He has been a mythical figure to this generation of golf fans. A virtual recluse since playing his last competitive round in 1971 at age 58, Ben Hogan died three years ago -- two months after Tiger Woods had taken their sport by storm by winning the 1997 Masters at age 21.
Their legends could forever be linked, as Woods tries this week to become the first player to win three major championships in the same season since Hogan in 1953. The roads they took to the top couldn't have been more different; their approaches once they got there have had some interesting parallels.
Having won last month's British Open, Woods goes after his second straight PGA Championship and third straight victory in a major when play begins Thursday at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky.
His win at St. Andrews put Woods in the same company with Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and two others as the only players to complete a career Grand Slam (winning the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA). At Valhalla, Woods will be playing his first two rounds with Nicklaus, which will be the first time they have played a regulation round together. Joining them will be reigning Masters and former PGA champion Vijay Singh.
Woods, 24, was the youngest player to win all four of golf's major championships, and Hogan was the oldest. He was 40 when he won the 1953 British Open at Carnoustie, and despite having also won the Masters and U.S. Open earlier that year, didn't even tee it up at that year's PGA.
The reason? The PGA, then a grueling match-play tournament, was scheduled to begin in Michigan within days of Hogan's win in Scotland. He was still suffering the effects of a near-fatal car accident four years before.
"He knew going into the British Open that he wasn't going to play in the PGA," said CBS golf commentator Ken Venturi, former U.S. Open champion and Hogan's close friend for over 40 years. "They had to play 36 holes a day or more for five days. He couldn't walk it because of his legs."
There were a number of factors that contributed to Hogan's late-flourishing career.
Certainly the biggest obstacle that Hogan was forced to overcome was a persistent hook that plagued him for nearly a decade as a pro. It was through his marathon sessions on the practice range that Hogan solved the problem and developed his textbook-perfect fade.
Unlike Woods, who signed multimillion contracts with Nike and Titleist the week he turned pro, Hogan went broke in his first two attempts at the then-barnstorming PGA Tour. There is a famous story about Hogan coming out one morning to see his car up on blocks after its tires were stolen. It happened before the final round of the 1938 Oakland Open. Hogan got a ride to the course, shot 67 and took home a second-place check for $285 that enabled him and his wife, Valerie, to stay on the road rather than return home to Texas, perhaps for good.
"I played harder that day than I've ever played before or I ever will again," Hogan would say later.
Woods turned pro at age 20 after two years at Stanford and a celebrated amateur career; his first pro victory came less than two months later at the Las Vegas Invitational. In 1997, his first full season on the PGA Tour, Woods was player of the year.
Hogan started as a caddie in Fort Worth, Texas, where he showed his promise at 15, tying for first in the caddies' championship at a local club. (He lost to another up-and-comer named Byron Nelson in a playoff.) Turning pro at 19, he didn't win his first tournament until he was 27.
As the accomplishments of Nicklaus have motivated Woods since childhood, Nelson was the player against whom Hogan measured himself. Nelson became a star when he won the Masters in 1937. Ineligible for military duty because of a blood disorder during World War II, Nelson dominated the sport and was in the midst of an 11-tournament winning streak as Hogan got out of the service.
"Byron was a big part of Hogan's drive," said best-selling author and Hall of Fame golf writer Dan Jenkins, who covered the latter part of Hogan's career for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Sports Illustrated."
Hogan led the tour with 13 wins in 1946 -- including his first official major championship at the PGA -- and added seven victories in 1947. He won 10 times in 1948, including six straight, a feat Woods tied with his win at the Pebble Beach AT&T earlier this year.
After starting out the 1949 season with two wins in California, Hogan had won 11 of his last 16 tournaments. Driving home in early February with his wife, Hogan was nearly killed when their car was hit head-on by a Greyhound bus outside El Paso.
Trying to protect Valerie, Hogan shielded her upon impact. While he might have saved his own life -- the bus obliterated the car's steering column -- Hogan broke a leg and his collarbone, fractured his pelvis and an ankle and cracked a rib.
