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Caddy Gives the Inside Scoop on Hogan's 1951 Open Victory

June 11, 1996|HARRY ATKINS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WARREN, Mich. — Ben Hogan fudged on the equipment he endorsed. Dave Press, his caddy in the 1951 U.S. Open, lied about his age. That's about as close to scandal as it gets.

The rest is the joyous story of a teenager whose 15 minutes of fame came early, playing a supporting role in perhaps the finest round of competitive golf on record.

"I just loved it," Press says. "I think it was the finest experience I've had in my whole life."

It was Saturday, June 6, 1951. The toughest competitor the game has ever known turned in a final-round 67 at Oakland Hills, the toughest course that had ever been devised for the national championship. Hogan's momentous finish gave him a two-shot victory over Clayton Heafner. It was the third of Hogan's four U.S. Open titles, and his second straight.

Hogan's victory was worth $4,000, only because the sponsoring U.S. Golf Association had agreed to double the regular first-place award on the eve of the tournament. The winner at Oakland Hills this week will receive $425,000 of a total purse worth $2.4 million.

Hogan gave his 13-year-old caddy a check for $350.

"After that, I was making more money than my father," Press says. "Everybody at the club wanted Ben Hogan's caddy. I got the big head for a while. I'd tell them Hogan stories and they'd give me big tips. I played it well. I got an extra buck or two."

Press, who now admits to tipping the scales at 275 pounds, was always a chunky kid. He was 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds when he was 13. But kids had to be at least 14 to caddy in those days, so he lied about his age. In fact, he'd been fibbing since he was eight.

Touring pros didn't travel with their own caddies in 1951 like they do today. Press, who hitchhiked about 20 miles from Hazel Park to Bloomfield Hills each day, got Hogan's bag because he drew Bantam Ben's name from a hat.

"I was about as big as Hogan, really," says Press, a sheet metal worker who now has 11 grandchildren.

Press remembers Hogan as quiet, an intense competitor who seldom spoke during a round. He never sought advice. Press held the bag. When he had decided what he would hit, Hogan walked over and pulled out the club.

"Dave stuck to his knitting, and that's as it should be," Hogan told Royal Oak Tribune sports editor Dayton Perrin. "Not once did he tell me what club to use. He was a fine boy, a quiet boy. That's the way I like them."

Hogan, who manufactures his own line of equipment now, endorsed MacGregor back in those days. Press confirms that he had MacGregor irons in his bag. But the woods had been modified so many times in Hogan's workshop that they were almost impossible to identify.

"He played Spalding Dot balls," Press says. "A lot of the pros did. He said when MacGregor made a ball that good, he'd switch."

Hogan almost always did things his own way.

"He would tell me to get the shag bag and meet him at the car," Press says. "He'd tell me to be discreet, so nobody would notice. Driving out, he was friendly to me. He asked if I played golf."

But once on the golf course, Hogan went back to being Hogan.

"There were maybe 12,000 people out there the final day," Press says. "There were no ropes, no security like they have today. And the crowd was running all over the place. They were really rooting for Hogan and urging him on."

Hogan shot 76-73, 9-over-par, through the first two rounds. The final two rounds were completed on Saturday back then. Hogan was five strokes behind South Africa's great Bobby Locke when the day started.

Hogan began inching forward with a 1-over 71 in the morning. Then it was crunch time.

"Then came the last round," Press recalls. "You could just feel the electricity. He had dead aim then. He hit a 3-iron to five feet on No. 10 for birdie. Nobody was making birdie on that hole. That might be the best birdie I've ever seen."

After rolling in a 15-footer for birdie to complete the 67 on No. 18, Hogan draped his arm over the caddy's shoulder as they walked from the green. The picture was captured by photographers and showed up on sports pages around the world.

"He gave me the ball," Press says. "I put it in my pocket. Guys were offering me $50 for it. I love to tell the story. I talk about it all the time."

Afterward, Hogan is reported to have said, "I am glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees." Press, however, doesn't recall it.

"I have puzzled over that ever since," Press says. "I recently talked with a buddy of mine, who also caddied. He can't remember Hogan saying that, either."

Maybe there is a hint of scandal after all.

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