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Saturday, October 23, 2010

David Barrett Talks About Ben Hogan and the Miracle At Merion

In an exclusive interview, David Barrett, author of Miracle At Merion, talks about how he came to write the book and what Ben Hogan's story means to him:

DD: Tell me what your book is about.
It is the comprehensive story of the 1950 U.S. Open, one of the greatest events in golf history. To give the story depth, it goes into the background of the players involved and of life on the PGA tour at the time. Most prominently, of course, there is the story of Ben Hogan’s comeback from severe injuries suffered in a 1949 car-bus crash. The narrative of the book starts with Hogan’s victory at the 1948 U.S. Open, hits some key events in the two years leading up to the 1950 U.S. Open, and then gives a detailed account of the championship that proved Hogan was really back.

DD: What drew you to this story?
The touchstone is the inspirational story of Hogan’s comeback and the aura of Hogan in general. I also liked the idea of telling a detailed story about one of the game’s most historic championships. What actually sealed it, for me, was how many other great stories there were. Hogan wasn’t even the only player in the three-way playoff whose career nearly ended because of a crash. Lloyd Mangrum severely injured his shoulder when his Jeep turned over on him during World War II action in France, and was told he might not play golf again. Less heroically, Mangrum missed the first part of the 1950 season after reinjuring the same shoulder in a fight with a neighbor. The third man in the playoff, George Fazio, grew up in suburban Philadelphia, near where the championship was held, and had a scrap-metal business on the side. The tournament was nearly won by a player (Joe Kirkwood Jr.) who spent half his time as an actor, portraying boxer Joe Palooka on the big screen. The list goes on. It was also a chance to document the latter part of the hardscrabble, small-money era in pro golf before Arnold Palmer and television changed the landscape.

DD: What did you learn about Hogan in your research that surprised you?
Not too much about the man himself, since I had read his biographies. One interesting detail I learned was that when he first tried the West Coast part of the tour as a 19-year-old, he ended up subsisting for three days on some oranges he bought for 60 cents. Regarding his comeback, I didn’t fully appreciate that when he headed to California for the Los Angeles Open in 1950 he wasn’t sure if he was going to play or just make an appearance—at that point, he had only played three rounds of golf since his recovery.

There were some surprises about Hogan and the 1950 U.S. Open. For example, on the Saturday and Sunday before the Open, he played in a Pro-Celebrity Tournament in Washington, D.C. Another surprise is that, contrary to his reputation for precision, he actually sprayed the ball around in the third round and only remained in contention thanks to some good scrambling (he even hit a drive out of bounds). He did have putting woes in the final round, to such an extent that his brother, back in Fort Worth, sent him another putter via an airplane pilot friend. The putter arrived at Merion moments before the start of the playoff—but as he didn’t have a chance to warm up with it, Hogan didn’t use it.

DD: How did the accident change him as a person? As a golfer?
Hogan was genuinely moved by the outpouring of support he received from the general public after his accident—there were boxes and boxes of letters at the hospital. Before the accident, he was so grimly focused when he was on the course that he barely noticed the gallery. But at the U.S. Open playoff, Shirley Povich wrote in the Washington Post, “[Hogan] was gallery-conscious, and they liked it. For the first time in his career, he was probably trying to win for the gallery as well as for Hogan.”

As a golfer, there were comments from several observers after his first couple of tournaments back that he had changed his swing to account for less leg action. However, Hogan never talked about a significant post-accident swing change, nor, eventually, did commentators. The main difference was that, due to poor circulation in his legs, he had to limit his play severely. He entered 10 events in his comeback year of 1950, but found that even that was too many and halved that number in following years. But focusing on the big events might have helped him in the major championships—he won six of his nine majors after coming back from the crash.

DD: What’s the biggest difference between the U.S. Open as it was played at Merion in 1950 and today’s tournament?
There were no corporate tents then. Indeed, the idea that in the future there would be something called “corporate tents” at a U.S. Open would have been a hard concept to explain. No merchandise tent either. And a lot fewer people. Ticket records showed less than 10,000 sold for the final day. There was not a single grandstand on the course, nor were the fairways roped off.

