To understand the origins of Ben Hogan’s magnificent 1953 campaign, you have to understand the failures he experienced in 1952.
At the Masters Tournament, Hogan was tied with Sam Snead for the 54-hole lead but tumbled to 79 in the final round.
“Worst round he’d ever shot,” veteran golf writer Dan Jenkins said. “He didn’t play bad, it was just windy and he didn’t get any breaks.”
At the U.S. Open, Hogan held the 36-hole lead but came unglued early in the 36-hole finale. He finished with a pair of 74s.
“He lost it on the sixth hole of the morning round,” Jenkins said. “Hit a great shot. Overpured it. Made double bogey.”
Hogan’s only win in 1952 came at the Colonial National Invitation in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. Because of his near-fatal car crash in 1949, Hogan played a limited schedule. He no longer competed in the PGA Championship, which had a grueling match-play format, and he had never played in the British Open.
Hogan turned 40 in August 1952, and he knew his opportunities were running out. He vowed to make 1953 count.
“He was driven to get even,” said Jenkins, who covered Hogan’s exploits for the Fort Worth Press. “It was part of his makeup.”
Hogan did just that. He played in an unofficial event in January in Palm Springs, Calif., finishing two shots behind winner Jimmy Demaret.
Hogan didn’t play in any official events and arrived early to practice in Augusta. Sportswriter Randy Russell of The Augusta Chronicle made a prophetic statement in his column on the Sunday before the Masters.
“He has spent two weeks tuning up for the Masters,” Russell wrote. “Watch out for him.”
By the time the tournament started, however, the media were talking about another Texan. Lloyd Mangrum shot 9-under 63 in Wednesday’s practice round. The score was one shot better than the official course record he set in the opening round of 1940.
Chick Harbert shot 4-under 68 to take the lead on the first day, and Hogan was close behind with 70. Hogan took the lead on the second day when his 69 put him ahead by one shot.
Every tournament his its defining round or moment, and Hogan’s came in the third round. He blitzed Augusta National with his best round there – 6-under 66 – to open up a four-shot lead. Hogan made birdies at Nos. 2, 4, 8 and 9 to make the turn in 32, and he added birdies at Nos. 10, 14 and 15. The only blemish on his card was a bogey at No. 16, where he 3-putted from 30 feet.
With a 54-hole total of 205, Hogan was in uncharted Masters territory. He could shoot over par in the final round and still break the tournament’s 72-hole scoring record.
Shooting over par, like he did in the final rounds of the Masters and U.S. Open a year earlier, was not Hogan’s style. Playing alongside friend and rival Byron Nelson, who was customarily paired with the leader, Hogan polished off the tournament with 69. The 14-under par total of 274 shattered the previous record of 279.
“He said at the time it was the greatest golf he’d ever played for 72 holes,” Jenkins said. “And it was.”
Hogan, who carded five birdies against two bogeys in the final round, agreed.
“I hit the ball better – more like I wanted to hit it – than in any 72-hole tournament I’ve ever played,” Hogan said after the final round. “Before the tournament started I knew I was playing the best golf of my life, and I knew that if I played in the tourney the way I did while practicing I would win. At least I was going to give a real college try.”
Hogan’s season of excellence was just beginning. Two weeks later, he won the Pan American Open in Mexico City, and he followed that by defending his title with a five-shot victory at Colonial.
His only blemish, if you could call it that, came in between those wins at the unofficial Greenbrier Pro-Am. He tied for third, four shots behind Snead.
Up next for Hogan was the U.S. Open, which was being held at Oakmont.
The rugged course outside Pittsburgh was no match for Hogan, who started with rounds of 67 and 72. But hot on his heels was Snead, and after Hogan stumbled to 73 in the third round, Snead trailed only by one.
Hogan wouldn’t stumble like he did a year earlier. Playing ahead of Snead, Hogan played steady golf. He would frequently ask others, including Jenkins, how Snead was faring.
“Sam was doing alright at the time, but (Hogan) finished 3-3-3,” Jenkins said.
Snead finished with 76 to Hogan’s 71, and the Texan had picked off another major.
“He just killed everyone,” Jenkins said. “He killed Snead at Oakmont.”
Hogan had said at the Masters that he wouldn’t travel overseas for the British Open, but he had a change of heart. The championship was played at Carnoustie, and Hogan went to Scotland a few weeks early to get used to the conditions.
“It’s true that when he went to a major to a course he had never played before, he’d walk it backwards first to see what all he wanted to avoid,” Jenkins said. “He just studied it like a scientist. That was his temperament. He was so meticulous in everything he did.”
The extra work paid off as Hogan recorded a four-stroke victory with rounds of 73, 71, 70 and 68. He entered the final round tied with Roberto De Vicenzo, but an early string of birdies gave Hogan the edge he needed.
Though the Scots adored Hogan, he wasn’t too keen on the course. It was his first, and last, appearance at the British Open.
“I’ve got a lawn mower back in Texas, I’ll send it over,” Hogan famously said after winning.
The PGA Championship and British Open dates overlapped that year, so winning all four majors was impossible. But Hogan had done something just as special as Bobby Jones did in his Grand Slam season of 1930, and the press dubbed it the “Hogan Slam” or “Hogan’s Triple Crown.”
He recorded five wins in six starts, and three of those came in majors.
After returning to New York from Scotland, the “Wee Ice Mon” was greeted with a ticker-tape parade. It was the first time a golfer had been so honored since Jones in 1930.