He developed blood clots in his legs and one lung, and following surgery to remove the clots, doctors told Hogan that he'd never play again. By November he was hitting balls, and he nearly won the first event of the 1950 season.
The Los Angeles Open, played at Riviera Country Club, became the scene of what legendary sports columnist Red Smith called "the most remarkable feat in the entire history of sports." At a place that was called "Hogan's Alley" after his four victories there that included the 1948 U.S. Open, Hogan wound up losing in an 18-hole playoff to new rival Sam Snead.
Hogan's comeback had begun, but the injuries would linger. Hogan limited himself to a handful of tournaments a year. In 1953, he played in five official events, and won all of them. The performance led 1948 Masters champion Claude Harmon, whose son Butch now coaches Woods, to say, "Only Hogan can turn it on and turn it off."
Some of the same words have been used to describe Woods, especially lately.
Since early last season, when he ended a 19-month drought that saw him win only once while overhauling his swing, Woods has won 14 PGA Tour events, including 12 of his last 24. Overall, Woods has won 16 of the last 30 tournaments he entered and six of 14 this year.
"I think he's reaching a point where he turns it on for the majors," said Jenkins."
"Hogan would talk about what he needed to shoot to win and then he would go out to shoot that score -- and he would usually come close," Nelson said last week from his ranch. "Tiger takes it hole by hole and shot by shot.
"Hogan never thought about beating someone's records," said Nelson. "Tiger is compared to everyone before and all the records they set. Tiger is the best player in the world and he wants to be the best of all time."
Yet Venturi, who first watched Hogan as he was winning the 1953 U.S. Open and played with him for the first time at the 1954 Masters, sees a similarity in the way Hogan and Woods separated themselves from their peers.
"Hogan always said that there were three keys to winning: you outwork 'em, you outthink 'em and you intimidate 'em," said Venturi. "He wouldn't do it with words; he'd just give you a look."
Hogan's practice routine, which continued long into retirement, was the stuff of legend. When asked years ago how to become a champion, Hogan growled, "Dig it out of the ground." Woods has developed a similar reputation for working harder than nearly every other player on the PGA Tour.
Before this year's U.S. Open, Woods had won his previous tour event, The Memorial. But that didn't stop him from putting for 2 1/2 hours the night before the opening round at Pebble Beach, where he wound up winning by a major championship record 15 shots.
Venturi said that he can tell what Woods is thinking, and what shot he might go for, by looking at his eyes or body language during a round. It was the same with Hogan, whose stare was as legendary as his fade. It was the reason why Hogan was called "The Hawk".
And what would "The Hawk" think of the Tiger? "I think he'd admire him," said Venturi. "He (Hogan) was a fierce competitor, but he admired talent. He'd give him (Woods) nothing but praise."
Jenkins goes further.
"Tiger can do things that Ben never dreamed of doing," said Jenkins, who has gone from being a skeptic of the hype surrounding Woods to a purveyor of it.
Woods, who fancies himself as something of a historian, is aware of Hogan's legacy.
"From what I've been told, the way they describe his backswing, that no one has ever struck the ball any more consistently and under control with the trajectory and spin he was able to," Woods said at last week's Buick Open. "People say that he slowed down (after the accident) but to win four U.S. Opens and a Grand Slam, you can't putt poorly."
Hogan called it quits during the opening round of the 1971 Houston Open. After an embarrassing 44 on the front, he withdrew after hurting his knee walking into a ravine on the 11th hole. "Don't ever get old," he reportedly said as he was driven back to the clubhouse.
Even before Woods' historic victories at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews this year, he had become one of the world's most recognizable athletes. The phenomenon known as Tigermania could reach another crescendo if he wins again at Valhalla.
His competitors on the leader board there might read Singh, Ernie Els or David Duval, but Woods has other competitors he has long been playing against.
Woods has often said that, as a child prodigy growing up in California, he competed in his mind against the legends. One of them was a man in a trademark white cap, the Texan with the squinty-eyed glare.
The link between them might grow even stronger this week in Louisville.
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