Ben Hogan won 64 times, including nine majors, during his PGA Tour career. But he never played full-time on Tour after the automobile accident that almost cost him his life in February 1949.
How many times would he have won had his car not been hit by a bus on a lonely road near Van Horn, Texas? Eighty? Ninety? One-hundred?
By all measures, Hogan’s post-crash career was a success. During the 1950s, he won 11 times, including six majors. In 1953, four years after the accident, he had what many have called the greatest season of all time, winning three majors while being named the Male Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press. It’s hard not to be impressed by those numbers, but they most assuredly would pale to what Hogan might have accomplished. It’s revisionist history at its finest, but we’re going to recreate Hogan’s career without the accident, focusing on where he might have won.
Would he hold the PGA Tour’s all-time victory mark that Tiger Woods is chasing?
Hogan won twice in January 1949 at the Bing Crosby Pro-Am and the Long Beach Open, before finishing runner-up in Phoenix. It was after that latter tournament, when he was traveling home to Fort Worth, that Hogan got hurt. Our reconstruction begins at this point and we’ll make a few assumptions along the way. We’ll give Hogan about 20 starts a year through the mid-1950s, before cutting back on that number in the second half of the decade in respect to his age and an expected desire to run his nascent equipment company. In determining where he would win, we’ll pick tournaments that he would likely have played, based on previous years, especially where he had prior success.
We also won’t change the result of events Hogan actually played (with one notable exception). For example, Hogan finished second in the 1950 Los Angeles Open. We can’t justify giving him a win that week if he played and someone beat him.
Here begins our fictitious and fun journey …
Hogan’s actual record: 4 starts (1 is now considered unofficial), 2 wins
Hogan’s revised record: 20 starts, 5 wins
Hogan won 10 times in 1948 and had embarked on another great year in 1949 with the two aforementioned wins in California. After going home to rest up for the Masters, we see his year playing out with additional wins coming at the U.S. Open, the Motor City Open, and the World Championship of Golf.
U.S. Open: We’re not giving Hogan the Masters this year – one bad round did him in at Augusta from 1946-48, as well as 1950, so we don’t see any reason for that to change in 1949. Not giving him the PGA Championship, either, but the U.S. Open is a different matter. The U.S. Open at Medinah would mark Hogan’s second straight national title after winning at Riviera in 1948. This time, we see him holding off Cary Middlecoff down the stretch. Middlecoff’s actual winning score in 1949 was 2-over 286. Hogan shot 276 when he won in 1948, and 287 when he won in 1950 and 1951. It’s likely Hogan would have played better at Medinah in 1949, which was by many accounts an easier test than what followed, at Merion and Oakland Hills.
And, yes, this victory, when paired with Hogan’s eventual wins in 1950 and 1951, would give Hogan a record four straight U.S. Open victories. Far-fetched? Not hardly. By mid-1950, Hogan was perhaps the game’s greatest golfer. Greatness begets record performances, and it’s easy to see him setting a record that might never surpassed.
Motor City Open: One week after winning the U.S. Open, Hogan makes the trip from Chicago to Detroit, where he wins his second straight Motor City Open. Hogan won the 1948 tournament at Meadowbrook CC in a playoff over E. J. Harrison after they finished at 9 under par. When the Tour returned to Meadowbrook in 1949, Lloyd Mangrum beat Middlecoff in a playoff. Because Hogan beat those two by four and five strokes, respectively, in 1948, we’ll assume he would have done the same in 1949.
World Championship of Golf: This was the first year this event became a full-field tournament, and we have Hogan taking the top prize. He won at Tam O’Shanter in a two-round, eight-player tournament in 1947 with a score of 135. We’ll double that score to 270, which would have been more than enough to better Johnny Palmer’s actual winning score of 275.
Hogan’s actual record: 9 starts (3 unofficial), 2 wins (1 unofficial)
Hogan’s revised record: 23 starts, 4 wins
We have Hogan finishing another multiple-win season in 1950. To his only official victory (by 2019 standards) at the U.S. Open in June – a win that we envision to be his third straight national title, tying Willie Anderson for the most consecutive wins in the tournament – we will add the Long Beach Open, the Inverness Four-Ball, and the All-American Open.
