An analysis of Ben Hogan's driving during the 1948 PGA Championship Final

May 25, 2021
 

Trust, but verify.

Russian proverb

 

Some of you may have seen a video posted online by the PGA of America in 2018 titled “Ben Hogan at his finest at the 1948 PGA Championship,” with a subheading that reads “The 1948 PGA Championship was one of the last looks the world got of Ben Hogan at his very best.”1 The video fetes Hogan's second major championship of what would eventually total nine. You can view it on Facebook where I first saw it: Hogan - 1948 PGA - Facebook, or on YouTube: Hogan - 1948 PGA - YouTube

In the video several notable authorities on golf and Ben Hogan join forces: Martin Davis, the publisher of two popular coffee-table books about Hogan; Ron Sirak, a senior writer at Golf Digest for twenty years; Guy Yocom, a thirty-year veteran of Golf Digest who has written often about Hogan; Bob Denney, the PGA's historian; and golfing legend Gary Player. As you'd expect, the five speakers lavish enthusiastic praise on the legend, bordering on hyperbole and typical of pieces like this. However, the video spirals out of control when some members of the group go beyond opinion and make claims of fact that are shown to be false when investigated. In this article, I'll examine the bungled assertions made about Hogan's driving during the 36-hole championship final, which Ben Hogan won, 7 and 6, the second most lopsided victory in the event's history.

HOGAN'S DISTANCE OFF THE TEE

Somehow, the video's commentators came to believe that Hogan, one of the longest hitters at the time, was out-driven throughout the final by Mike Turnesa, who was known as a short hitter.2 Martin Davis states with authority "[i]f you can believe it, Mike Turnesa was outdriving [Hogan], by a lot."

Guy Yocom takes over and earnestly describes how Hogan "played an incredibly tactical, precise game" and, by dint of being regularly outdriven, "got to hit his approach shots first into the greens." Through this strategy, Hogan, according to Yocom, was able to apply a "sagging pressure" against Turnesa, because "Hogan didn't miss greens," and, despite hitting from farther away than Mike, would probably put his approach shots "close to the hole."

The source of the claim that Turnesa was outdriving Hogan "by a lot" appears to be the PGA of America, which states unequivocally in an article published on August 5, 2017 that Hogan was "outdriven by Turnesa on every hole."3 But can that possibly be true? With just one exception, newspapers around the country and the PGA's own magazine reported no such thing. The outlier was the Associated Press' Skipper Patrick, who wrote: "Turnesa often outdrove Hogan..."4 As other reporting reveals, if this account is what the PGA and the film's participants relied upon, it was a mistake.
In a local newspaper, The St. Louis Star and Times, sportswriter W. Vernon Tietjen provided hole-by-hole summaries for most of the final.5 The summaries were not complete for every hole, and, since it appeared in an afternoon edition on the day of the final, coverage of the last few holes of the match was missing. Nevertheless, Tietjen's account, supplemented by other reporting,6 provides sufficient information to show the reality was the exact opposite of what was claimed by Martin, Guy, Skipper and the PGA: Ben Hogan was outdriving Turnesa, and by a lot.

Out of the 30 completed holes, seven were par 3s and 23 were par 4s and 5s. The player's relative tee shot distances were reported on 18 of the par 4 and 5 holes. In the morning 18, Tietjen reported that Turnesa outdrove Hogan on the 1st and 4th holes when Mike hit driver and Hogan laid-up with an iron. Then, with both hitting driver, Hogan outdrove Turnesa on nine consecutive holes by an average of almost 40 yards, once by 75 yards.

The same pattern was repeated in the afternoon: Turnesa outdrove Hogan on holes 1 and 4 when Mike hit a wood and Hogan hit an iron. Then Hogan dominated when both hit driver, including outdriving Turnesa by 80 yards on one hole.

Of the 18 reported par 4 and 5 holes, Turnesa outdrove Hogan just four times, in each instance when Hogan teed off with an iron and Turnesa played a driver or 3-wood. 13 times Hogan outdrove Turnesa and once the two were tied. When the two players both hit driver off the tee, Hogan was never outdriven. Needless to say, it was actually Turnesa, not Hogan, hitting first into the green on most of the par 4s and 5s.

