Lessons in Being A True Golfer From Ben Hogan

As we enter a new year, I thought it interesting to recollect on the zen of Ben Hogan. There are hundreds of stories that depict Ben Hogan as a man of many sides: harsh, determined, exact, closed, detailed, mysterious and even humorous — in the right circles.

Regardless of popular perception, there is arguably no other man in the history of the sport who understood his game and golf better. Except for a few films, interviews, and one of the most popular instructional books, Hogan left us little to study. This post is focused not so much on the tangibles he left, but more on what we can learn from the golfer and man that was Hogan and how we can apply it to our game and life.

Have clear motivation early on.

In a 1987 Golf Magazine Interview, Hogan was asked, “What was it that drove you so hard? His answers were clear and short:

“Three things. One, I didn’t want to be a burden to my mother. Two, I needed to put food on the table. Three, I needed a place to sleep.”

Hogan was $86 dollars away from giving up the game. Luckily for the golf world, he earned a couple hundred dollars that week and his career continued.

After he became settled and more comfortable financially, he didn’t allow for life’s luxuries to deter his focus.

GOLF Magazine: Once you and your family were eating well and sleeping comfortably, then what drove you?
HOGAN: Pride. Determination. I saw an opportunity. And when you see an opportunity, you practice and work, at least from sunup to sundown.

The best round is one when your playing partners are at ease.

Ben was known for playing rounds in his world. What I mean is he was so focused on his game, entertaining his playing partners with banter was low on his list of priorities. There are countless tales about his closed focus, but many miss the stories of how he was as a host. Dan Jenkins offers a glimpse of Hogan’s ability to make his playing partner feel at ease in a time of discomfort on the course.

We were playing golf one day, actually he asked me to play in an exhibition match for the benefit of the U.S. Olympic Fund. And there were four of us.

We were at the Colonial and there were about five thousand people out there and I was scared to death.

I got off the tee okay, topped the next shot, topped the next shot, topped the third shot. All I wanted to do was dig a hole and disappear. Ben walks over next to me as were walking towards the green and he said, “You can probably swing faster if you try.” The best golf tip I’ve ever had.

– Dan Jenkins

Ben knew how to make a player feel more comfortable and he proves that you don’t have to be a charismatic politician to accomplish the goal.

Know what it takes to win and be great.

Unfortunately, Ben didn’t have the natural talent of Snead or Nelson and getting good didn’t come easy. Surprisingly, he won his first tournament at the age of 32!

“Ben had to work and dig for every single good shot that he had and deserves lasting credit that he had been willing to devote enough of himself and time to become the great the player that he is.” – Byron Nelson

Millions of golfers have always wanted to know the Ben Hogan “secret” — what made him so consistent and good and the answer is too simple I’m not sure golf enthusiasts and particularly marketers may want to hear it:

“Great work comes from outworking them, outplaying them, and outthinking them.” – Ben Hogan

Understand the most important round and maintain perspective.

For as much time as Hogan spent perfecting the mechanics of the golf swing, one may assume that it left little time to reflect on life’s larger purpose — this wasn’t the case. Ben was a man of extreme reflection and this is clear with his simple purpose:

“I’ve always wanted to accomplish much more that I have accomplished. Naturally, I would have loved to have won more tournaments but I have a thought now a days of hoping to put back into golf what I’ve subtracted, and I’d like to put back much more than I have subtracted and God willing, I will.” – Ben Hogan

Another example of Ben’s perspective on the game and life is a quote that is repeated often in the golf world:

“As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.”

Regardless of the round, shot, or day, golf is still a sport and Ben knew that.

Jon @ atruegolfer.com

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