Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ben Hogan's Secret: The Heart of the Matter

If you ask the next 100 golfers you meet about Ben Hogan’s swing and what he was trying to achieve, you are likely to get the same answer from each golfer. The question is, what was Hogan trying to do with his swing? And the invariable or inevitable answer will be that he was trying to cure his hook. Hogan was a bit dogmatic about answering questions, often pausing for embarrassing amounts of time to give even the most rudimentary of answers. He did not suffer fools and was ice cold to those who misquoted him or who published a story without careful scrutiny of the facts. There is a story told about a dialogue he had with a German professional golfer that involved the topic of hooks and causes and cures. Hogan did not react well to the question of the cause of a hook and the dialogue became somewhat tense when the German pro was a bit insulted at Hogan’s insinuation that if the German golfer was indeed a pro, then he certainly knew what caused a hooking ball flight action in the swing. The German pro had to acknowledge that he did indeed know and a pleasant conversation ensued thereafter.

The somewhat obvious point of my story is that all things being equal, a hook is the result of something done in the swing. Much like a slice, it is the result of a deliberate or inadvertent act or flaw of some type that acts on the ball in a manner that causes the result. To further belabor the obvious, Hogan was attempting to do something with his swing that caused him to hook the ball. He always talked about developing a powerful, consistent, repeating swing. The manner in which he tried to go about it produced a hooking action. What was it that caused the problem in the first place?
Many believe Hogan’s insistence on an inside move, with the right arm close to the side, caused the hooking problems. But many golfers swing from the inside and it is roundly acknowledged as a good players swing. Still others maintain that his flat plane was the obvious cause and that anyone who swung similarly would have the same problems. But Hogan always disputed the characterization of swing planes as flat or upright unless the discussion included some type of context about the golfer’s stature and body type. Hogan felt it was erroneous to characterize swing planes as one or the other without accounting for the golfer. Part of the reason he was adamant about this topic stems from his own stature. Jules Alexander reports on his website that Hogan’s arm length was 35”, which is pretty long for someone 5’7” or 5’8”. The technique that Hogan adopted to cure his hook, often referred to as the old Scottish technique of deliberate pronation, was thought to help golfers get the ball off the ground easier (while helping the average golfer hook). Again, these examples start a bit into the discussion, assuming that Hogan’s problem was the hook.

But what was causing him to hook it in the first place????