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FOCUS ON GOLF: PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Golden Years

Hogan's Magical Season Included Consecutive Victories in Three Major Championships, All by Record Scores. Et Tu, Tiger?

Even if There Had Been a 'Grand Slam' in 1953, Injuries, British Open Overlap With Lightly Regarded PGA Would Have Made It Impossible for Hogan to Achieve What Could Be Woods' Destiny

August 17, 2000|SHAV GLICK, | Times Staff Writer

In 1953, Ben Hogan won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, all in a row, with record scores at Augusta, Oakmont and Carnoustie.

What about the PGA? What about professional golf's first Grand Slam?

Hogan didn't even enter the tournament.

Why?

For a number of reasons:

* It was impossible. The PGA and the British Open overlapped. Qualifying for the British Open, in Scotland, was on July 6, which was the second day of the PGA, in Birmingham, Mich. There were no exempt lists in the '50s. Hogan, the American champion, had to play a 36-hole qualifier to get in the British Open. And had he instead entered the PGA, he would have had the same situation. Only defending champions were exempt.

* Physically, it would have been virtually impossible. Winning the PGA would have meant playing 36 holes for six consecutive days of match play. Hogan, after surviving a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus on a foggy day in west Texas in February 1949, had difficulty playing even 18 holes a day because of his tender legs. Although he had won the PGA in 1946 and 1948 he never entered it after the accident until it became medal play in 1958.

* There was no such thing as the Grand Slam, as we know it now--winning the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA in the same year. The original Grand Slam, won only by amateur Bobby Jones in 1930, consisted of the U.S. and British Amateurs and the U.S. and British Opens. O.B. Keeler, Jones' biographer, called it the "Impregnable Quadrilateral."

The term Grand Slam was popularized by Arnold Palmer and Pittsburgh Press sportswriter Bob Drum in 1960 after Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open. Palmer finished second in the British Open at St. Andrews that year.

Talk of a modern Grand Slam returned when Jack Nicklaus flirted with it by winning three in a row, but not in the same year--the 1971 PGA and the 1972 Masters and U.S. Open. Nicklaus, whose idol had been Jones, spoke openly of his desire to win all four in the same year, but it never happened. His hopes were dashed in 1972 when Lee Trevino edged him by one stroke in the British Open at Muirfield.

Now it's Tiger Woods' turn to revive Grand Slam talk. He has already joined Hogan, Nicklaus, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen as the only ones to win career Grand Slams, and ahead of him lies the possibility of a Grand Slam in the same year. He would be shooting for it this week in the PGA at Valhalla had he not finished fifth in the Masters, six shots behind Vijay Singh.

Woods now is the titleholder in three of the four but, like Nicklaus, not in the same year. But he can thank Nicklaus, the man he wants to surpass, for all the fuss over the four majors.

When Hogan won at Carnoustie, he was heralded for having won the "Triple Slam." Greg Gregston wrote in Sports Illustrated, "His 'Triple Slam' was the closest to Jones' 'Grand Slam' yet achieved."

In a search of newspaper and magazine articles, and books about Hogan and the 1953 season in the Ralph Miller Golf Library at Industry Hills, there was no reference anywhere to a "Grand Slam," except for Jones'.

The PGA, which was a match-play tournament until TV dictated a switch to more predictable medal play in 1958, was lightly regarded during Hogan's era.

Even though the two tournaments were held at basically the same time, when Hogan was asked why he chose to play in Scotland, he said, "Because it came at a time when it didn't conflict with any of my commitments in this country."

No conflict? What about the PGA?

That is indicative of how little the PGA meant then. For one, it was usually played on second-tier courses, although the 1953 site of Birmingham Country Club was not one of them; the field was composed largely of club professionals who were not touring pros; it was a disaster for the growing TV influence because often the headliners lost in early rounds, as in 1953 when Walter Burkemo met Felice Torza in the final; and it was more of a marathon, calling for two 18-hole rounds on the first day, followed by 36-hole matches the following four days.

"We counted some other tournaments as majors when I first came up," wrote Sam Snead, Hogan's most competitive contemporary, in his book, "Sam Snead: The Lessons I've Learned."

"If you won the Los Angeles Open, the Metropolitan Open, the Western or the North and South, you had beaten the best fields and earned yourself a bonus from the equipment manufacturers."

What happened early in the 1953 PGA showcased why TV opposed match play. On the first day, Sarazen, Jack Fleck and medalist Johnny Palmer lost in the morning round, with Snead, Cary Middlecoff and Tommy Bolt sidelined in the afternoon.

It left semifinals between Burkemo and Claude Harmon and Torza with Jack Isaacs, not marquee matches.

That would be like having Jim Carter vs. Rocco Mediate and Robin Freeman vs. Larry Mize in this week's PGA semifinals. No Tiger, no Ernie Els, no David Duval, no big names. And no TV interest.

Since 1958, the PGA has been like all the other majors, 72 holes of medal play.

*

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