Long Beach Open: When Hogan returned to the PGA Tour following the end of World War II he won a tournament in Southern California every year from 1946-49, which is why we’re giving him one in 1950. We can’t give him victories in the Los Angeles Open or the Bing Crosby Pro-Am, because he actually played in them and didn’t win. Instead, he’ll settle for the trophy in Long Beach, giving him two straight victories in the tournament held the week after Crosby’s Clam Bake.
Inverness Four-Ball: Hogan and Jimmy Demaret won this team event three straight years from 1946-48. We have them taking the title again in 1950.
All-American Open: Hogan actually won the now unofficial Greenbrier Pro-Am in May, in addition to the U.S. Open in June, so we fully expect that he would have won another individual tournament during the summer. In reality, Hogan played several events in the spring of 1950, and later exclaimed he was too tired to compete in the grueling PGA Championship that June. With that in mind, we won’t give him the PGA title in 1950. Instead, we will give him a victory in a tournament he never won on a course that he did. The All-American Open was held at Tam O’Shanter from 1941-57. It’s the same venue that hosted the World Championship of Golf that Hogan actually won in 1948 (and also wins in our exercise in 1949). In this one, we see Hogan outdueling Bobby Locke and Lloyd Mangrum for another victory in Illinois.
Hogan’s actual record: 4 starts, 3 wins
Hogan’s revised record: 20 starts, 7 wins
Hogan would turn 39 in August, but we don’t see him slowing down, as we add four wins to his actual titles at the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the World Championship of Golf. This time Hogan picks up wins in the Los Angeles Open, the Phoenix Open, the Reading Open, and the North & South Open. We also see him winning the PGA Tour money title for the first time since 1948, breaking Sam Snead’s two-year reign.
Los Angeles Open: Riviera is Hogan’s Alley, so what kind of revisionists would we be if we didn’t predict another Los Angeles Open title for the Hawk. Hogan won the L.A. Open at Riviera in 1947 and ‘48, before winning the U.S. Open there later that summer. This victory makes up for his playoff loss to Snead in 1950, a tournament made memorable for Hogan’s return to golf after the accident. But in our world there was no drama in 1950, other than what the playoff provided. One year later, Hogan rebounds and beats Mangrum down the stretch.
Phoenix Open: Like Riviera, Hogan won at Phoenix CC in consecutive years in 1946 and ‘47. This tournament was renamed in honor of Hogan for one year in 1950, and although the name “Ben Hogan Open” wouldn’t be a necessary homage in our new history, we can’t help but believe this would indeed be Ben Hogan’s Open.
Reading Open: Hogan won the Reading Open in 1948 and would likely have made this event, located about 50 miles east of Hershey, Pa., his one-time home as a club professional, a must-stop during its time on Tour. The Reading Open, played at Berkleigh CC in nearby Kutztown, Pa., was held for the last time in 1951, what better send-off than to have Hogan win it.
North & South Open: Pinehurst CC hosted this classic event in early November in the years after World War II. It was a Tour event in 1945 and ‘46, but was not for the next three years (Snead won an unsanctioned event in 1949) before returning to the Tour’s official record books in 1950. We’ll assume Hogan returned with it and a year later would have added a fourth victory in the Carolina Sandhills to the titles he took in 1940, ‘42, and ‘46.
Hogan’s actual record: 3 starts, 1 win
Hogan’s revised record: 18 starts, 4 wins
Hogan’s only official victory of 1952 came at Colonial, but we’ll add three more, at the Western Open, the PGA Championship, and the Insurance City Open, a new event debuting in Wethersfield, Conn.
Western Open: We see Hogan getting off to a slow start in 1952, failing to win on the West Coast where he usually shines. But that would change after his victory at Colonial in May. One week later, Hogan travels back to California, where he wins again in the Los Angeles area at Brentwood CC.
