a four-or a five-iron to reach the 10th green from my lie on the first fairway and only a six-or a seven-iron to reach from the 10th fairway, but the 10th green sets up very well when you approach it from the first, and I thought the shot, though longer, was at least as easy. For another thing, with the 10th fairway so terribly hard to hit, there was always the chance that, playing from the heavy rough, you might put your approach into the ditch before the green and easily pick up a double bogey for your troubles.


Another essential part of the equipment of any golfer who would win the Open is to be a reliable approach putter. Your attitude toward putting must also be defensive in this tournament. Even when you're putting from 15 to 20 feet, on the fast, slick Open greens you cannot really go for the cup. Miss the cup and you have a five-footer, or longer, coming back. As a matter of fact, even when you're putting a three-footer, you must hit your putts so that "you're killing the ball at the hole"—so that the ball dies just as it hits the cup.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4