There was no national television, but my research revealed the little-known fact that there was a two-hour television broadcast seen in select cities. Even in those cities, a lot of people didn’t have televisions. Whereas today the U.S. Open is viewed by millions, in 1950 it was seen only by thousands live—many of whom didn’t have a good view—and probably only thousands on the tube—watching a limited broadcast, with one camera behind the 18th green. There was a large radio audience, however.

DD: These events took place 60 years ago—why is the story relevant today?
It’s relevant because Hogan’s comeback victory at Merion is part of the fabric of the history of the game. It will be remembered for as long as the U.S. Open is played. And it’s relevant because Hogan still resonates. In fact, mine is not the only book about Ben Hogan to come out this fall.

DD: You’ve covered golf for many years. Are there any parallels to Hogan’s story in today’s game?
There will always be stories of golfers coming back from injury, though Hogan’s tale will be tough to top. Steve Jones won the 1996 U.S. Open after missing more than a year with a thumb injury that was not life-threatening but was career-threatening. And, interestingly, he credited reading Curt Sampson’s biography Hogan just before that Open for inspiring him.

As far as winning a U.S. Open on bad wheels, Tiger Woods in 2008 might have topped Hogan. Woods had severe ligament damage and a hairline fracture; his doctor advised him not to play on a leg needing major surgery that would cause an eight-and-a-half-month absence from the game as soon as that Open ended. But as far as Tiger coming back from a car accident, there’s no comparison there!

Read my review of Miracle At Merion posted yesterday.

Dave Donelson, author of The Dynamic Manager's Guides a for and

Friday, October 22, 2010

Miracle At Merion Brings Hogan's Story To Life

Miracle at Merion: The Inspiring Story of Ben Hogan's Amazing Comeback and Victory at the 1950 U.S. OpenThe Miracle At MerionIn 2008, the world watched agog as Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open on the 91st hole while struggling with a fractured left knee. In the excitement of the moment, little was said about a similar feat of physical endurance and mental strength by Ben Hogan in his epic victory at the 1950 U.S. Open, otherwise known as The Miracle at Merion.

Golf writer David Barrett, who has covered 25 U.S. Opens, presents a thorough and rounded account of Ben Hogan's comeback from a near-fatal car wreck to win the most coveted trophy in the sport. The astonishing story of how Hogan survived a head-on crash with a speeding Greyhound bus, fought through months of life-threatening surgery and painful therapy, then returned to the PGA Tour a year later has been told many times, but Barrett gives the reader both a wide view of the events and people surrounding the story as well as an incisive account of how Hogan the individual was changed by it.

Of particular interest are Barrett's portraits of Hogan's compatriots. Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Cary Middlecoff are among the giants of the game with whom Hogan competed. Barrett shows the reader how their careers meshed with Hogan's and, even more importantly, he reveals them not just as golfers but as human beings--just like he does Ben Hogan.

The book also gives a great look at the PGA Tour of Hogan's day. About the only thing today's tour has in common with Hogan's is the use of a little white ball and a four-and-a-quarter-inch hole. Among the many differences, of course, is money. Tiger Woods earned $1,350,000 for his victory in 2008; Hogan's check in 1950 was for a whopping $4,000. The Miracle at Merion brings both Hogan's historic win and the professional game of the era vibrantly to life.

Barrett is first and foremost a journalist, which gives this book a gravitas lacking in many other books on the sport. He not only made extensive use of the USGA archives in Far Hills, NJ, but visited Merion Golf Club itself and conferred at length with the club historian John Capers and archivist Wayne Morrison. He also interviewed many people who were on hand at Merion in 1950 and checked and double-checked media reports of the day--finding several interesting contradictions. The result is a book that deserves a place in the bookcase of any serious student of golf.

Tomorrow, I'll post an exclusive interview with author David Barrett.

Dave Donelson, author of The Dynamic Manager's Guide To Advertising: How To Grow Your Business With Ads That Work a for and

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Play Putnam National Free

Putnam National Golf Club, a daily-fee, 18-hole course in Mahopac, NY, is now offering free golf for the rest of 2010 for those golfers who purchase a 2011 Annual Play Pass before November 1st. The annual pass itself is a bargain--the bonus of free golf in the crisp air and beautiful autumn colors of the rolling landscape of Putnam National for the rest of this year makes it hard to pass up.