PGA Championship: Two weeks after the Western Open, Hogan plays the U.S. Open in Dallas and comes up short in his bid for five straight national titles, finishing third, five back of winner Julius Boros. Determined, Hogan overcomes fatigue to win the PGA Championship, which began four days after the U.S. Open at Louisville’s Big Spring CC, when he beats Jim Turnesa in the final. Hogan won the PGA in 1946 and ‘48, and would not actually play the event again because of the nature of the match-play format requiring multiple rounds on multiple days. In our scenario, however, Hogan’s steadfast nature and a break from Mother Nature, gets him through the tournament as heavy rains postpone the third round, allowing Hogan a one-day respite before the grueling 36-hole days piled up through the end of the tournament.
Insurance City Open: We see Hogan taking more than a month off to recover from the PGA grind, and he wouldn’t win in either of his starts at Tam O’Shanter in August. Hungry for a victory, we see Hogan teeing it up at the inaugural Insurance City Open in Connecticut later that month. Ted Kroll tamed Wethersfield CC to the tune of 11-under 273 to win for real that week, but we see Hogan running away from this field by several strokes, much to the delight of the massive crowds that would become an annual hallmark of the Tour’s only stop in the Nutmeg State.
Hogan’s actual record: 7 starts (3 unofficial), 5 wins
Hogan’s revised record: 19 starts, 7 wins
Hogan’s greatest season plays out a little differently in our world than it actually did. To his major titles at the Masters and U.S. Open, we add a victory at the PGA Championship, but we take away his Open title at Carnoustie. We’re also giving him regular victories at the El Paso Open and the World Championship of Golf to go with his wins at the Pan American Open and at Colonial. By the end of the year, Hogan would edge Lew Worsham for his seventh PGA Tour money title.
El Paso Open: Off to an uncharacteristically slow start to the season thanks in part to an uncooperative putting stroke, Hogan adds the El Paso Open to his schedule in early February in an effort to work out the kinks in his game. We have him succeeding, as Hogan would tie Chandler Harper and Kroll at 6-under 278 and then win a Monday playoff.
PGA Championship: Hogan’s early malaise would be long forgotten by the time of the PGA Championship. After the win in El Paso, Hogan rounds into shape for the Masters, which he would win by five strokes over Ed Oliver. He would next win at the Pan American Open at the start of May and the Colonial at the end of that month. The U.S. Open at Oakmont was difficult. Forced to qualify – as everyone save the defending champion had to do – Hogan fights through a pulled muscle in his back and shoots 5-under 283 for a six-stroke win over Snead for his fifth title in six years. In our scenario, Hogan takes the next two weeks off to rest up for what would be a successful defense of his PGA Championship as Hogan rebuffs advances from overseas and once again skips The Open, which he had never played. Hogan was keen on honoring his title defense at the PGA in no small part as an homage to his past as a club pro, but also because he was unsure how trans-Atlantic ocean travel would affect his back and how the smaller British ball would impact his play. There’s no disputing the results, as Hogan beats Walter Burkemo in the final at Birmingham (Mich.) CC. It would be the 11th and last major victory of Hogan’s career.
World Championship of Golf: As in 1952, Hogan rests after the PGA, returning a month later for Tam O’Shanter’s annual double-dip. We have Hogan taking the top prize at the second of the these events just four days before his 41st birthday, the $25,000 he earned for winning clinches him the Tour money title for the seventh time.
Hogan’s actual record: 4 starts, 0 wins
Hogan’s revised record: 14 starts, 1 win
During 1953, Hogan announced he was starting an equipment company that would begin producing clubs in 1954. Hogan’s meticulous hands-on approach to business would mean a lessened playing schedule and our Ben never again makes more than 15 starts in a season. The toll of a business start-up would also impact his play, as the Los Angeles Open would provide Hogan’s only victory in 1954.
Los Angeles Open: Fox Hills would replace Riviera as tournament host in 1954, but Hogan is still up to the task, beating unheralded Fred Wampler, the 54-hole leader who unravels in the final round with a 75. It is Hogan’s only highlight in an otherwise trying year in which he lost a playoff at the Masters to Snead after they tied at 1-over 289.
Hogan’s actual record: 4 starts (1 unofficial), 0 wins
Hogan’s revised record: 15 starts, 2 wins
Hogan makes 15 starts in 1955, electing to skip most of the Tour’s January-February swing. We have him returning in time to win the St. Petersburg Open. That would be his only win until September, when the anguish of runner-up finishes at the Masters and the U.S. Open serve as an impetus for him to turn a surprise appearance in Philadelphia into a victory.
