True Story: Ben Hogan Suggested Eliminating Putting from Golf

There was a time, in his peak years, when some of his peers considered Ben Hogan the greatest putter of all-time. And there were other times when Hogan himself was so frustrated with his putting that he suggested getting rid of putting entirely — removing it from the game by turning every green into a funnel that fed golf balls into the hole. And then there was that time when Hogan was putting so poorly he said he was embarrassed to be watched by spectators.

Was Hogan serious when he suggested getting rid of putting? He was joking — well, maybe half-joking. But it was something he suggested out of frustration with the state of his own putting.

Hogan had just missed the cut in the 1957 Masters (the first Masters Tournament that had a cut) and was in the Augusta National locker room. He was feeling "relaxed" and "light-hearted," according to the journalist he spoke with, but also dejected over the state of his putting.

And that's when The Hawk told UPI sportswriter Will Grimsley that maybe putting should be elimated from golf:

"I have always contended golf is one game and putting is another. One game is played in the air, the other is played on the ground.

"If I had my way, every golf green would be made into a huge funnel. So that when you hit the funnel the ball would roll down a pipe into the hole. That way there would be no expensive upkeep of grass on the greens. And there would be much less misery among the golfers."

Misery is something with which Hogan was familiar that week at the 1957 Masters. Just four years removed from winning three of the four major championships in 1953, Hogan was plagued by three-putts. He shot 76 in the first round and 75 in the second, with eight three-putts in two rounds. He missed the cut by one stroke.

He was 44 years old, winless since 1953 (in fact he won only once more, at the 1959 Colonial) and fed up. Because of the leg issues that resulted from his near-fatal 1949 car crash, Hogan played golf sparingly. And that was killing him on the greens, he told Grimsley.

"Being away from competition as I have been, I find I lose the touch and feel on the greens," Hogan said. "It's the first thing that goes — that and nerves. I can still hit the ball from tee to green, but my putting has been bad for four years. When you are inactive, your touch dies quickly."

Hogan told Grimsley that among three phases of golf — driving, approach shots and putting — he considered putting the least important of the three. (This is something he thought even when he was putting great.) Said Hogan:

"The man who is solid from tee to green will last longer. Show me a player who depends on putting and I'll show you a man who won't stand up to the steady grind."
Fast-forward 10 years to the 1967 Masters. Hogan is now 54 years old, but finished in the Top 13 in the two majors he played the previous year, in the Top 21 of the two majors he played in 1965, and in the Top 9 in the two majors he played in 1964.

His putting is also driving him to distraction. The 1967 Masters was the first tournament he'd played since the previous June, and a 66 in the third round put him in fourth place. But by this point Hogan had a painful putting problem: He struggled to pull the trigger. He froze over the ball.

On April 9, 1967, the Associated Press recount of the tournament's third round hit newsstands, and the AP article led with Hogan. It included comments from Hogan about his putting issues and their effect on his willingness to golf.

Here is what Hogan said after his round that day — keep in mind, he had just shot a 66 and was tied for fourth:

"That was like going to the blood bank and giving blood 18 times a day. I've got blood in every cup on this course. ... I don't know what it is, but something locks between my ears — maybe it's sawdust — and I just can't swing the putter back. That's why it takes me so long to putt, and I know it's awful for the people to watch.

"It's embarrassing for me, even when I'm alone on a practice green. I get up there, and I just can't hit the ball. I don't care where the ball goes, I just want to putt it — but sometimes I can't move the club.

"I'm so embarrassed by my putting I hate to play before anybody. ... But I felt much better about it today, and maybe I've got it licked."

Did Hogan have it licked? Alas, no: He shot 77 in the final round. Despite that, and how frustrated and embarrassed he was by his putting, Hogan finished tied for 10th in that 1967 Masters.

Two months later Hogan placed 34th in the 1967 U.S. Open, and never played another major championship.

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