Tiger Woods Accident: Finding Solace In Ben Hogan’s Recovery
Hogan Returned To Captain A Ryder Cup Team (That Year) And Win A Lot More
As details of Tiger Woods’ car accident overtook international newscasts, the grim reality sent me looking to Ben Hogan’s 1949 wreck for some ray of hope. Macabre yes, but sure beats thinking about Woods’ combination of leg fractures, swelling and a shattered ankle.
In Martin Davis’ incredible Ben Hogan: The Man Behind The Mystique, I found much needed distraction and even some comfort given the horror of Woods’ injuries.
Before there were airbags, anti-lock brakes and private jets, Ben and Valerie Hogan were driving home to Fort Worth and spent the night 75 miles outside of El Paso. The next morning, February 2nd, 1949, they continued to Fort Worth. Fog made visibility difficult and Ben, 36 at the time, thought they had a flat tire. It was ice on the road.
When a Greyhound bus pulled out from behind an oncoming truck, Valerie screamed out, “Honey he’s going to hit us.” Ben lept across Valerie, saving both of their lives. The impact left his body destroyed.
“Get out! Get out!” Valerie remembered Ben saying, fearing the car might start burning. He could not get out of the car but was eventually assisted by bystanders who oddly knew both his and Valerie’s name.
After two hours, an ambulance delivered Hogan to the nearest hospital in El Paso, 100 miles away. He had a fractured left ankle, double fracture of the pelvis, a fractured collar bone and a chipped rib. He later had chest pains from a blood clot that moved to his lungs. The outlook was bleak. The best surgeon was one state over. So Valerie asked a General friend of Hogan’s to commission a military plane that would fly in the special vascular surgeon from New Orleans. The doctor eventually arrived, had to take a nap from his all night journey, but successfully saved Ben Hogan from a fatal stroke.
“Because Ben dived across my lap to protect me, I had only bruised ribs, bruised legs and a black eye,” Valerie recalled in The Man Behind The Mystique. “But Ben’s dive to save me from being killed probably saved his life, too. In the collision, the steering wheel had jammed into the driver’s seat.”
Two months later the Hogan’s returned to Fort Worth by train and Ben began recuperating at home.
Before the 1949 Masters, the field and other officials posed for a huge group photo and signed a get-well humidor. It became a prized possession of Hogan’s and arrived in Fort Worth with well wishes from Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, who engineered the tribute. (Hogan had yet to win The Masters.)
Seven months later Hogan kept his commitment to Captain the Ryder Cup team. By late summer 1949 Hogan was well-enough to travel to Massachusetts for a Ryder Cup practice match prior to an overseas journey to Ganton Golf Club. Two years prior in the first Ryder Cup played since 1937, Hogan served as a playing captain and was accused by Great Britain’s Henry Cotton of having illegal grooves. The clubs were deemed conforming.
Turns out certain players generated “speed” back then, too.
Memories of the controversy were apparently not lost in the car accident. When the U.S. team arrived for three days of practice and adjustment to the smaller British ball, controversy erupted. Maybe Hogan was a little spicy from the long journey and all the aches and pains, but he called out the legality of Team GB’s clubs. Cotton was no longer playing, but Hogan was right. Several players were found to have illegal grooves.
The R&A rules official who made the determination? Bernard Darwin.
The U.S. team beat a strong Great Britain squad 7-5.
From there on it’s greatest comeback story in golf history.
Hogan began hitting balls in the fall and turned up early for the 1950 Los Angeles Open at Riviera. He sat in salt-infused recovery baths nightly and was famously pictured at Riviera’s range perched atop a sitting stool. The accident-induced vascular issues meant his legs would swell, especially after walking up and down the hill at Riviera. (Woods stood on the same incline last Sunday watching the Genesis Invitational’s 2-hole playoff between Max Homa and Tony Finau).
In the vaunted 1950 return to Riviera, Hogan tied Sam Snead after 72 holes. Due to awful February weather, they were forced to come back eight days later following the Crosby and a club event at Riviera. Snead beat Hogan in the playoff, 72-76. Hollywood even made a movie out of the comeback.
But Hogan would go on to finish fourth in the Masters, win the Greenbrier Pro-Am and take third at Colonial. Then he captured the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion back when they played 36-hole finales.
The next year Hogan won three of four events he played, including his first Masters and the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills.
In 1952, he played just three times and won at Colonial.
The epic 1953 season has been well-documented: he captured the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in just eight starts.
Hogan went on to contend multiple times in majors until 1967 when a final round 77 dropped him to T10 at the Masters. That was twelve years after his incredible Masters streak ended: from 1939 to 1956 Hogan finished in the top 10 each of those 14 years.
Who knows what lies in store for Tiger Woods. Given the wear and tear on his body and being nine years older, something like Hogan’s post-accident career seems implausible.
But Hogan came back from a shattered ankle when they were still driving between tournaments. Shoot, seven months after the accident Hogan stirred it up at the Ryder Cup. Let’s hope we see Tiger recovering and doing something similar this fall.