Did Ben Hogan Really Fail to Notice His Partner's Ace?

There's a well-known tale in the golf world told to illustrate Ben Hogan's powers of concentration, a story about the time he was so focused on his own coming shot that he failed to even notice when his playing partner made a hole-in-one. It's a great story ... but is it true?

The story usually goes like this: Hogan is on the leaderboard at a big tournament. He and his fellow-competitor reach the tee on a par-3 hole. His playing partner steps to the tee and knocks the ball right into the cup. The crowd goes nuts, but Hogan says nothing. Hogan then tees his own ball and knocks it onto the green, the ball stopping one foot from the hole. "Nice shot," his fellow-competitor says. "Thanks," Hogan replies, "How was yours?"

That's one version of the story, anyway. There are multiple accounts floating around out there.

Great story, but did it really happen? There is some basis in fact, because the story is based on a real incident. That real incident just isn't quite as good as the story.

The true story is told in longtime LPGA Tour player Kris Tschetter's book, Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew (affiliate link). Late in Hogan's life, he became a mentor and teacher to Tschetter in Fort Worth, and her book is full of great stories and reminiscences and insights about Hogan.

The real-life incident on which the tale is based happened during the 1947 Masters Tournament and the golfer who got the ace was Hogan's good friend Claude Harmon Sr. (who won the 1948 Masters and was the father of Butch Harmon). Harmon really did make an ace, Hogan really did remain quiet. When they got to the green, Hogan putted out for his birdie. Then, as recounted by Butch Harmon and his brothers Craig and Billy during many range session chats and after-dinner speaking gigs over the years, Hogan turned to Harmon and said, "Claude, I think that's the first time I've ever birdied that hole. What did you make?"

Back in the early 1990s, Tschetter arranged for mental coach and book author Dr. Bob Rotella to talk with Hogan at Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth. Rotella had many questions to ask Hogan, but he had heard the story about Harmon's ace. As a mental coach, it was a story in which Rotella was particularly interested. So he asked Hogan whether the story was true.

As recounted in Tschetter's book, this is what happened:

"Is it true?" Doc (Rotella) asked Mr. Hogan.

Mr. Hogan smiled. "I knew he'd made a one. I always felt it was my obligation as a golfer to watch my playing partner's ball," he said. "I never watched them swing, but I watched the ball. He knew I was just teasing him, but it did make a great story."

Then he added, tongue in cheek, "That's the sort of thing legends are made of."

Indeed.

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