Following the genius of Ben Hogan

Books On Golf

April 15, 2001|By Michael E. Waller | Michael E. Waller,Sun Staff

More than 50 years after nearly being killed in a car crash but then winning the U. S. Open Golf tournament 16 months later, Ben Hogan is still revered, in the words of pro golfer Ben Crenshaw, as "a total inspiration of what a golfer might look like."

With the Masters Golf Tournament completed last week in Augusta, Ga., it's natural that amateur golfers turn their thoughts to a new season and a new dedication to lowering their handicaps. What better way than to study the master himself, the legendary Hogan?

Hogan, still considered to be the greatest ball striker ever, remains a favorite of weekend golfers because he achieved his greatness through hard work, not natural talent. He practiced for hours, often hitting balls until the palms of his hands bled. Duffers can relate to his struggles -- it took him 10 years to win his first golf tournament and 16 years to win his first major championship. Before he was finished, he had won 63 Professional Golf Association tournaments, including nine major championships.

He was an extreme perfectionist who once, after studying the soles of golf shoes, insisted the manufacturers add a spike in the ball area of the right shoe to provide help in pushing off during the downswing.

They did. Hogan's swing improved.

That famous swing -- and the lessons to learn from it -- is the subject of two new fabulous books.

"The Fundamentals of Hogan," by David Leadbetter, with Lorne Rubenstein (Doubleday, 133 pages, $27.50), is a superb guide to the full swing, dedicated to all golfers who dream of breaking 80.

Leadbetter, recently crowned No. 1 among Golf Digest's 50 Greatest Teachers in America, examines Hogan's 1957 bible of golf instruction, "Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf," still the best-selling golf book on the full swing.

Leadbetter's goal is to interpret Hogan's writings and offer advice to golfers. He has not set out to re-create Hogan's swing but rather "to incorporate certain elements into their games and become more consistent."

He does this skillfully, with the aid of 85 new pictures, taken for Life magazine in 1955 when Hogan first wrote the Five Lessons, and discovered after he died in 1997.

Leadbetter offers many tips based on Hogan's philosophy, including the key to a good grip every time: Position the hands on the club while pointing it up in the air at 45 degrees and looking at it at eye level. And the keys to the perfect setup: Among them, have the pockets of each elbow --the small depression on the inside of the joint -- face the sky and not its opposite.

Leadbetter steers readers away from Hogan's advice when he thinks it inappropriate for the weekend golfer or when Hogan failed to follow his own instruction. For instance, Hogan provides an image in which his arms are bound together, attempting to demonstrate the importance of keeping the elbows and arms as close together as possible during the swing. Photographs of Hogan's step-by-step swing, however, produced a different image, one where his arms looked relaxed and not bound tightly together.

Outstanding, never-seen-before pictures of Hogan's swing also are a highlight of John Andrisani's "The Hogan Way: How to Apply Ben Hogan's Exceptional Swing and Shotmaking Genius to Your Own Game" (HarperResource, 138 pages, $21).

Andrisani, a former senior editor of instruction and consulting editor for Golf Magazine, offers his interpretation of Hogan's bible and advises weekend golfers about what to copy and what to avoid in Hogan's setup and swing.

Like Leadbetter, Andrisani offers insight into Hogan's "secret" to curing his famous hook, which he once described as "a low, ducking agonizing hook, the kind you can hang your coat on. When it caught the rough, it was the terror of the field mice."

Andrisani also offers five tips on what he calls "The Lost Fundamentals: The Secrets That Hogan Never Shared" and breaks Hogan's swing down to 12 movements.

His last chapter on Hogan's course management skills is especially useful. Hogan rarely hit a ball directly at the flag, preferring to hit to the center of the greens or to where he would be left with an uphill putt. He never tried to play miracle shots, unlike many amateurs, and always had a plan for the next shot when hitting the present one, much like a skilled pool player. As for Hogan's focus, golf photographer Jules Alexander once summed it up best: "Hogan concentrated so hard you could see the thoughts on his forehead."

Don Crosby, Tiger Woods' high school golf coach, concentrates on improving your golfing techniques in "Tiger Woods Made Me Look Like a Genius: 5 Simple Ways to Take 10 Strokes Off Your Game" (Andrews McMeel, 135 pages, $12.95).

Crosby, who coached Woods at Western High School in Los Alamitos, Calif., weaves tales with writer James Dale about the teen-age Tiger into an informal, easy-to-read narrative, focusing on five basic approaches.

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