To keep it on Masters week, I want to honor Mr. Ben Hogan who won the green jacket in 1951 & 1953.
Here’s the backstory.
The year is 1985. My Junior year at Lamar University. Our golf team is ranked 4th in the country going into the NCAA golf Championship. We were led by 3 All-Americans, Trevor Dodds, John Riegger and Phil Jonas. Mike Smith and myself rounded out the team. Our coach Gregg Grost was expecting us to be in the hunt for a National Championship. That dream ended quickly thanks to yours truly. We were playing at Greenleaf Golf and Tennis Resort in the middle of Florida. We start on the back nine, I bogey two of the first three holes. There is a two group wait on the 14th tee. It’s the hardest hole on the course. I watched a player in each of those groups launch their drives out of bounds. Our group is now up and it’s my turn to hit. Ball #1 hooks left, hits a tree and kicks 15 yards further left. Out of bounds by maybe a yard. Ball #2 (shot number three) is a 3 wood, down the right side, catches a limb and kicks down, hits the base of the tree and shoots further right. Out of bounds by 2 inches. I had to do the dreaded walk all the way back up the hill to the tee to try again. Now hitting my 5th shot, it’s a 1 iron this time. It catches the cart path on the right and launches out of bounds in the air and into some condos. Reload and I’m now hitting my 7th shot from the same tee. Right down the middle it goes and I proceed to make a great 10 on my 4th hole of the tournament. My parents had driven 9 hours to watch this massacre unfold. It was a nightmare hole that would haunt me for years. At the end of the round, I made a 20 footer to shoot 85 for the day. It was actually a big putt for me mentally. I made a promise to myself that if I ever shot over 85 in a competitive round I would have to quit the game and take time to reevaluate whether this was the right sport for me.
I’m back home in New Orleans that summer and I know that I need to make some changes. I bought a book that would change my swing and put me on the path to a professional career in golf. That book is still my favorite golf book today, ‘Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals of Golf’. I spent two months alone reading this book every day during practice sessions. I would read a chapter, practice. Read a chapter, practice. All while shagging my own practice balls on the levee nine at Bayou Barriere Country Club in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. By the end of the summer I began to notice changes in my ball flight. It was working. The hard hook/draw slowly moved to a slice/cut, power fade. I had eliminated the left side of the course. Never wanted to hook another tee shot in my life. Back to school that fall and we ended up finishing 7th in the country by spring of 1986. I received honorable mention All-American status. Coach Grost left Lamar during the middle of my senior year to take the head coaching position at Oklahoma where he eventually won his National Championship. We had 22 guys on our team at Lamar at one point during my four years there. Quite a few of them are still in the golf business today, five made their way to the PGA TOUR. I turned Pro in the summer of 1986 returning to Lamar for one more semester to graduate that December. My professional golf odyssey begins. Fast forward to 1991 and I’m back at Greenleaf Golf and Tennis Resort for the finals of PGA TOUR School. It’s a six round tournament over two courses with four rounds being played on the Championship course. That meant I had to face the 14th hole four more times if I wanted to get on the PGA TOUR. I had to walk through fire to get my TOUR card. Proud to say I never hooked or pushed one shot on that hole all tournament. Finished 3rd and earned my TOUR card. Looking back, it might have been the best tournament I have ever played given the haunted circumstances.
The 1992 rookie year starts out great. Played decent on the West Coast and Florida stretches on the schedule. We continued to follow the sun towards the Texas tournaments. There is the Byron Nelson tournament in Dallas followed by the Colonial Invitational in Fort Worth. Colonial Country Club is known as Hogan’s Alley. Ben Hogan won the tournament 5 times and he would frequent the club during his retirement years. Mr. Hogan was the one guy I wanted to meet. His book had changed my career path. He was acknowledged by many professionals as being the greatest ball striker to ever play the game. I wanted to hear his thoughts on what makes up a great swing.
The Invitational is only open to 80 players from the prior years’ money list and past tournament champions. However, there were a select few exemptions and one of them was called the Champions Choice. All the past champions of this event would vote on one rookie to be exempted into the tournament. I was voted in. It’s quite an honor. I arrive in Fort Worth on Monday and got a practice round in with college teammate Pat Cawthorne on the bag as my caddy. On Tuesday mid-morning, I receive a note from my manager, Clark Jones of IMG, saying that as part of my exemption, I needed to attend the Champions dinner that night. I did not travel with a sport coat or tie so I began panicking on where to find the proper attire for the dinner. Off I go to a men’s clothing store that was recommended by the club President whom I had met at registration. At the clothing story I get fitted for a coat, tie and shoes. I’m looking like a champion. But I had to ask the salesman to tie my tie, LOL. I was only 26 and had spent most of my life hitting little white golf balls. No coat or tie needed (stop laughing). I leave the store and head straight for the club. The President of the club meets me at the entrance and we have great conversation about the course and how my rookie season was going. He then says “I have a special treat for you. Mr. Hogan saw you hitting balls yesterday and we informed him that you were the Champion’s choice. He would like to spend some time with you.” I was in shock and did not know what to say. The President says “follow me.” My mind was going nuts with anticipation of this opportunity. We walk through the locker room and he asks one of the attendants to escort me to the ballroom. As we walk off, Mr. President says he will go locate Mr. Hogan and bring him to meet me in the ballroom. I sit down in ballroom, there is a TV on. My back is up against a partition wall that is cutting the ballroom in half. The locker room guy brings me soft drink and says “hang out right here and wait for Mr. Hogan. He will be here in a few minutes.” I sit there nervous as can be, this is a dream come true. I get to spend 45 minutes with Mr. Ben Hogan talking about the golf swing. Wow is this really going to happen? I begin the mental exercise of what questions were going to be my priority to ask. I was scared to get up and move around to look for pen and paper to write my thoughts down. I recall just sitting there watching ESPN on TV trying to distract my mind. I decide question #1 will be what is the most important fundamental? Question #2 is How should I practice? Question #3 is What do I need work on to win on TOUR? This went on for quite a while. The questions were piling up in my mind and the tie was too tight on my neck. I was starting to choke with excitement. I get lost in the moment. The minutes flew by. I was sitting there for about 40 minutes when the door flies open and it’s the Club President again. He says “where have you been?” I look at him like what are you talking about? I have not moved from my seat. I was about to piss my pants actually. He then says that “Mr. Hogan has been sitting on the other side of the partition wall for the last 35 minutes waiting to meet you.” He was literally sitting five yards away from me separated only by a thin wall. My heart fell into my stomach. He walks me over and I am stunned and speechless. They thought I had walked off somewhere. I tried to apologize and explain the dumb luck of being on the wrong side of the wall. Mr. Hogan was super nice, he said “I saw you hit balls yesterday and would like to talk to you about your swing.” The President interrupted nicely and said “guys we need to go. The Champions dinner is beginning.” I tried not to cry. We get up and walk to the dining room and Mr. Hogan is immediately taken to the front of the room and seated at the main table by the podium. I am brought to the back of the room to sit with some of the club board members and VIP guests.
In closing, I shot 73-70 to miss the cut by a shot. Surprised? Never got to speak to Mr. Hogan again. #storyofmylife But I do have a picture of me shaking hands with Mr. Hogan that night. The Club President had him autograph it for me. #dreams #PGATOUR #ministeroffun #mastersweek