Golfer Gardner Dickinson: PGA Tour Champion and Hogan Devotee

Golfer Gardner Dickinson in a Wilson Sporting Goods publicity photo from the 1950s

Gardner Dickinson won tournaments on the PGA Tour from the 1950s into the 1970s. But he is best-known for his devotion to Ben Hogan and his stellar Ryder Cup record.

Full name: Gardner Edward Dickinson Jr.

Date of birth: September 14, 1927

Place of birth: Dothan, Alabama

Date and place of death: April 19, 1998 in Tequesta, Florida

Nickname: "Little Ben" (because of his emulation, in golf swing and golf attire, of Ben Hogan) or "Slim Man" (because, at 5-foot-10, he was just 130 pounds when he first arrived on tour)

Tour Wins By Gardner Dickinson

Dickinson is credited with seven PGA Tour victories:
  • 1956 West Palm Beach Open
  • 1957 Insurance City Open Invitational
  • 1962 Coral Gables Open Invitational
  • 1967 Cleveland Open Invitational
  • 1968 Doral Open Invitational
  • 1969 Colonial National Invitation
  • 1971 Atlanta Classic
Dickinson lost twice in playoffs, including at the 1969 Greater Jacksonville Open to Raymond Floyd.

His non-tour wins included the 1952 Florida Open and 1956 Miami Beach Open, and the 1978 Legends of Golf in which he partnered Sam Snead. Dicksinson also partnered Ruth Jessen to victory in the 1965 Haig & Haig Scotch Foursome (later better-known under the name JCPenney Classic).

Dickinson In the Majors

Gardner Dickinson did not win a major championship, but did have five career Top 10 finishes in majors. His best finish was solo fifth at the 1965 PGA Championship. His first appearance in a major was in the 1952 U.S. Open, his last in the 1974 Masters. Dickinson's final Top 10 in a major was a tie for 10th place in the 1973 Masters.

His Hogan Worship

As we saw from one of the nicknames (Little Ben) by which Gardner Dickinson was known, he was not just a fan and, later, a friend of Ben Hogan's: he idolized Hogan sometimes to the point of imitation.

In his 1980 encyclopedia The Who's Who of Golf (Amazon affiliate link), Peter Alliss wrote:

"Dickinson held Ben Hogan in great reverence. He once flew 6,000 miles for a lesson from the master, played in a white cloth cap and was even said to walk with the limp of the post-accident Hogan. Behind his back, some of his fellow touring pros nicknamed him 'Chicken Hawk' or 'Sparrow Hawk,' a reference to Hogan's 'the Hawk'."
Some golfers noted that from a distance, dressed as Hogan would have dressed on the golf course, it was easy to mistake Dickinson for The Hawk. Jimmy Demaret once said, "Gardner will never be happy until he gets hit by a bus" (as Hogan had been).

Dickinson's most meaningful win, then, was the 1969 Colonial, in Hogan's hometown of Fort Worth, on the golf course sometimes called "Hogan's Alley." Dickinson visited Hogan at nearby Shady Oaks Country Club and got a lesson from his idol before the tournament. Then he went out and won the tournament with Hogan watching from the gallery.

Others, not just Alliss, noted that Dickinson sometimes seemed to walk with a minor limp, as Hogan did after his accident.

In his own book, Let 'Er Rip!: Gardner Dickinson on Golf (Amazon affiliate link), published in the 1990s, Dickinson wrote that when he started out on tour, "I didn't know enough to copy the strongest points of (Hogan's) technique. Instead I copied many of his mannerisms, which didn't really help me."

Dickinson and Hogan were friends, however, and Hogan often helped Dickinson with his game. (Dickinson often worked on his game with Toney Penna, too.)

Dickinson's Role In the Creation of Two Tours

The PGA Tour dates to the early 20th century, but until the 1960s the tour was actually run by the PGA of America, which made all the decisions about tournaments, dates, money and so on. In 1968, Gardner Dickinson was part of a small group of tour players who lobbied their fellow pros, privately and publicly, to break away from the PGA of America.

They formed their own organization, named American Professional Golfers, Inc., and began planning the new APG Tour for 1969. The PGA of America, to stave that off, agreed instead to create the Tournament Players Division, an essentially autonomous organization but still within the PGA of America.

