Sunday, May 9, 2010

Henny Bogan and the Secret of Ben Hogan Review

I’ve received quite a number of emails and notes and also some reviews regarding Henny Bogan and the Secret of Ben Hogan. Many of these notes have questions regarding some of the positions I reference in the book. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wrote and designed the book based on the exquisite Hogan photography taken by Jules Alexander. My plans were to use a number of exemplar photographs that I would purchase from Jules to showcase the descriptions. I corresponded with Jules and met with him in March 2009 and coordinated a plan for the photographs. Unfortunately, on the eve of submitting the manuscript, Jules’ decided not to support the project. This left me with a gaping hole in the book, including the front and back cover and a number of key positional references that are difficult to understand without the corresponding photographs.

I spent the time leading up to this point and the bulk of the 2008 holiday season refining and editing content. I then spent several months researching publishing options and submitting manuscripts for review. With promotion to a new job in April 2009, I was faced with the prospect of delaying the publication while I worked through a major rewrite and redesign of the covers and the positional descriptions. I thought long and hard about it, but in the final analysis it was not a very difficult decision. I considered about six different publishing alternatives up to May 2009. It was clear from the estimates and timelines that if I did not get the publishing process started while everything was poised and ready to go, I would lose at least a year and likely not publish the book until mid-late 2010 or more likely 2011. I pressed ahead with the new cover design ideas and also reworked the narratives to work around the lack of reference photography. Even with an accelerated schedule, the book was not published until November 2009 and most sites list February 2010 as the official publishing date.

So was it a rush to publish? The purpose behind publishing the book was to tell the story of Henny Bogan and the key role that he played in the technique that I describe as constituting Hogan’s secrets. More specifically, to document in the book my analysis that led me to conclude that (1) Hogan did have secrets that he did not disclose (2) Ken Venturi is the only man left alive who knows the truth.

The above is why I wrote the book in the first place. Some will find fault with my analysis and some will look for things that were not intended to be in the book. I could have written a fairly simple, short article to cover the main portion of the book. But in putting together the pieces and parts that set the context for the analysis, I came to believe there was sufficient content to make it a good read. What specifically is that content? I explain (a) why it is that Hogan hooked in the first place (which I have never seen or read about anywhere); (b) why he practiced so much in comparison with all other golfers of his era (to the point where he legitimized the practice); (c) when he discovered his breakthrough technique; (d) how he discovered his breakthrough technique; (e) what that breakthrough technique is (e.g., the secret); (f) why he did not tell it in his lifetime; (g) where all those other secrets fit in the story; (h) how I discovered it; and (i) what it means for others.

Many have apparent difficulty seeing these trees in the forest and it remains somewhat surprising when I receive notes or emails about what is and is not in the book. I’m not an author per se, so I don’t know how authors react in general when they get commentary about things that are not in the books they write. In my own case I find it puzzling to get these notes, particularly from those seeking that one key element or secret that will enable them to play better golf. That (Hogan secret as nirvana) is an issue or matter or belief or perception that some have come to associate with the Hogan story. But a different matter entirely from the purpose of the book, although I did make an attempt to outline some steps to improvement based on my own trials and tribulations over some 18 years improving from a ~19 handicap to a ~2 index. It is no less surprising that those seeking such a secret overlook it, because it is there in the book. I estimated that Hogan hit some three million balls between 1932 and 10 April 1946, when he discovered his breakthrough technique. Any moderately talented golfer who hits that many balls and stays at it that long is going to find a way to improve and play better golf through persistence and tenacity. It is inevitability itself; even an inferior technique will submit to dogmatic repetition, in fact, you will likely improve much more and much quicker than Hogan himself-he did not have too far to go by the end of his quest and he was grinding it out by the millimeter. With 22 PGA wins under his belt and the prestige associated with being the leading money winner three years in a row, his quest was more like those athletes trying to get that last second to break the four minute mile, or the effort to break the sound barrier, or a skater working on that next undoable feat.

Hogan was an exceptional, talented, dedicated athlete battling himself to achieve his dreams and on the verge of finding a way to perfect his technique. No pro golfer has ever been able to replicate the exceptional results and shot making that Hogan achieved. If pro golfers cannot replicate his technique and produce similar, exceptional results, with the best equipment, training, facilities, advice, etc., what are the chances for the average golfer or anybody else?

The question I get asked is what does the book portend for the average golfer? Hogan’s words said it best; probably not worth a dog gone to the average golfer and it will ruin a bad golfer. The average golfer, represented by the great majority who have 15 or higher handicaps, should get professional instruction. All things being equal, any reasonably healthy person with no physical ailments or impediments who has been golfing for more than a year or two should be playing better than average golf. In fact, that is the premise behind Five Lessons and it is part of the reason I believe that not 1 in 10,000 people who read it get what Hogan was attempting to accomplish for the average golfer (or they wouldn’t be average golfers anymore). More on that in a future article.

Good Golfing!

Mark J. Choiniere

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