Hogan was the GOAT

The Carnoustie Open was really enlivened by Tiger’s performance. There’s little question that his Saturday and early part of the Sunday round play brought the event to life for many. The TV ratings information confirms that an event with a contending Tiger will attract more attention than one without. Even now.

Now I will willingly concede I am no Tiger fan. I respect his tremendous ability and spectacular record, but I don’t warm to him as an individual. For me people have to be more than just good at a sport; there has to be personality and engagement with the fan base. Tiger has never really shown either, certainly not during his pomp. A fist pump and a scream when something good happens isn’t personality. Thus for me whilst there was always admiration there has never been enthusiasm.

And for all the evidence of the “new” Tiger we still had film from Carnoustie of the great one brushing off the attentions of a group of kids. Contrast that with Patrick Reed, who this week took time with a bunch of youngsters as he walked off at the end of his 3rd round of the European Open. Patrick gets it, Tiger does not.

Of course with the predilection of the American media (and increasingly the British media too) for “disease of the week” the sight of a contending Tiger at Carnoustie created endless comparisons with Ben Hogan. I’ll be honest, that got my blood up.

Where are the similarities between these two contenders for the title of best ever? Both dominated their eras. Both had little to do with the media and their contemporaries, maintaining a distance. Both came back from serious injury. But where I part company with those who get so excited about the Tiger comeback is that I cannot forget that everything that has happened to Tiger is totally self-inflicted. What happened with Hogan was a desperate accident.

Driving home a bus came out of the fog and hit the Hogan car. Hogan only survived because his first instinct was to dive across the front of the car seats in front of his wife Valerie to try and save her. Had he stayed where he was the engine block would have gone straight through his upper torso.

Could you see Tiger doing that for Elin? Whether you can or not, having read Haney’s book you have to conclude that if even half of what is in there is anything approaching accurate, Woods has/had a screw loose. You might be able to accept the constant tinkering with what Butch Harmon made an obviously supreme golf swing (which I can’t) but the utter stupidity of the Navy SEAL shit and the constant weights work, the lack of anything approaching a normal social environment leading to all the women; you can only conclude he has had to reap that which he sowed. Was defeating Rocco Mediate in the US Open playoff remarkable? Of course it was, but ask why he was in that state in the first place.

Hogan’s accident injuries were life threatening and definitely career threatening. His ability to walk was affected for the rest of his life, indeed for a time there was a genuine question of whether he would ever play again, never mind contend in professional tournaments and win Major Championships.

Which is, of course, precisely what he did. After that dreadful accident in 1949 he returned to tournament play after only 11 months. In his first tournament back he lost in a play-off to Sam Snead for the Los Angeles Open. His Major Championship record after the accident, starting with the 1950s Masters which was the first he played is T4, Win, Win, Win, T7, 3rd, Win, Win, Win, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, 2nd. I would suggest that’s pretty good, and hasn’t been nor was ever likely to be matched by ET Woods Esq.

Please don’t tell me the quality wasn’t there in the 50s. Hogan was dealing with some of the greatest players ever. Snead, Nelson, Thomson, Locke plus the massed ranks of the US Tour. And those guys were a deal tougher than the modern mob; they had to win to eat, not finish 20th and make thousands.

Now I am a child of the Nicklaus era. I’m pretty sure I can remember the Doug Sanders putt in 1970, although I’ve seen it so many times on film I’m not sure if I watched it live. I definitely remember the “Duel in the Sun”; not just the amazing 3 Jack carved out of 18 at Turnberry but also the distinctly fat 2nd shot to the 71st hole which really cost him. I remember the battle with Simon Owen at St Andrews, the amazing fight with Isao Aoki at Baltusrol in 1980 and, of course, the greatest win of them all.

No one who saw it will forget the 1986 Masters. Jack with that god-awful putter playing a magnificent back nine, Seve dumping it in the water on 15, Norman stuffing it into the gallery at 18. Just an amazing evening of TV. But with all of that he still doesn’t rank as the best for me.

Obviously I never saw Hogan play. Yet everything I have ever read or seen about him tells me he is the G.O.A.T. There is the record and the way it was acquired. There is the back story, the hard scrabble background following his father’s suicide. The endless fight for success, made all the more poignant by the early fame of his caddie-yard pal Byron Nelson. The breakthrough, followed by that road accident and everything that came after it. There is the creation of one of the finest club manufacturers of the 20th Century, and the publication of what is still one of the tuition bibles, the “5 Lessons”.

There are always those who contend that this or that player is the best there ever was, but it is always a personal opinion. Tiger understandably dominates this debate for anyone born after about 1985. But the truth for me is that every era had its dominant player. Thus we have already discussed Woods, Nicklaus and Hogan. For the 1920s there were two, the greatest amateur in Bobby Jones, and indisputably one of the 5 greatest ever professionals in Walter Hagen, a man who single-handedly created the role of a tournament playing professional golfer. Until Walter everyone else had club jobs.

And before that you have Harry Vardon, one of the Great Triumvirate with Taylor and Braid. Vardon not only won 6 Opens, his US Open record will never be surpassed. Played three, won one, tied and lost the playoff in the next (and in doing so started a golf revolution in the States), then came second in his final appearance in 1920 having been almost crippled by a bout of tuberculosis. Not to mention giving us the overlapping grip, still named after him.

Whether it’s the passing of time, or just a general boredom with the pampered superstars of the present, but I find the achievements of those with a tougher start in life far more worthy of respect. So for me Hogan is the greatest of all time, closely followed by Nicklaus for his Majors record.

Now there’s a debate………