As already noted, Hogan had a huge distance advantage when both hit driver, overall outdriving Turnesa by 35 yards on average:
As an aside, those familiar with the length of Hogan's "regular" drive of 265 yards presented in his instruction book Power Golf (which was published around the same time as the 1948 PGA) might be surprised to see he averaged nearly 20 more yards in the final.That is explained by the hard and fast fairways at Norwood Hills that week.8

HOGAN'S ACCURACY OFF THE TEE

But the errors by the experts are not limited to just Hogan's distance off the tee and the order of play into the greens: Hogan's tee shots were far from "incredibly precise." For those who equate Hogan "at his finest" and "very best" with machine-like driving accuracy, the Hogan during the final that day was unrecognizable. You'll no doubt be as surprised as I was to learn Hogan hit two drives out of bounds during the morning 18! The following summarizes the outcome for the 19 reported tee shots on par 4 and 5 holes (including two tee shots on both the 9th and 12th holes of the morning round):

Just eight of the reported 19 tee shots found the fairway, and five of those were played with irons. As already mentioned, two tee shots finished out-of-bounds, another two wound up on adjacent holes and seven others found the rough:
One ball in the rough finished behind a tree.9

Beyond their uncharacteristic frequency, it's notable that Hogan's misses were in both directions. Up to that point in his career, Hogan was known for missing to the left, fighting a hook when his swing was off. However, in the fall of 1947, Hogan made swing changes designed to guarantee a left to right ball flight when desired. Apparently, those changes were working a bit too well during this match as Hogan sent the ball out of the fairway to the left and to the right pretty much equally:
In fact, twice Hogan went both left and right off the tee on the same hole: in the morning round, he put his first drive on both 9 and 12 out-of-bounds to the right, then followed each with a second ball into the left rough. Fortunately for Ben, in 1948 the penalty for a ball out-of-bounds was distance only (no stroke penalty added), and he was able to make pars both times, halving 12 but losing 9 to Turnesa's birdie. The annotated map below shows Hogan's reported drives for the morning 18. Just one driver found the fairway, on the 6th hole:

Hogan's victory in the final was summed up succinctly by a headline in the Daily Dispatch of Moline, Illinois: "Hogan's Sharp Irons Win P.G.A., Recovers Wild Tee Shots To Beat Turnesa, 7 and 6."Hogan's extraordinary iron play that day will be detailed in a subsequent analysis.
To top things off as far as misreportings go, the score Ron Sirak gave for Hogan's morning round shortchanged him by a stroke: the Hawk was, in fact, credited with a 65, not 66, when all conceded putts were counted as holed.11

Beyond those straight-forward issues of fact, the thrust of the video, that this championship "was one of the last looks the world got of Ben Hogan at his very best," is a suspect assertion with meager support. That claim will be evaluated in a later article.


1. https://www.facebook.com/PGAcom/videos/10155642141022322/

2. Associated Press, Hogan Trounces Mike Turnesa, 7 and 6, In PGA Finals, Palladium-Item, May 26, 1948, page 11: "Tuesday, the result was just about what everybody expected. Turnesa, a short driver, wasn't at as great a disadvantage on the hilly, 6,467-yard Norwood Hills Country club course as he might have been on a longer layout." 

3. PGA of America, 51 historic PGA Championship moments, August 5, 2017.
https://www.pga.com/archive/events/pgachampionship/pga-championships-51-most-historic-moments

4. Skipper Patrick, Wee Ben Hogan Wins Over Turnesa For Second Title, News-Journal, May 26, 1948, page 15.

5. W. Vernon Tietjen, Stroke-by-Stroke As Ben Hogan-Mike Turnesa Play for P.G.A. Championship, The St. Louis Star and Times, May 25, 1948, page 18.

6. Charles Bartlett, Texan Routs Turnesa For Second Title, Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1948, pages 33 and 36; Hugh Fullerton, Jr., Associated Press, Hogan Spanks Mike Turnesa For Title, Democrat and Chronicle, May 26, 1948, page 23.

7. Ben Hogan, Power Golf, 1948, page 15.

8. Star Times Staff Writer, Meet Two Worried Men -- Bags On Backs, Hope in Hearts, The St. Louis Star and Times, May 25, 1948, page 18: "Hogan, quiet and intense as always, had one brief comment on his drive which strayed out of bounds to the right on No. 9. 'Never dreamed I could do that,' Ben said. 'But I guess anything's possible with fairways that hard.'"

9. Hogan Gets Around Tree, Moberly Monitor-Index, May 26, 1948, page 11.

10. Ed Sainsbury, Hogan's Sharp Irons Win P.G.A., Daily Dispatch, May 26, 1948, page 22.

11. Ben Hogan 5 Up On Turnesa After 28 Holes in Title Match, The St. Louis Star and Times, May 25, 1948, page 18.

 

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