Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ben Hogan's Secret

My previous blog left us with the question of what Ben Hogan was trying to do with his swing that caused him to hook (in the first place). The subtle or implied issue is that a hook is a symptom of a problem or issue and not something to fix per se, for instance like a faulty grip or an improper swing path or a weight and balance issue. So while it is roundly acknowledged that Hogan had a hooking problem, it is rare indeed to see that issue decomposed to assign cause to his action and to also look at why he did not do more about it before 1946.

The reason Hogan hooked the ball is because of the action he initiated to hit the ball farther when he was competing with the other caddy’s at Glen Garden Country Club, Fort Worth in the 1920s (likely 1924-1927). The caddy’s played a game where they hit balls toward holes for nickels. The winner obviously won money but the loser had to gather all the balls up for the next round. Hogan was younger and smaller than the other caddy’s and found he could not hit the ball nearly as far. At the time he was doing two things over all others; fighting for his place in the pecking order to get choice corners for selling newspapers, as well as with the other caddy’s because that was the nature of the caddy yard, and he was learning to play golf. He combined the two to derive a golf action that enabled him to hit the ball farther and farther as he matured. The action was similar to throwing a punch, with the movement of the arms keyed to the rotation of the hips. He likely worked on his timing in order to have his right arm launch just as quickly as possible to follow the action of the right hip. He staged it off the hip just like throwing a punch, as he would later relate in his books. I should add that this was not the "cartoony" hay maker, often depicted as being wound up behind the head, but the punch of someone who knows how to use his hands, akin to a boxers jab or short punch that travels a short distance propelled off the hip. While it may not be obvious, timing release off the hip, all things being equal, means that everything is rotating powerfully to the left through impact. Without some other form of swing compensation, the shoulders, arms and hands work aggressively left or closing through the ball. The obvious problem with this action is that it causes a low running hook, but this type shot was ideal for the dry fairway conditions of the golf courses he played in Texas. Hogan likely worked on his swing in earnest during this time period, as much if not more so than he did throughout his life while earning a reputation as a tireless ball striker.

It would be no easy feat to change this basic action that had been so ingrained by the time he turned professional in 1932. He would struggle with a hook problem initially through 1938 and then off and on through 1946, when he finally figured out a way to cure the problem once and for all. He revealed pronation as his “secret” in an article in the 8 August 1955 Life Magazine. Pronation is what he added to his swing to solve the problem, and a careful look at his swing reveals that he continued to maintain the link between his hips and his arm swing throughout his career.

If pronation was indeed his secret, what was left to reveal that has had many speculating for years about his real secret?