A 2011 weekday unlimited membership to the club is $995. The unlimited seven-day-per-week annual pass is only $2299. Seniors (age 50 and above) enjoy an extra 15 percent discount off of these rates. Call (845) 628-4200 or visit www.putnamnational.com for details.

“This is probably one of the best times of the year to play our golf course,” says Putnam National General Manager John Napier. “Not only do we offer the best public golf value in the Hudson Valley, but we also enjoy some of the most picturesque scenery in the region.”

Formerly The Country Club at Lake McGregor, Putnam National Golf Club reopened in the spring of 2004 following its purchase by Putnam County. Located in the lower Hudson Valley town of Mahopac, New York, this daily-fee facility features a 6,804-yard, par-71 golf course that was originally designed by William F. Mitchell. It's operated by RDC Golf Group (RDC).

Dave Donelson, author of The Dynamic Manager's Guide To Advertising: How To Grow Your Business With Ads That Work a for and

Monday, October 11, 2010

Trump Tower Adds Putting Green

Residents of Trump Tower at City Center now have their own personal fairway to heaven--or at least a place to putt someplace closer to it. The luxury high-rise recently added a roof-top golf green to its swimming pool, tennis, bocce and basketball courts, playground, and other recreational facilities high above downtown White Plains, NY.

A young resident of the building with an interest in golf suggested adding a practice green to the area. The idea gained Board approval quickly and Trump hired Westchester resident Michael Lehrer, owner of Home Green Advantage (HGA), to build the 1,500 square foot putting green. Lehrer designed significant elevation changes, tiers and swales to give the green many different breaks and speeds using three different types of synthetic turf. While most of HGA’s work is done in the backyards of suburbia, Lehrer has created over 20 rooftop greens, primarily in Manhattan.

According to Larry Gomez, The Building’s Manager, “Residents are very excited by it. I tried it out as soon as it was completed, and I think it’s great! No other condo complex has anything close.”

Dave Donelson, author of The Dynamic Manager's Guide To Advertising: How To Grow Your Business With Ads That Work a for and

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ham-And-Egg Wins The Golf Tournament

Please pardon me while I toot the old horn a little bit. My buddy Ralph Wimbish and I won the MGA Senior Net 4-Ball Tournament today, marking first-time tournament wins for both of us. As Ralph put it, "We ham and egged perfectly."

That is pretty much exactly what happened. We each played approximately to our handicap with our individual ball, which would have left us well out of the awards if it hadn't been a team event. But when one of us blew a hole, the other was almost always fortunate enough to card a par or better, giving us a tournament-winning net 61. Teamwork is a beautiful thing.

Here's the official announcement from the Metropolitan Golf Association:
Quill & Tee Duo Wins MGA Senior Net 4-ball Tournament

October 4, 2010 – Ralph Wimbish and Dave Donelson of the Quill and Tee Golf Club wrote their way into MGA history today with a victory at the 18th MGA Senior Net Four-Ball Tournament at Scarsdale Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y. The event, which was originally scheduled for May 3, was postponed to September 27 and due to rain, was finally completed on Monday, October 4.

Wimbish and Donelson finished one stroke ahead of their nearest competitors, the team of William Sturman and Paul Liubicich of Ridgewood (Conn.). The win marks the first MGA championship for Wimbish and Donelson as well as the Quill and Tee Golf Club.

Rounding out the top four were the teams of John Vergo and George Desimone of Hudson Hills and Hempstead (63) and Joe Gullotta and Mike Morton of North Jersey (64). Four teams came in with scores of net 65 to tie for fifth place. Sturman and Liubicich were the winners of the low gross category with their score of one-under-par 70.

The event is open to male amateur golfers who have reached 50 years of age by September 27, 2010 and maintain a USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 18.0. For more information, please contact Billy Condon (bcondon@mgagolf.org) or Bob Nielsen (bnielsen@mgagolf.org) at the MGA office at 914-347-4653.
Click here for complete tournament results.

Dave Donelson, author of The Dynamic Manager's Guide To Advertising: How To Grow Your Business With Ads That Work a for and