St. Petersburg Open: By this time in Hogan’s career, we have him playing fewer events, many of those weeks off coming at the start of the season. By skipping events on the West Coast, Hogan could easily have added an event or two in March in an effort to stay sharp for the Masters. In 1955, he does so, picking up the St. Petersburg Open, and taking another victory away from a familiar foe. We don’t mean to demean Middlecoff during our reimagining of Hogan’s career, but it does seem the dentist is getting his victories pulled from him quicker than he could yank teeth. This time Doc loses the St. Petersburg Open, as Hogan adds a victory at Lakewood CC to the 1946 tournament he actually won at Sunset GC.
Philadelphia Daily News Open: Hogan is runner-up in the Masters – finishing seven strokes back of Middlecoff in one that we can’t take away from the go–od doctor – and loses a playoff to Jack Fleck in the U.S. Open. Those losses and a poor showing at the PGA Championship, encourage our Hogan to play consecutive weeks in September in an effort to wipe away the bad taste of uninspired golf. Leaving his business in the capable hands of his partners, we have Hogan coming east for the Insurance City Open and the Cavalcade of Golf. He doesn’t win either event and is ready to come home before his business associates convince him to enter the Philadelphia Daily News Open. Hogan was runner-up in this tournament in 1948 and had not played since. This time he topples Kroll and Doug Ford in a playoff.
Hogan’s actual record: 6 starts (1 unofficial), 0 wins
Hogan’s revised record: 15 starts 2 wins
Hogan didn’t win for real in 1956, but we’re giving him two titles – the Phoenix Open and the Palm Beach Round Robin.
Phoenix Open: We’re not picking on Middlecoff – we swear – but he’s a victim once again as Hogan adds to his win total at Phoenix CC. Hogan won here in 1946 and ‘47, and in our alternate reality in 1951. We figure he would have added another win at this venerable venue, which only hosted the tournament in even-numbered years from 1954 through the early 1970s. We don’t have him playing in 1954, so ‘56 would have to be the year.
Palm Beach Round Robin: We have Hogan winning this unique event that was held at Wykagyl in New Rochelle, N.Y. in 1956. Bantam Ben had a successful history in Westchester County, winning this tournament in 1940 and ‘46, and the Westchester Open in ‘40, when he was a professional at nearby Century CC in Purchase, N.Y.
1957 and 1958
Hogan’s actual 1957 record: 5 starts (3 unofficial), 0 wins
Hogan’s revised 1957 record: 14 starts 0 wins
Hogan’s actual 1958 record: 5 starts (2 unofficial), 0 wins
Hogan’s revised 1958 record: 13 starts, 0 wins
For the first time since the 1930s, Hogan plays a regular schedule and fails to win. Focusing his time on club making, the real Hogan missed the cut in the Masters in 1957 and did not play in the U.S. Open. In 1958, Hogan was T-14 at Augusta and T-10 in the U.S. Open. Now in his mid-40s, we’ll play along and declare him winless both seasons.
Hogan’s actual record: 6 starts (1 unofficial), 1 win
Hogan’s revised record: 14 starts, 1 win
Hogan won the 1959 Colonial in a playoff for his first real victory on Tour since 1953. And we cannot take it away from him! Going out in a blaze of glory, the 46-year-old Hogan beat Fred Hawkins in a playoff. It was the last of his 64 real victories on the PGA Tour, and in our exercise it’s also his last win.
Hogan is credited with 53 PGA Tour victories prior to his accident and won another 11 times upon his return in 1950. Our reinvention gives Hogan 31 wins after his accident, the additional 20 trophies increasing his number of Tour victories to 84, including 11 majors, two more than his actual number of nine (although he loses his claim to the career Grand Slam). Those 84 wins would still be a PGA Tour record today – two more than Snead – with Woods (81) closing in that number. How many wins would Woods have if he didn’t get injured? Sorry, we’re not going there. This is Hogan’s day. A fictive look at Tiger’s career must wait for another time.
Golf Film’s “Hogan” documentary debuts Monday, June 17 at 9 p.m. ET on Golf Channel.