"Never Walk Again" - What Hogan's Doctors Actually Said - Part 1

Feb 02, 2021

Ben was hospitalized for months. More bones in his body were broken than left intact. He was told he would never walk again...He had been so cut up that he could only use his legs by starting all over again and retraining his brain as well as his nerves and muscles of his arms, legs and hands.1

There have been some great comebacks in golf. Most notable, perhaps, was Ben Hogan, who won the U.S. Open in 1950 after lying near death in a hospital bed for six months after an automobile accident.2

This is Part 1 of a four-part series. The other three parts are here: Part 2  Part 3  Part 4

Many view Ben Hogan's dramatic comeback from the horrific auto-bus accident of February 2, 1949 as the greatest in golf history, if not in all sports. As popularly retold, doctors at first feared for Hogan's life and, if he did survive, feared he might never walk again. Completely ruled out by his doctors was a return to golf of any kind, let alone tournament golf. But the doctors were wrong to count out Ben Hogan. Not only did the doughty mighty mite return to competitive golf, Hogan came back a greater champion than before, winning an astonishing six majors in just nine starts.

It's an inspiring story, rightfully revered by Hogan's legions of fans, but is the popular retelling entirely accurate? Or are there parts that have been exaggerated or embellished, perhaps to make a more dramatic story? In truth, during the first month following the accident, Hogan's doctors did not make the dire predictions listed above. Although Hogan did have a close brush with death and questions were raised about his ability to ever walk a full round of golf again, those concerns did not emerge until weeks after the crash, due to unforeseen complications arising during his treatment. 

Thanks to online newspaper archives, it is possible to recreate, on a day-by-day basis, what Hogan's doctors said on the record through bulletins and interviews. In Part 1 of this four-part series, we'll review the contrast between what Hogan's doctors said in the first two weeks following the accident and what the biographers wrote. 

THE ACCIDENT AND IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH

What biographers wrote:

Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, 1951 - Ben...was close to death from shock. For days his life hung in the balance.3 

Matthew E. Adams, 2006 - Hogan was rushed to an El Paso hospital where doctors feared the legend would not live, and that if he did, he might never walk again.4

Tim Scott, 2013 - Initially doctors gave Hogan only a slim chance to live. If he survived, they gave him little chance of walking again. Jimmy Demaret went to see him within days of the accident and indicated the doctors made no secret of their opinion that Hogan was never going to be able to play golf again.5

Jacqueline Hogan Towery et al, 2014 - The doctors' original prognosis at Hotel Dieu gave him a very slim chance at survival.6

At the time, nobody had even considered whether Ben would ever play golf again, but [older brother] Royal was convinced that he would not only walk again, but play golf, too. The doctors were not so optimistic.7

James Dodson, 2004 - "The damage isn't as bad as we first thought," a normally grim-faced Royal, serving as official spokesman for the family, informed reporters with something resembling grim optimism five mornings after the fearsome collision on Highway 80. "I think Ben is going to be all right"...

Behind closed doors, Hogan's doctors were far less optimistic about his prospects of recovery, privately expressing doubts about whether the national champ would even be able to walk again without assistance, much less endure the physical toil of a golf tournament.8

What the doctors actually said:

The day of the accident, February 2, 1949:

Associated Press - A physician expressed the opinion Wednesday that Ben Hogan, the nation's top golfer injured in a car-bus crash near Van Horn, was "not seriously hurt"...

Hogan was taken to Hotel Dieu, a hospital, where Dr. David M. Cameron said he did not think the injuries were serious but that first examination did not reveal the extent of Hogan's hurts.

"Hogan is in shock now," said Dr. Cameron. "He is not unconscious."9

The day after the accident, February 3, 1949:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - [Hogan's] injuries were enumerated in a bulletin issued by physicians Wednesday night. The physicians expressed confidence that Hogan would be able to play golf again, but would not venture a guess as to when.

The bulletin said Hogan was now out of shock and much improved. His condition was listed as "fair."10

United Press - Three physicians who examined Hogan said he had received "numerous fractures," but would recover...

