When Ben Hogan came to Pinehurst in 1940, he was barely hanging on.

Photos courtesy of the TUFTS ARCHIVES

IT WAS MARCH OF 1940, and Ben Hogan was winless in seven years of professional golf. At times, he was on the brink of chucking it all and returning to a club pro job at home in Fort Worth, Texas.

One report said he had $30 in his pockets and bald tires on his second-hand automobile on the eve of the annual North and South Open, held each spring after the tour left its wintertime swing through Florida.

“Ben Hogan was starving for a tournament triumph as the 1940 tour began,” Gene Gregston wrote in “Hogan: The Man Who Played for Glory.” “The achievements of fellow Texans Ralph Guldahl and Byron Nelson added fuel to the fires smoldering within him until he was walking around the golf course like a volcano on the verge of eruption.”

Hogan was the second-leading money winner, with $3,038 to his credit, when the tour arrived in Pinehurst and had finished second six times — to six different players — in the previous 14 months. He was buoyed by his near-misses, reasoning to wife Valerie that if six different players were one shot better than him, there wasn’t one player head and shoulders above him.

“One day I’ll get so far ahead no one can catch me,” he said.

At Pinehurst, he finally did.

“Don’t pinch me”

IT HAPPENED EXACTLY that way in March 1940. Hogan birdied the first hole in the North & South Open, holed out from a bunker on 11 for a birdie and shot a 6-under-par 66, tying the competitive course record set the year before by Harry Cooper. A 67 in the second round gave him a 7-stroke lead over Sam Snead and Johnny Revolta. Hogan wrapped up his first victory by shooting 74 and 70 in a 36-hole finale, beating Snead by three strokes and setting a new tournament record with a 277 total.

“Don’t pinch me,” Valerie Hogan said as her husband played the last hole. “I’m afraid I’ll wake up. Ben always said the only way he would win his first title would be to get so far out in front of the field that nobody could catch him on the final day. That seems to have happened now. But I don’t believe it. Ben has been so close so many times, only to see one fatal shot crumble all his hopes. He’s never given up trying, though, even in his darkest hours. That’s why I’m so proud of him now.”

“They can kid me all they want”

DURING THE PRESENTATION CEREMONY, Hogan was offered the trophy and $1,000 in fresh, green bills by Edward J. Cheyney, a USGA official and friend of Pinehurst’s Richard Tufts. Worried about carrying so much cash with him, Hogan asked that a check be drawn and sent to him that weekend in Greensboro.

Then he drank a glass of milk and told newsmen:

“I won one just in time. I had finished second and third so many times I was beginning to think I was an also-ran. I needed that win. They’ve kidded me about practicing so much. I’d go out there before a round and practice, and when I was through I’d practice some more. Well, they can kid me all they want because it finally paid off. I know it’s what finally got me in the groove to win.”

 Donald Ross congratulates Ben Hogan
Donald Ross congratulates Ben Hogan
“I needed that win”

AND WHAT A GROOVE it turned out to be. The volcano had erupted. Hogan proceeded to win the Greater Greensboro Open and the Land of the Sky Open in Asheville.

In three tournaments, Hogan played 216 holes 34-under-par, breaking par 11 of 12 rounds. He broke 70 on all but two rounds – the final two on No. 2. He three-putted just two greens, both in Asheville. Ten of 12 rounds were on Donald Ross golf courses (the exception being Starmount Forest, where the Greensboro field was divided with Sedgefield). Hogan won $6,438 in three months, and eventually claimed the 1940 top-money prize with $10,655 and collected the Vardon Trophy as well.

I won one just in time. I had finished second and third so many times I was beginning to think I was an also-ran. I needed that win.
Ben Hogan

Given that nudge of confidence from Pinehurst, Hogan went on to become one of the top golfers of all time. He claimed the money-winning and Vardon titles again the following two years, won North and Souths again in 1942 and ’46 and became one of four players to win a career grand slam: four U.S. Opens, two Masters, two PGA Championships and one British Open. He was a member of the 1951 Ryder Cup team that whipped the British 9½ to 2½ at Pinehurst.

“I always loved to play Pinehurst,” Hogan said in a 1991 interview. “I thought it was a great place. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I stayed there. I must have played No. 2 I don’t know how many times. But my record shows I won it three times.

“The whole golf course was a most pleasant and testing golf course. It’s a real test of golf. The North and South Open was a ‘major’ then. Pinehurst was a golf Mecca.”

And it was the launching pad to stardom for one Ben Hogan.

Lee Pace is a regular contributor to the Pinehurst Blog. He latest book, “The Golden Age of Pinehurst—The Rebirth of No. 2,” is available in all retail shops at Pinehurst. Pinehurst is paying tribute to the 75th anniversary of Hogan’s triumph.

If you would like to purchase any of the photos appearing on this page, please contact the Tufts Archives.