Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

SPORTS EXTRA / SPECIAL SECTION: British Open

The One And Only

Once Was Enough for Ben Hogan at the British Open, Where the Golfing Legend Won Over the Scots in His Victorious Tour of Carnoustie in 1953

July 15, 1999|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — In 1953, just before the first and only time Ben Hogan chose to play the British Open in his fabled career, he ordered two pair of cashmere long-handled underwear costing $95 each from New York retailer Abercrombie and Fitch.

Hogan did this because it can be cold in July, across the Firth of Tay from St. Andrews, hard by the North Sea on Scotland's east coast.

Soon, it became well known that Hogan needed warm underwear to play the British Open at Carnoustie, because everything Hogan did was news--even his wearing of long johns.

The rush to underwear was on. A.J. Anderson Co., of Hogan's hometown of Fort Worth, gave him two pair of red long johns made of cotton and wool. Not to be outdone, BVD sent him three pair.

And so it went in the great underwear escape, when a comfortably warm Hogan made his only appearance at the British Open, played at the wonderfully desolate and atmospherically challenged links course called Carnoustie, won it, and never came back.

Many will never forget the experience of Hogan at the British Open, including a young British golfer named Ben Wright who later became quite well known as a commentator.

Wright was a 21-year-old Hogan devotee in 1953, and in his book "Good Bounces and Bad Lies," Wright clearly remembers Hogan's arrival at the Carnoustie links as he stepped out of his chauffeured car.

"His usual trademark cap crowned him and he wore a very beautiful cashmere sweater, bundled over his white shirt," Wright said. "His outfit was fawn in color--very elegant. . . . Hogan looked like he was King.

"He had an aura of invincibility and superiority about him. He cast around with a baleful glare, looking over the land that he was surely intent to conquer."

But at first, Hogan wasn't so sure he liked that land he was planning on conquering. He took one look at Carnoustie and said he wouldn't mind lending the greenskeeper his lawn mower.

What's more, the course looked like somebody chopped it up with a tiller, the fairways were mostly dead grass and the greens were slower than service at a bad restaurant.

So even though the Scots quickly fell kilt over heels in love with Hogan and dubbed him the "Wee Ice Mon," the object of their affection needed some time for his icy regard of the course to begin to thaw.

Most contemporary accounts of Hogan's only British Open experience portray him as blissfully contented and totally pleased, almost as if some yellow, cartoon smiley face was stenciled on his sleeve. In truth, this was not the case.

Hogan's first and last British Open experience was actually something else indeed.

That cashmere underwear must have chapped him.

*

To begin with, Hogan didn't really want to go. Never mind that Scotland is the birthplace of golf and that every student of the game makes a pilgrimage, Hogan wasn't really interested.

The talk about Hogan playing Carnoustie really heated up in the aftermath of his rousing U.S. Open triumph at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club--a six-shot victory and his fourth U.S. Open title. Hogan had also won the Masters.

In his post-tournament U.S. Open news conference, Hogan was asked why he was thinking about going to the British Open.

"Because so many people want me to," Hogan said.

Those people included Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour and Bobby Cruickshank. Armour had won the first British Open played at Carnoustie in 1931. They urged him to play the British Open, as did Claude Harmon, according to Curt Sampson in his book, "Hogan."

So Hogan boarded an airplane and flew to Scotland from New York, which was a lot better than the way Sam Snead and Byron Nelson did it in 1937 when they had to take a boat across the Atlantic Ocean.

Nelson, who teamed with Snead at the U.S.-dominated Ryder Cup matches at Southport, England, the week before, took a leave of absence from his job as head pro at Reading Country Club in order to play the 1937 British Open at Carnoustie.

Henry Cotton won; Nelson finished fourth and made $187.

"It was a losing proposition," Nelson said.

Nelson said the entire experience was rewarding, only not in the financial area, even though the British Open was not as highly regarded as it is today.

"It was a major, it was just not an important major," Nelson said. "And then, you had to go on a boat. It took six days. Then they said you'd definitely need four days to get over the trip on the boat, add the practice rounds and the tournaments and so you see, you've killed a month."

Snead set the tone for U.S. players and their apparent disregard for the British Open when he played and won at St. Andrews in 1946.

Snead said he rode the train from Edinburgh and when they passed St. Andrews, he turned to the Scot sitting beside him and said: "Holy Hannah, look at that! What abandoned golf course is that?'

"The Scot was quite indignant and said 'I'll have you know that is St. Andrews!' Boy, he was really hot."

So was Snead after he won when he accepted his winner's check for exactly $600. Snead figures his expenses amounted to about $2,000.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|