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Triple Crown: Revisiting Hogan’s Historic 1953 Season

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Ben Hogan ranks fourth all-time with 64 PGA Tour wins, including 9 Majors, and is one of five men (Sarazen, Nicklaus, Player, Woods) who have won the career grand slam. Rory McIlroy will attempt to join the list this April at the Masters. After a successful amateur career, Hogan turned pro in 1930 but struggled in his early years on tour. His first win didn’t come until the 1940 Hershey Open, and like many of his peers, Hogan’s career was interrupted by World War II from 1943 to 1945. An interesting aside covered in the book “The Open Question,” is Hogan’s victory at the 1942 Hale-America Open, played the same weekend as the cancelled US Open. Hogan believed it counted as a Major, but the USGA did not.

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Hogan would finally break through in 1946, winning 13 events, including his first Major at the PGA Championship. He would compile ten more wins in 1948, including the US Open and PGA Championship. Between 1946 and 1949, he would win an incredible 37 tournaments and was the leading money winner twice.

At the peak of his powers, Hogan was involved in a devastating head-on collision with a bus while driving at home in Texas in 1949. He courageously threw himself across his wife Valerie to protect her right before impact, likely saving both of their lives. Ben took the brunt of the crash, suffering a double fracture of the pelvis, cracked ribs, and a mangled left leg, which required several surgeries.

After months of recovery and strenuous rehab, Hogan returned to golf and won the U.S. Open at Merion just 16 months later in one of sports’ greatest comeback tales. Battling pain and fatigue and needing warm baths and leg rubdowns before each round, he shot 287 to finish in a three-way tie with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio, winning handily the next day in an 18-hole playoff.

Needing at par to tie, his 1-iron approach on the 72nd hole became one of golf’s iconic images, the spot forever memorialized with a plaque. It was his second US Open win and fourth Major Title overall. A script too good to pass up, Hollywood documented the event in “Follow The Sun,” linked in the Videos section below.

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Hogan played a limited schedule in the following years but made the most of his appearances. He went on to win the Masters and US Open in 1951 but had a frustrating 1952 season, losing late leads at both the Masters and U.S. Open. Determined to come back stronger than ever, Hogan embarked on one of the most dominant years in golf history at the age of 40.

In this post, we’ll travel back to 1953 to learn the story of Hogan’s “Triple Crown” year featuring dominance in the Masters and US Open, travel to Carnoustie, and victory at golf’s oldest Championship, capping off a career Grand Slam. I have also curated a list of ten books and audiobooks, five biographical and five that delve into the mystique of Hogan’s swing. Finally, the videos section provides some good insight, with Hogan and Snead on Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, a few documentaries, swing analysis, and even a feature film.

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Hogan Dominates the Majors

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Ben Hogan entered the 1953 Masters Tournament, having not won a major championship in over two years. However, he quickly returned to dominance by setting a new tournament record of fourteen under 274 to win his second green jacket by five. At 40 years old, Hogan became the oldest Masters winner and his tournament record stood for 12 years until broken by Jack Nicklaus in 1965.

Hogan continued his incredible run two months later at Oakmont Country Club in the US Open. Despite having to qualify, he took control of the tournament in the opening round. He shot 67 to take a two-stroke lead, followed up with an even-par 72, then posted scores of 73 and 71 on Saturday to finish the championship at five under par 283, six shots clear of runner-up Sam Snead. The victory was Hogan’s record-tying fourth U.S. Open title.

In the span of just two months, the 40-year-old Ben Hogan had dominated two of golf’s most significant events. His combined victory margin of 11 strokes against the best fields in the world cemented his reputation as an all-time great. The two victories left Hogan with a choice to make – go for the “Triple Crown” at home and play the PGA Championship, or travel overseas and pursue the career Grand Slam. For additional context, after his accident, Hogan opted against playing the PGA’s rigorous match play schedule and did not return to that event until 1960, a few years after it moved to stroke play.

After WWII, through 1961, when Arnold Palmer kicked off American resurgence at The Open, the tournament struggled to attract all of the best players in the world. After dominating from 1921-1933, with wins by Jones, Sarazen, Armour, and Hagen, Americans hesitated to make the lengthy transatlantic voyage due to its small purse and conflicting schedule with the PGA Championship. Thoughts of winning the “modern Grand Slam” were not logistically possible due to travel times and the scheduling of events.

Hogan Wins at Carnoustie

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For the 82nd Open in 1953, the total purse was raised 47% to £2,500, still only one-third of the other Majors. There were no guarantees players would even tee it up in The Open, as a 36-hole qualifier was required to gain entry. Rather than acclimate to a smaller ball, links golf, and a different style of play, many stayed home, content to set their sights on the PGA Championship.

