THE ONE AND ONLY

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1953, just before the first and only time Ben Hogan chose to play the British Open in his fabled career, he ordered two pair of cashmere long-handled underwear costing $95 each from New York retailer Abercrombie and Fitch.

Hogan did this because it can be cold in July, across the Firth of Tay from St. Andrews, hard by the North Sea on Scotland's east coast.

Soon, it became well known that Hogan needed warm underwear to play the British Open at Carnoustie, because everything Hogan did was news--even his wearing of long johns.

The rush to underwear was on. A.J. Anderson Co., of Hogan's hometown of Fort Worth, gave him two pair of red long johns made of cotton and wool. Not to be outdone, BVD sent him three pair.

And so it went in the great underwear escape, when a comfortably warm Hogan made his only appearance at the British Open, played at the wonderfully desolate and atmospherically challenged links course called Carnoustie, won it, and never came back.

Many will never forget the experience of Hogan at the British Open, including a young British golfer named Ben Wright who later became quite well known as a commentator.

Wright was a 21-year-old Hogan devotee in 1953, and in his book "Good Bounces and Bad Lies," Wright clearly remembers Hogan's arrival at the Carnoustie links as he stepped out of his chauffeured car.

"His usual trademark cap crowned him and he wore a very beautiful cashmere sweater, bundled over his white shirt," Wright said. "His outfit was fawn in color--very elegant. . . . Hogan looked like he was King.

"He had an aura of invincibility and superiority about him. He cast around with a baleful glare, looking over the land that he was surely intent to conquer."

But at first, Hogan wasn't so sure he liked that land he was planning on conquering. He took one look at Carnoustie and said he wouldn't mind lending the greenskeeper his lawn mower.

What's more, the course looked like somebody chopped it up with a tiller, the fairways were mostly dead grass and the greens were slower than service at a bad restaurant.

So even though the Scots quickly fell kilt over heels in love with Hogan and dubbed him the "Wee Ice Mon," the object of their affection needed some time for his icy regard of the course to begin to thaw.

Most contemporary accounts of Hogan's only British Open experience portray him as blissfully contented and totally pleased, almost as if some yellow, cartoon smiley face was stenciled on his sleeve. In truth, this was not the case.

Hogan's first and last British Open experience was actually something else indeed.

That cashmere underwear must have chapped him.

*

To begin with, Hogan didn't really want to go. Never mind that Scotland is the birthplace of golf and that every student of the game makes a pilgrimage, Hogan wasn't really interested.

The talk about Hogan playing Carnoustie really heated up in the aftermath of his rousing U.S. Open triumph at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club--a six-shot victory and his fourth U.S. Open title. Hogan had also won the Masters.

In his post-tournament U.S. Open news conference, Hogan was asked why he was thinking about going to the British Open.

"Because so many people want me to," Hogan said.

Those people included Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour and Bobby Cruickshank. Armour had won the first British Open played at Carnoustie in 1931. They urged him to play the British Open, as did Claude Harmon, according to Curt Sampson in his book, "Hogan."

So Hogan boarded an airplane and flew to Scotland from New York, which was a lot better than the way Sam Snead and Byron Nelson did it in 1937 when they had to take a boat across the Atlantic Ocean.

Nelson, who teamed with Snead at the U.S.-dominated Ryder Cup matches at Southport, England, the week before, took a leave of absence from his job as head pro at Reading Country Club in order to play the 1937 British Open at Carnoustie.

Henry Cotton won; Nelson finished fourth and made $187.

"It was a losing proposition," Nelson said.

Nelson said the entire experience was rewarding, only not in the financial area, even though the British Open was not as highly regarded as it is today.

"It was a major, it was just not an important major," Nelson said. "And then, you had to go on a boat. It took six days. Then they said you'd definitely need four days to get over the trip on the boat, add the practice rounds and the tournaments and so you see, you've killed a month."

Snead set the tone for U.S. players and their apparent disregard for the British Open when he played and won at St. Andrews in 1946.

