Ben Hogan’s Miracle Comeback at Merion

When Ben Hogan turned up at Merion Golf Club for the 1950 U.S. Open just 16 months after a near-fatal automobile accident, Cary Middlecoff called him “a walking miracle.” Following is a short excerpt from my book (THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open) that tells about Hogan’s agonizing 36-hole Saturday (the third and fourth rounds were played on the final day until 1965), his famous 1-iron shot and the Sunday playoff.

[Ben] Hogan arose at 5:30 a.m. to prepare himself for his 9:30 a.m. tee time. By noon, cramps again viciously attacked his legs. The hobbled champion gamely played on, finishing with a 72 that left him 2 behind leader [Lloyd] Mangrum with 18 holes to go. When Mangrum and others fell back on the outward 9, Hogan took the lead. The pain in his legs had become so acute that his caddie took his ball out of the hole and playing partner Middlecoff marked his ball at times. On the 12th tee, Hogan reached out and grabbed an arm to keep from falling after hitting his drive.

“I thought he was going to collapse,” Middlecoff said.

By the time he reached the 72nd hole, Hogan had surrendered his three-shot lead and needed a par on the challenging 448-yard finishing hole to get into a playoff with Mangrum and George Fazio. He hit a solid drive in the fairway but still faced a wood or long iron shot from a slight downhill lie to the 18th green. The fairway was lined by thousands of spectators as he reached for his 1-iron, a difficult club to play under the best of circumstances. The Hawk made perfect contact. Directly behind Hogan, Hy Peskin, who had set his camera on a spectator’s shoulder, snapped one of golf’s most famous photographs. As the masses craned their necks, Hogan’s 1-iron shot rocketed through the air and landed safely on the distant green, stopping 40 feet left of the cup. He limped up the rise to the putting surface and surveyed his long putt. His first effort was too strong, leaving a nervous four-footer. He took little time and holed his par to tie Mangrum and Fazio.

Ben Hogan's Miracle Comeback at Merion 1
(Courtesy of Golf Channel)

The next day, against all reasonable odds, Hogan won the 18-hole playoff and was crowned national champion. Penalized two shots on the 16th green, Mangrum posted a 73. Fazio had a disappointing 75. The Hawk shot a 69.

Hogan had completed what some considered to be the greatest comeback in the history of sports. A stone plaque in Merion’s 18th fairway marks the spot where he struck the famous 1-iron shot. It was the last shot Hogan hit with the club, which, along with a pair of his shoes, was stolen moments after his playoff victory.

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

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