"In all probability," it was agreed, Hogan would be able to play again "after a long period of recuperation."

He also suffered shock, but "was coming out of it"...

Attending Hogan were Dr. Leopoldo Villarreal, El Paso's leading surgeon, Dr. Lester C. Feener, a  diagnostician, and Dr. David Cameron, a bone specialist.11

Long Beach Independent - In El Paso, Texas, three physicians who examined the golf star predicted complete recovery, although they did not know how long he would be in the hospital.12

Associated Press - Plucky Ben Hogan was much improved today from injuries he received in a bus-car crash yesterday, physicians said in expressing pleasure at the progress he has made...

He'll Play Again - How long Hogan will remain out of competitive golf is still undecided, according to physicians who said he would be able to play again but that somebody else would probably be the No. 1 money winner among professional golfers this year...

Hogan said at the hospital "I'm glad I'll be able to play golf again."13

Two days after the accident, February 4, 1949:

Associated Press - The condition of Ben Hogan, the nation's top professional golfer, was reported "good" today by doctors at an El Paso hospital.14

A bulletin said Hogan should get well rapidly and his injuries should be fully healed in about two months. He is expected to be able to leave an El Paso hospital for his Fort Worth, Texas home in about two weeks.15

Independent News Service - Attending physicians said the "mighty mite" would recover...and play golf again, but predicted a long period of convalescence.16

Three days after the accident, February 5, 1949:

 Associated Press - Ben's injuries are classed by doctors as "not dangerous" to his golfing ability. But they are very painful and require constant attention.17

A week after the accident, February 9, 1949:

Independent News Service - Dr. David Cameron, spokesman for physicians and surgeons attending Ben Hogan, said Wednesday that the champion probably will have to remain in bed for two months...

Dr. Cameron said the golfer is recovering rapidly and like a champion, due to his excellent physical condition, but it will be several weeks before he can get up...

The doctor said he believed Hogan will recover completely.18

Eleven days after the accident, February 13, 1949:

Associated Press - Dr. David Cameron, one of his doctors, said his progress the past three days has been exceptionally good.19

Two weeks after the accident, February 16 and 17, 1949: 

Associated Press - Ben Hogan won permission from his doctors today to leave an El Paso hospital. 

They decided the golf star has recovered sufficiently from an auto-bus crash to permit his discharge Friday.20

United Press - "Mr. Hogan will make a complete physical recovery," doctors said. But it obviously would be a long time before the diminutive links star would be able to resume golf, either for play or pay.21

As you can see, during the first two weeks following the accident, Hogan was never considered by his El Paso doctors to be "near death," and Hogan's doctors did not hesitate to predict a return to golf, but only after a lengthy recovery. Notably, concerns about Hogan's ability to ever walk again were not raised by the doctors, flatly contradicting many biographers. Not surprisingly, Hogan shared the doctors' optimism in one of his newspaper columns published while he was still hospitalized:

When the good doctors in El Paso told me I would be able to play again it was if they had turned me around in a dark passage way and headed me back toward the light.22



THE INJURIES FROM THE ACCIDENT

Next, we'll look at how biographers described Hogan's injuries compared to what Hogan's doctors reported at the time.

What biographers wrote:

Fred Young, 1953 - [The b]runt of the damage was borne by the pelvic region, which at first was believed to be crushed beyond repair. Doctors said Hogan would never walk again. They gave no thought to the possibility of his playing golf again.23

Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, 1951 - Hogan had a crushed pelvis, a fractured left leg, crushed shoulder and broken ankle...24

Gene Gregston, 1978 - The engine of the Cadillac was slammed into the driver's area, mangling Hogan's left leg and smashing into his stomach.25

Frank Pelligrini, 1997 - Hogan shattered both his legs...26

Matthew E. Adams, 2006 - ...Hogan's legs were...on the cars crushed left side, where the engine now stood. His legs were badly injured.27

Follow the Sun, 1951 - Scene: Valerie conferring with an El Paso doctor immediately after Ben's injuries had been assessed.

