Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Review: “Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew” ☺☺☺☺☺

Book reviews will be a frequent topic in my posts, and the first one I want to share my views on is the latest—and probably the best—book on Ben Hogan to hit the shelves in the “Sports” section of your local bookstore in many a year – Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew: An LPGA Player Looks Back on an Amazing Friendship and Lessons She Learned from Golf's Greatest Legend, a heart-warming book of personal recollections by LPGA pro Kris Tschetter. 

Books on Ben Hogan are something of a minor industry in the world of golf publishing, which is pretty amazing considering the fact that he played his last competitive round of golf in 1967, and for the last 17 years of his competitive career played no more than 4 or 5 tournaments per year. The two most famous books associated with Ben Hogan are, of course, the two he wrote himself—his instructional books Power Golf (1948) and Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf (1957). 

Five Lessons is probably the best-known, and most widely read, golf instructional book ever published. Thousands of golfers have learned the game from this book, among them PGA Tour and Champions Tour player Larry Nelson, whose 10 PGA Tour victories and 19 Champions Tour victories include the 1981 & 1987 PGA Championships and the 1983  U.S. Open Championship—Nelson didn’t take up golf until he was in his early twenties; his only instruction in the game was from Five Lessons.

Besides Hogan’s two instructional books, the Hogan book list includes a couple of full biographies (one by Curt Sampson – which I highly recommend; and another by Kurt Dodson – which is a bit sycophantic and fawning for my taste), a fine collection of photographs of Hogan by Jules Alexander, a few novels which include fictionalized appearances by Mr. Hogan, and one or two other volumes of personal recollections of people who knew Mr. Hogan in one capacity or another over the years. Mostly, though, the books with Ben Hogan’s name attached are various permutations of “how-to” instruction works purporting to reveal Hogan’s legendary “secret to the perfect swing”.

Ms. Tschetter’s book is a work apart from that throng of self-serving “how-to” books, and even the other “I knew Ben Hogan”-type books. Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew… is the story of the unlikely friendship which sprang up between a girl just starting her college golf career and a retired icon of the game, between a man who had grown somewhat shy of a world that seemed always to want something from him, and a young woman who asked for nothing but friendship.

In contrast to the generally-accepted image of Ben Hogan as a man who was reserved and unapproachable, Ms. Tschetter’s recollections reveal a man who, though somewhat shy and reticent, was capable of genuine warmth and affection.  Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew… shows the human side of an iconic figure of 20th-Century American sports, revealing the warmth and charm of a man who has for decades been admired and celebrated for his accomplishments while being portrayed as a cold, distant “golfing machine” who was indifferent to fans and fellow competitors alike.

Kris Tschetter came to know Ben Hogan when she was a college golfer practicing at Shady Oaks Golf Club in Forth Worth, Texas. Ben Hogan was, at that time, an elderly past champion, retired from both competitive golf and a successful career in business, who enjoyed his quiet daily routine at the golf club. A legend in the world of golf, over the years Mr Hogan had grown leery of those who wanted to get close to him for their own gain, and could present a forbidding public façade, but he revealed a warm and generous personality to Ms. Tschetter, who, as a college freshman on Texas Christian University’s national-caliber women’s golf team, was interested in getting to know the man behind “Hogan’s Secret”, and not the secret itself.

The key to Ms. Tschetter’s friendship with Ben Hogan—and the spark that makes this book different from the other books of personal recollections of Mr. Hogan—is the totally unselfish, non-self-seeking nature of her association with Mr. Hogan. Early in the book she relates how she and her older brother were told, when they became junior members at Shady Oaks, not to bother Mr. Hogan: don’t approach him, don’t talk to him. It went against her nature and her upbringing, however, to ignore a person whom she saw every day at the golf club, so she greeted him as she would any other older gentleman at the club. The real connection came into being when Mr. Hogan began to see her out on the club’s “Little Nine” 9-hole course nearly every day, practicing a variety of golf shots, working on her game the way he had when he was a competitive golfer – “digging it out of the dirt” – and realized that this young woman was a golfer cast in his mold.

Ms. Tschetter passed many casual afternoons of golf practice with Mr. Hogan in attendance, friendly sessions during which Mr. Hogan passed along tidbits of golf wisdom which any golfer would have paid a princely sum to be privy to, yet it was the friendship and company she sought, not the priceless wisdom of a master of the sport. Though she certainly benefited from Mr. Hogan’s advice and support during her collegiate and professional golf careers, she never sought to gain from her association from him, hesitating to even mention to other golfers that she knew him; it is evident from her stories that his friendship and moral support were more important to her than his professional wisdom. 

The anecdotes Ms. Tschetter relates in her book paint a well-rounded portrait of a complex man. From the grandfatherly figure who mugged for the small children of other club members to the brusque, elder statesman of golf who politely refused a request to watch Nick Faldo hit golf shots on a visit to Shady Oaks (because the man who brought Faldo to the club that day pretended to a level of familiarity with Mr. Hogan which didn’t exist); from the Ben Hogan who reputedly turned down a request for swing advice from South African golf great Gary Player because Player used Dunlop clubs and not Hogan’s brand, to the generous Ben Hogan who passed a genial hour or so with the pilots of the Air Force Thunderbird Flight demonstration team at Shady Oaks after a member brought them to the club for a round of golf (Hogan was an Army Air Force veteran, having served in the USAAF during World War II)—through Ms. Tschetter’s anecdotes you will learn about a side of the great Ben Hogan that you will not have heard about elsewhere.

Though Ms. Tschetter saw Mr. Hogan less frequently after she moved away from Fort Worth (initially based out of Fort Worth after she graduated from college and began her career on the LPGA Tour, Kris later moved to Virginia with her husband, golf coach Kirk Lucas), she remained in touch with him to the end of his life – like a granddaughter with a grandfather who was removed in physical distance but still close in her heart – sharing her life and achievements with him through phone calls and personal visits, when possible.

This wonderful little book (the reader will wish it was longer once they have turned the last page, I guarantee) paints a more complete picture of one of the most talked about, yet enigmatic, figures not only in the game of golf, but in all of 20th-century sport, than popular legend has supplied over the years. Forget the mostly apocryphal tales that have circulated for years about the cold, forbidding “Hawk” and the “Wee Ice Man” – read Kris Tschetter’s book and learn about the affectionate, humorous side of the man who defined excellence in the game of golf in the middle of the 20th Century.

Don’t have a bookstore with a good “Sports” section nearby? Get it here:; Kris will even autograph it for you!

No comments:

Post a Comment