Snead said he rode the train from Edinburgh and when they passed St. Andrews, he turned to the Scot sitting beside him and said: "Holy Hannah, look at that! What abandoned golf course is that?'

"The Scot was quite indignant and said 'I'll have you know that is St. Andrews!' Boy, he was really hot."

So was Snead after he won when he accepted his winner's check for exactly $600. Snead figures his expenses amounted to about $2,000.

"They said 'Are you coming back to defend?' and I said 'Are you kidding?' "

*

Carnoustie in 1953 and to this day is roughly the same size as a pint of single match Scotch. Hogan and his wife, Valerie, stayed at a private house in Dundee, about 11 miles to the west. There were no hotels with private baths available any closer.

Hogan had a driver, his caddie and his housekeeper with him at Tay House in Dundee. He had to qualify for the Open, which he did easily, then shot a 73 in the first round. Hogan improved slightly to 71 in the second round, as Frank Sinatra showed up in the gallery before his concert date at Dundee.

The final 36 holes were played on one day. Hogan's 70, played in a steady rain, tied him with Roberto de Vicenzo with 18 holes to go in the afternoon. He closed with a 68--aided by a chip-in birdie from near a greenside bunker on No. 5--and won by four shots.

Hogan received the champion's medal and 500 pounds for his victory in a ceremony that was delayed slightly because the victor did not want to appear without a coat.

Valerie Hogan said later that Hogan thought it would be disrespectful to take part in the ceremony without wearing a coat. When he spoke to the gallery in his victory speech, Hogan said that winning the British Open had been his dream since childhood.

"I don't know when I'll be back, but I'll try to make it next year," Hogan said.

Of course, that's not at all what Hogan told the media a few minutes later.

"I did not come with the sole intention of taking away the trophy," Hogan told the media. "My intention was merely to satisfy a lot of people. Now I've won, I don't think I'll return next year."

Even though it was only July, for Hogan, it actually marked the end of his campaign. He won each of the three majors he played in 1953: the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open.

Hogan didn't have the opportunity to win all four in one year. He did not enter the PGA, which was played in the week before his victory at Carnoustie and was won by Walter Burkemo at Birmingham (Mich.) Country Club.

*

Cashmere underwear or not, the idol of Scots or not, a winner or not, Hogan didn't come back.

And as it turns out, there was something else Hogan didn't do.

The day after his victory at Carnoustie, Hogan boarded a U.S. Air Force plane at Leuchars airfield and flew to Paris to play in an army exhibition.

Leuchars is only about five miles from St. Andrews, but curiously, Hogan did not take the time to visit the ancestral home of golf.

He remains the only great player in history never to have seen St. Andrews.

This omission confuses neither Snead nor Nelson.

"I don't know why he didn't go, but I never knew all that much about Hogan anyway," Snead said. "He sort of did things his way. I guess you'd have to say he was pretty successful with his way, wouldn't you?"

Nelson, who was a caddie at the same Fort Worth course that also produced Hogan, wasn't surprised either.

"Yes, it was a strange decision, but the thing about it, he probably didn't think it was that important to see it," Nelson said. "He was just different that way."

Maybe that's it. Maybe it just didn't make any difference to Hogan. You've seen one links course, you've seen them all. Or maybe it was something different, something personal, something else that troubled Hogan and kept him away from St. Andrews.

Maybe he actually felt the same way about Scotland that Snead did.

"You know, I never cared for bagpipes," Snead said.

Maybe he would have enjoyed the cashmere underwear.

COVERAGE

THE COURSE: With the British Open back at Carnoustie for the first time in 24 years, many pros might not know what they're getting themselves into. Page 2

OFF THE MARK: Mark O'Meara is in the midst of a minor struggle after a major breakthrough in 1998. Page 3

OLD-SCHOOL APPROACH: Payne Stewart, for one, believes it's a mistake to turn pro as a teenager. Page 4

BAG OF TRICKS: Newfangled clubs promise, but rarely deliver, a magical cure for your game. Page 7

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
56°