After dominating Augusta and Oakmont, Hogan decided to forego the PGA Championship and attempt to complete golf’s career Grand Slam and a 1953 “Triple Crown.” It was rumored that Gene Sarazen appealed to Hogan’s sense of history in convincing him to make the trip and chase the Claret Jug. His longtime rival Sam Snead had done so and prevailed at St. Andrews in 1946, but no American had won since. Hogan was joined by Americans Lloyd Mangrum and career amateur Frank Strahan in the field, which was mostly British but included international Open winners Peter Thomson, Robert DiVicenzo, and Bobby Locke.

Known for his meticulous preparation, Hogan arrived in Scotland two weeks before the tournament to acclimate himself to the smaller British ball. He qualified comfortably, shooting 145 and advancing by nine shots, along with 91 others. While in Scotland, Hogan prepared at Carnoustie’s Championship and Burnside Links, where the qualifying was held. He also teed it up at Panmure, with a record of him playing at Dunbar as well, to acclimate to the turf and links golf. Hogan became enamored with Panmure, suggesting modifications to their signature 6th, now known as “Hogan.” You can read that story in our Legendary Links post on Panmure.

The Championship was contested over three days, with one round each of the first two days followed by morning and afternoon rounds after the cut on the final day. Hogan struggled on the greens and opened with 73, three back of countryman Stranahan. He improved to 71 in the second round, but continued to struggle with the putter, trailing the half-way lead by two strokes. He likened the greens at Carnoustie to “putting on glue.”

On the final day, Hogan battled chills, exhaustion, and the flu, but his score improved each round. The morning’s third round saw Argentina’s Antonio Cerdá set what would be a short-lived course record of 69. Hogan birdied 18 to shoot 70, good for a share of the lead with Cerdá’s fellow Argentinian DiVicenzo at two under. In the afternoon final round, Stranahan set the pace by tying the course record of 69 but would finish tied for second.

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Hogan pulled away, rewriting the course record, with a 68, giving him a four-shot victory at 282. His round featured back-to-back birdies at 5 and 6 and a birdie at the last. The par-5 6th, renamed “Hogan’s Alley,” features a narrow strip of landing area between fairway bunkers and out-of-bounds on the left. Legend has it that his drive in the final round landed in the divot from his morning round. He would make birdie four in both rounds, winning over the Scots, who dubbed him “The Wee Ice Mon.” In addition to the support of the locals, Hogan also had support from Frank Sinatra, who was performing in Dundee and was in the gallery on Thursday. Sinatra told the media that “all America is rooting for Hogan.”

Victory in his only appearance at The Open solidified Hogan’s place as one of golf’s greatest champions, earning him a ticker-tape parade down Broadway’s “Canyon of Heroes” on his return to the US via New York City. We are left to wonder how many Majors Hogan could have won under different circumstances. His course record of 68 would be broken multiple times – by Jack Newton, runner-up to Tom Watson in 1975, and more recently, Tommy Fleetwood shot 63 at the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2017.

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Biographical Content

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Hogan
by Curt Sampson

Summary: Ben Hogan was the hero no one knew. No one knew what drove him to practice until his hands bled. No one knew what private demons built the high walls that surrounded him. No one was even sure how he hit a golf ball with such godlike precision. He built a legend and a mystique that captivates golfers still.

Combining interviews with Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, and scores of other golf professionals, as well as insights from Hogan¿s friends and business associates, Hogan traces the life of an amazing man and tells an unforgettable story.

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Miracle at Merion
by David Barrett

Summary: Legendary sportswriter Red Smith characterized Ben Hogan’s comeback from a near-fatal automobile crash in February 1949 as “the most remarkable feat in the history of sports.” Now, more than 60 years later, that statement still rings true. The crowning moment of Hogan’s comeback was his astonishing victory in the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia, where his battered legs could barely carry him on the 36-hole final day. Miracle at Merion -the recipient of the USGA’s 2010 Herbert Warren Wind Award for the best golf book of the year – tells the stirring story of Hogan’s valiant triumph over adversity.

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The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever
by Mark Frost

Summary: Dive into the drama of a 1956 showdown between golf’s greats, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, and top amateurs Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi. This enthralling audiobook delves into the backgrounds, characters, and the high-stakes bet that made this match a pivotal moment in golf history. One of my personal favorites; I read this one when it first came out and am now on my second listen of the audiobook – check out our post “Cypress Showdown” for more on The Match.

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The Open Question: Ben Hogan and Golf’s Most Enduring Controversy
by Peter May

Summary: In 1942, the United States Golf Association (USGA) cancelled its four golf tournaments for the duration of World War II. But then it did something different in only that year – it sponsored the Hale-America National Open on the same weekend as the cancelled US Open. The great Ben Hogan won that tournament and went to his grave believing he had therefore won a record five US Open titles.

