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A round of golf and a bet with Mr. Hogan

Written by Eldridge Miles on 01 October 2010.

One day while playing golf with Ben Hogan at Preston Trail Golf Club in 1977, I heard him give Sam Snead one of the best compliments I'd ever heard one golfer give another. Later that same day, I saw Mr. Hogan do something I'd never seen before or since. It was something I never thought I'd see, either.

It was Grant Fitts and me against Mr. Hogan and Gary Laughlin, his good friend who got Mr. Hogan into the oil business. We were on the sixth hole at Preston Trail. That's the tricky dogleg-left par-4.

If you've played there, you know it well. If you haven't, the fairway shoots out straight, then turns left and downhill. There's a tree at the end of the fairway at the dogleg, and you want to hit your drive short of that tree with a 4-wood or 2-iron.

If you do that, your ball kicks left, rolls down a hill and you'll have a short-iron to the green. If you hit driver past the tree, you'll lose your ball in the woods and have to take a penalty stroke.

So Mr. Hogan was standing on the tee. He said, "Fellas,"—he used to always call most everyone "fella"—"it's holes like this that kept Sam Snead from winning every tournament he ever played."

We asked him what he meant.

He said, "Sam would hit a driver on this hole the first day of the tournament and go past the tree into the woods. He'd lose his ball in there. Then the son of gun would still hit driver there on the last day of the tournament! Consequently, that's why he didn't win every tournament he played."

What Mr. Hogan meant was Snead had no course management. Snead never learned a thing from the rounds he played. He'd hit the same club on the same hole every time, even if he got himself in trouble. He never learned a thing from the first day of the tournament to the fourth.

Mr. Hogan said Snead was the finest player out there and would have won every tournament he ever played if he had any course management at all. I thought that was a great compliment to Snead.

By the time we got to the 14th hole that day, Grant Fitts and I had Mr. Hogan and Gary Laughlin 2-down. Laughlin got two strokes in our bet—one on the front, one on the back—that's how good he was.

Mr. Hogan said, "We're pressing the bet, and Gary gets his stroke on this hole."

Grant Fitts immediately said, "No, his shot comes on No. 15, the par 5."

Mr. Hogan frowned and said, "Grant, I know that's what the scorecard says, but it is wrong. The 14th hole should be the second stroke hole on the scorecard because No. 14 is a much harder hole than No. 15, an easy par 5."

Grant Fitts stood his ground. He said, "That may be so, but the stroke on the card says it's No. 15. So Gary can't take it here."

Then Grant turned to me and said, "Will you tell Mr. Hogan that Gary's stroke comes on No. 15 and not No. 14?"

That's when I said to Grant, "On June 10, I owe the Ben Hogan Company $50,000. I don't have that much money right now, so they can take the freaking stroke anywhere they want it!"

With that, Mr. Hogan threw his driver in the air, and started laughing so hard. He bent over and started slapping his knees, which I had never, ever seen. That was the one and only time, in fact, that I saw Mr. Hogan crack up like that.

I owed him $50,000 because I bought 100 sets of a brand-new line of clubs his company made called "The Legend." I bought them for my golf shop at Bent Tree Country Club, so I could sell them to my members.

Gary took the stroke on No. 14 and made a par for a net-birdie. He and Mr. Hogan won the hole.

On the 15th hole, the par-5, I hit a long drive and said to myself, "I can hit a driver off the fairway and reach the green in two shots."

So that's what I did.

We walked about 100 yards and Mr. Hogan never complimented me on the shot. Finally, he looked at me and said, "Do you know I was never good enough to hit a driver off the fairway?"

That was his way of telling me it was a dumb shot I tried, even though it turned out well. Mr. Hogan always had his own way of telling me things I needed to know.

And I've never hit a driver off the fairway since that day.