DOCTOR: Mrs. Hogan. Sister Beatrice has told me that you want a candid opinion.

VALERIE: Yes, Doctor.

DOCTOR: Well, the x-rays show that your husband's shoulder is broken, and his legs and pelvis are badly crushed. We'll have to do some surgery as soon as possible.28

Tim Scott, 2013 - ...the impact of the bus pushed the car's engine and dashboard into the front seat, leaving Hogan with a broken left ankle, two crushed legs, crushed pelvis, a broken rib, a broken shoulder and bladder injuries.29

John Barton, 2019 - With his legs shattered, doctors wondered if he'd ever walk again...30

Sean Braswell, 2019 - Hogan...was almost killed by a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus that left him with both legs shattered.31

With their hyperbole, the biographers went well beyond what was actually reported, in particular inventing severe injuries to Hogan's legs that were, in fact, relatively unscathed.

What the doctors actually said:

The day of the accident, February 2, 1949:

Associated Press - Ben Hogan, king of the golfers, suffered a fractured pelvis, a broken collar-bone and a possible fracture of a rib in an auto-bus collision Wednesday.

The injuries were enumerated in an official bulletin issued by the physicians at 6:25 pm Wednesday.32

Two days after the accident, February 4, 1949:

Associated Press - Doctors placed a cast today on Hogan's left ankle, in which an inner bone is broken. Dr. Cameron said another cast will be placed about his pelvic area, also fractured, in a few days. Other injuries suffered by the golfer include a left collarbone broken at the arm end and a small fracture of the seventh rib on the right.33

 Five days after the accident, February 7, 1949:

Lorin McMullin, Fort Worth Star-Telegram - ...Ben is cheered by the doctor's latest estimate which was all four [fractures] would heal at approximately the same time.

Royal brought another optimistic note, which was that the pelvis fracture, according to the doctor, "couldn't have been in a better place." So there's every chance for complete recovery - and sooner than first believed possible.34

A week after the accident, February 9, 1949:

Independent News Service - Dr. Cameron said a full list of injuries includes a fractured left collar bone, three place fracture of the front pelvis bone, fractured left inner ankle, and fractured sixth rib. In addition there is a bladder injury and painful back bruises.35

Notably absent from these reports are injuries to Hogan's legs beyond the broken inner bone of the left ankle. There are no reports of "crushed," "mangled," or "shattered" legs, or of any body part being "crushed" or "smashed." Instead, as already noted, the doctors reported that the injuries "are very painful and require constant attention"36 and "predicted a long period of convalescence,"37  but, with time, "Mr. Hogan will make a complete physical recovery."38 

Hogan was scheduled to leave the Hotel Dieu on Friday February 18. However, the day before, on Thursday the 17th, it was reported that the departure would be delayed "when an adjustment became necessary in one the casts supporting the fractures he received in a bus-car crash Feb. 2."39

Not reported was a disturbing development: blood clots had begun to appear in his badly bruised left hip and break off, a condition called phlebitis, which could be life threatening if a large enough clot reached the lungs or heart and blocked blood flow in the blood vessels there. 

This turn for the worse and the aftermath will be covered in Part 2Part 3 chronicles Hogan's long recovery after leaving the hospital. Part 4 concludes this series and covers Hogan's return to competitive golf at the 1950 LA Open.


1. Editorial Board, The Good Loser Wins More, Indian Valley Record, February 12, 1953.

2. Dick Forbes, Yancey Picks Up Crowds, The Cincinnati Enquirer, April 7, 1967, page 2.

3. Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, He Follows the Sun Again, Reader's Digest, March 1951, page 76.