In The Open Question, Peter May turns his attention to this controversial, colorful Hale-America National Open of 1942. While providing an in-depth look at the tournament itself, May champions Hogan’s claim to five US Open titles and debunks some questionable assertions that the tournament was not worthy of a US Open. Set against the backdrop of World War II, May also tells the stories of other professional golfers in the tournament and the impact of the war on all their lives.

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American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf
by James Dodson

Summary: “American Triumverate” chronicles how golf legends Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hogan rescued the struggling sport of golf from irrelevance during the Great Depression era with their spectacular play and rivalry. Their transformative impact elevated golf into a popular spectator sport, setting viewership and sponsorship records while modernizing how the game was played with their power and precision.

James Dodson argues their outsized talent and work ethic overcame difficult childhoods to make them transcendent star athletes who carried golf to new heights in the public consciousness, paving the way for future icons like Palmer, Nicklaus, & Woods. Skillfully weaving biography with social history, Dodson captures how the “American Triumvirate” of Snead, Nelson and Hogan revolutionized golf as a modern sport through their compelling personal narratives. Critics praised the book as “populated by giants, roaming the country in search of greatness” in bringing this pivotal sports history alive.

The Hogan Swing – Lessons and Analysis

Ben Hogan is considered one of the greatest ball-strikers of all time, known for his tireless work ethic, legendary concentration, and persistence. His profound influence on golf swing theory and ball-striking techniques cemented his legacy as one of the most influential figures in the sport’s history.

Almost 30 years after his death, his swing is still studied as a model of efficiency to be emulated, with a search for his “secret” akin to a search for the Holy Grail. Hogan authored two books, 1948’s Power Golf and 1955’s classic Five Lessons. They are listed below, along with three other studies of his fundamentals, mechanics, and an eternal search for his “secret.”

Additionally, see our posts “Master the Connected Swing, Secrets in the Dirt,” and “Cypress Showdown” for more about Hogan and what you can learn from him.

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power golf

Power Golf
by Ben Hogan

Summary: Ben Hogan’s instructional book “Power Golf” provides step-by-step lessons on building a powerful, repeating golf swing through proper technique. Hogan breaks down the full swing into grip, stance, backswing, downswing, and follow-through, advising golfers to practice each part of the motion individually. He advocates generating power not through brute strength but by coordinating the proper sequence of movements from arms, shoulders, hips, and legs. With a focus on fundamentals over stylistic form, Hogan believes any golfer can develop a consistent, effective swing by mastering key positions and motions outlined in the book. The core message is that solid mechanics lead to power and control in the golf swing.

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Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf 

Summary: Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” is a classic that outlines his building blocks of winning golf. The book focuses on the five fundamentals Hogan believed were essential to a powerful and accurate golf swing. Each chapter of the book explains and demonstrates a different fundamental with clear illustrations, making it easier for readers to visualize the proper techniques and positions. The book has endured the test of time and is still relevant today.

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The Hogan Way
by John Andrisani

Summary: The Hogan Way “is a book that analyzes every aspect of Ben Hogan’s golfing techniques to help readers improve their game. Andrisani reveals secrets about Hogan’s techniques that have never been shared, including how he shaved strokes off his score and hit his trademark power-fade shot. The book also provides insights into Hogan’s golfing mind, practice approach, and course-management skills. Of course, it emphasizes the importance of connection in the golf swing, specifically in the arms.

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The Fundamentals of Hogan
by David Leadbetter

Summary: More than a half century after he began his professional career, Ben Hogan is still considered the purest striker of a golf ball in the history of the game. His was a swing honed to perfection, and teaching professionals agree that Hogan’s technique is the perfect platform on which golfers of all skill levels can build a fundamental understanding of golf. Unfortunately, photographs of Hogan’s full swing and detailed close-ups of his grip and positioning have never been available for analysis. Instructors from around the world have always begun with a serious handicap when explaining to their students how a man of average stature could generate exceptional power and control from tee to green.

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Ben Hogan’s Secret Fundamental
by Larry Miller

Summary: Ben Hogan’s Secret Fundamental by Larry Miller focuses on Hogan’s mysterious “secret” that he never publicly revealed about the golf swing. The author, Larry Miller, was mentored by Tommy Bolt who was Hogan’s protégé, and shares Hogan’s secret as he learned it which involves the geometry of the swing relative to the target line. Miller breaks down Hogan’s secret into two aspects and explains it using full-color photos and illustrations to help average golfers implement Hogan’s teachings to improve their games. The book provides insight into Hogan’s intriguing and legendary golf techniques and competitive record.

Videos

Shell WWoG – Hogan vs Snead
Follow the Sun – 1951
Ben Hogan – Courage & Pain
Hogan Documentary
Hogan at Panmure
Jim MacLean – Hogan: The Golf Swing

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