It wasn't until 1975 that the PGA Tour as we know it today was a fully independent business entity, separate from the PGA of America. Alliss once called Dickinson "the mastermind" of the tour players' push to break away from the PGA of America.

In 1978, Dickinson played in a brand-new tournament for over-50 former PGA Tour stars. Partnered with Sam Snead, they won the tournament. The event — the Legends of Golf — took place again in 1979, and the first two tournaments were huge successes.

In January of 1980, Dickinson, Snead, Bob Goalby, Don January, Dan Sikes and Julius Boros met to discuss the creation of a pro tour for senior (over-50) golfers. The Senior PGA Tour, now called the Champions Tour (or PGA Tour Champions, officially), launched later in 1980.

More About Gardner Dickinson

Dickinson graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) in 1951 with a degree in clinical psychology, and also took some post-graduate courses at the University of Alabama. But golf was his calling. He turned pro in 1952 and joined the PGA Tour in 1953.

And although Dickinson was never a big winner, he had a long, fruitful career. By the mid-1970s, by which time his PGA Tour career was over (he won zero money on tour in 1976), Dickinson's career earnings of around $530,000 still ranked him inside the Top 40 on the all-time money list.

In addition to his seven wins, Dickinson had 13 runner-up finishes and 11 third-place finishes. His best year was probably 1956 when in addition to his first win he had two second-place finishes and two thirds among 10 Top 10 finishes.

Dickinson finished in the Top 60 of the season money list (required at the time to avoid weekly qualifying rounds) in 1953-59, 1961-69 and 1971. His best money-list finish was 16th place in 1968.

Sam Snead was runner-up in Dickinson's first win in 1956, and Dickinson beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff for his final win in 1971. (Speaking of Nicklaus, for many years Dickinson lived close to Jack in Palm Beach, Fla., and often rode to and from tournaments in which they were both entered on Nicklaus' airplane.)

At Dickinson's big 1969 Colonial win, he played the final round paired with Nicklaus, who got within one shot of his lead on the 14th hole, but Dickinson held him off. In two of Dickinson's other wins, Gary Player and Tom Weiskopf were the runners-up.

Although his career was certainly successful, Dickinson was often frustrated the he didn't win more often. After that 1969 Colonial win, Dickinson told the writer Dan Jenkins:

"It's tough when you know you can play golf and you don't come up with much, and the years keep going by. I almost quit this year. I had a friend who wanted me to go into another business, but when I said I was ready he said he wasn't. So I'm still out here. Now I guess I got to stay a while longer."
Dickinson's career was impacted by a couple surgeries, first for a disc problem in his neck in 1958, then in 1984 for back problems that had plagued him since the mid-70s.

He did not win on the Senior PGA Tour, but twice finished in the top 20 in money, with a highest ranking of 13th in 1981.

Dickinson was also lauded as an excellent teacher of the game by, among many others, Arnold Palmer.

Dickinson played for Team USA in the 1967 Ryder Cup and 1971 Ryder Cup, and he and Palmer teamed to go 5-0-0 in their doubles matches. Overall, Dickinson himself was a perfect 5-0-0 in 1967, and went 4-1-0 in 1971. His overall record in the Ryder Cup of 9-1-0 is the best record of any golfer who played at least seven matches in the event. In singles, Dickinson defeated Tony Jacklin, 3 and 2, in 1967; and Christy O'Connor, 5 and 4, in 1971. (His lone Ryder Cup loss was in a second 1971 singles session, 2 and 1 down to Harry Bannerman.)

As an instructor, Dickinson's most-famous student was JoAnne Carner, one of the giants of the LPGA Tour. But his favorite student was another LPGA golfer who was named Judy Clark when they first met. After they married in 1985, Judy Dickinson was a 4-time winner on the LPGA.

They had two children together; Dickinson had three kids with his first wife. He suffered a stroke in 1994, a year before his book came out, and died in 1998 at age 70.

From his book:

"With few exceptions, the most successful players are selfish, egotistic, combative and utterly indifferent to the well-being of their fellow man, and care even less about the well-being of their fellow competitors."
A very brief clip of his golf swing (note the white cap, sometimes called a newsboy or kangol cap, just like Hogan wore):

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