4. Matthew E. Adams, Ben Hogan A Collision with Fate, Golf Channel, April 27, 2006. https://www.golfchannel.com/article/matt-adams/ben-hogan-collision-fate

5. Tim Scott, Ben Hogan, The Myths Everyone Knows, The Man No One Knew, 2013, page 19.

6. Jacqueline Hogan Towery, Robert Towery, Peter Barbour, The Brothers Hogan, A Fort Worth History, 2014, page 82.

7.  Jacqueline Hogan Towery, Robert Towery, Peter Barbour, The Brothers Hogan, A Fort Worth History, 2014, page 82.

8. James Dodson, Ben Hogan, An American Life, 2004, page 246.

9. Associated Press, Ben Hogan Injured in Car-Bus Collision, Des Moines Tribune, February 2, 1949, page 16.

10. Ben Hogan, Hurt in Crash, Out of Golf for Long Time, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 3, 1949, page 1.

11. United Press, Hogan Injured in Auto Crash, Detroit Free Press, February 3, 1949, page 18.

12. Ben Hogan Hurt in Crash, Long Beach Independent, February 3, 1949, page 1.

13. Associated Press, Improving Hogan will Play Again, Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1949, page 27.

14. Associated Press, Condition of Hogan 'Good', Austin American-Statesman, February 4, 1949, page 13.

15. Associated Press, Hogan Missed Broken Back, Doctor Says, Richmond Times Dispatch, February 5, 1949, page 12.

16. Independent News Service, Medics Await Hogan X-rays, Pasadena Independent, February 4, 1949, page 42. 

17. Associated Press, Hogan Should Be Well Man in 2 Months, The Indianapolis News, February 5, 1949, page 4.

18. Independent News Service, Pelvis Cast Placed On Injured Hogan, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, February 10, 1949, page 7.

19. Associated Press, Ben Hogan's Condition Improved, Abilene Reporter-News, February 14, 1949, page 16.

20. Associated Press, Hogan Wins Permission To Leave Hospital In El Paso, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, February 17, 1949.

21. United Press, Ben Hogan Leaves Hospital Tomorrow Night for Ft. Worth, The Mexia Daily News, February 17, 1949.

22. Ben Hogan, Hogan Comforted by News He Will Play Golf Again, The Pittsburgh Press, March 8, 1949, page 26.

23. Fred Young, Ben Hogan Defied Death, The Pantagraph, April 17, 1953, page 18.

24. Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, He Follows the Sun Again, Reader's Digest, March 1951, page

25. Gene Gregston, Hogan: The Man Who Played For Glory, 1978, page 6.

26. Frank Pellegrini, Death of a Master, Time

27. Matthew E. Adams, Ben Hogan A Collision with Fate, Golf Channel, April 27, 2006. https://www.golfchannel.com/article/matt-adams/ben-hogan-collision-fate

28. Follow the Sun, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1951.

29. Tim Scott, Ben Hogan, The Myths Everyone Knows, The Man No One Knew, 2013, page 19.

30. John Barton, The Problem With Hogan, Golf Digest, May 24, 2019 https://www.golfdigest.com/story/the-problem-with-hogan

31. Sean Braswell, The Unspeakable Childhood Trauma That Made A Golf Legend, Ozy, November 29, 2019 https://www.ozy.com/true-and-stories/unspeakable-childhood-trauma-is-a-major-part-of-ben-hogans-legend/96692/ 

32. Associated Press, Ben Hogan Suffers Fractured Pelvis, Broken Collarbone, The Salt Lake Tribune, February 3, 1949, page 21. 

33. Associated Press, Hogan Missed Broken Back, Doctor Says, Richmond Times Dispatch, February 5, 1949, page 12.

34. Lorin McMullen, Sports: Ben's Best Day Gives Hope for Quick Mend, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 8, 1949, page 9.

35. Independent News Service, Pelvis Cast Placed On Injured Hogan, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, February 10, 1949, page 7.

36. Associated Press, Hogan Should Be Well Man in 2 Months, The Indianapolis News, February 5, 1949, page 4.

37. Independent News Service, Medics Await Hogan X-rays, Pasadena Independent, February 4, 1949, page 42. 

38. United Press, Ben Hogan Leaves Hospital Tomorrow Night for Ft. Worth, The Mexia Daily News, February 17, 1949.

39. Hogan Trip To Fort Worth Delayed, El Paso Times, February 18, 1949, page 18.

 

 
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