Hogan, the Hale America and the Myth of the "Fifth Open" - Part 2: The Claim

Apr 12, 2021

I have come to claim what's rightfully mine.

- Unknown

 

In Part 1, the history of the Hale America National Open Golf Tournament was reviewed, including the reactions by the press, the winner Ben Hogan and his colleagues to what was widely described as Hogan's breakthrough victory in a major championship. Part 2 discusses Hogan's claim, first asserted in his post-tournament interview, that the Hale America was de facto the 1942 US Open, and should be counted as one, a claim that would then remain dormant for a decade. The series concludes with Part 3.

June 16, 2021 update: Hogan's "fifth Open" claim has a new advocate, Peter May, whose recently released book is deconstructed in a two-part analysis:  Deconstructing The Open Question 

In public statements to reporters and non-public statements attributed to him, Hogan made four distinct appeals in arguing his claim. They are:

1. If this wasn't an Open, I don't know what it could be. 

2. The competition was as strong as any other Open.

3. I have five medals and the president of the USGA has presented each one of them to me.

4. It's unfair for the PGA to count Sam Snead's PGA championship in 1942 at Atlantic City with a smaller field and for the USGA not to count the 1942 Open I won.

Those will be examined below in the same order. None are compelling.

WHAT ELSE COULD IT BE?

In his post-victory remarks, Ben Hogan said the following of his Hale America victory:

If this wasn't an Open, I don't know what it could be.

If Hogan didn't know what the Hale America could be if it wasn't the US Open, he must have suffered amnesia sometime after the first round. In a post-tournament interview, Craig Wood recalled a conversation with Hogan on this very topic:

Even Ben Hogan, who played fine golf to win, felt that it was just another tournament. We had the same score after the opening round, 72. We rode up the elevator together, that night, and Ben said, "Well, if I lose this one, there's always something else next week."2

If further evidence is needed of Hogan's prior knowledge and beliefs, Hogan had reiterated, in a preview of his goals for the 1942 season, what the USGA announced in January: there would be no "National Open" for the duration of the war:

I have yet to win a national championship. I want first to win the Masters, then the P.G.A. I hope I can do both this summer. The National Open, of course, will have to wait until Hitler and his chums have been attended to.3

Hogan's own words show that he knew what the rest of the golf world knew. For five months, the USGA consistently maintained what the Hale America National Open Golf Tournament was not: it was not the Open Championship of the United States Golf Association. And, as reviewed in Part 1, the nation's sportswriters faithfully reported the USGA's position. Further, Hogan was present at the Seminole Victory Tournament where the tour pros' dissatisfaction with the USGA's canceling of the National Open reportedly came to a head and a boycott was threatened. And Sarazen's advocacy for the USGA to award an Open Championship title, and Bobby Jones' opposition, were both reported in the press. 

Finally, the debate about whether the USGA made the right decision to cancel its championships, including the US Open, was prominent enough that Esquire magazine conducted a poll seeking opinions on the topic. The results were released to the press in mid-June, just prior to the start of the replacement tournament, and the complete survey and analysis were published in Esquire's July 1942 issue. Overall, about 70% of the respondents thought the USGA made a mistake.If the USGA had reversed its decision, that would have been big news and very much welcomed by the pros.

It is probably worth observing that if Hogan sincerely believed the Hale America was de facto the National Open title, he stayed silent on the topic for a decade, including instances where he would have have been expected to make his beliefs known. For example, in early 1948, Hogan's first instruction book was published, Power Golf. The "Foreword" was authored by PGA president Ed Dudley, who noted the following:

Hogan won his first major championship when he captured the PGA Championship at Portland, Oregon, 1946.5

If Hogan and Dudley believed the Hale America was de facto the 1942 US Open, it would have been included in the "Foreword" as a "major championship" along with the 1946 PGA. After all, Dudley not only presented Hogan with the Hale America medal (along with the other co-sponsors, of course), he played in the event and won the "Old Guard" division. But the Hale America is not in there.

On the back of the Power Golf dust-jacket there is a listing of "A Few of Ben Hogan's Tournament Victories." Included is the 1940 "Land of Sky" Open, and, curiously, runner-up finishes at the 1942 Masters and the 1945 Tam o' Shanter. Absent is the 1942 Hale America.

In one of his newspaper columns published later in 1948, on June 8, just prior to the start of the 1948 US Open, Hogan wrote this:

Having been lucky enough to win the P.G.A. crown twice I now want more than anything else in the world to win the Open.6

No mention of the Hale America.

A few days later on June 11, a Q&A with the Los Angeles Times' Braven Dyer included this exchange:

NEVER WON A U.S. OPEN

Q: I haven't the records handy...What was your best showing in a National Open?

A: I never have done very well, although playing in five. I was 61st in '39 at Philadelphia with 307; tied for fifth in '40 at Canterbury with 290; tied for third in '41 at Ft. Worth with 285; and tied for sixth last year at. St. Louis with 289.7

No mention of his performance at the Hale America in 1942 (Hogan also told a bit of a fib, failing to mention two other US Opens he played: 1934 at Merion and 1936 at Baltusrol, where he missed the cut both times).

Following his victory at Riviera, Hogan discussed his feelings about the win in a column published on July 6. There is no mention of the Hale America there, either:

...[A]lthough my life-long objective has been to win the open I am rather glad that fate forced me to wait until later in life.8

In the same column, Hogan added that his 276 total at Riviera beat Ralph Guldahl's "old record of 281." He makes no mention of the 17-under par 271 "record" at Ridgemoor.

It would be another four years before Hogan would revive his claim to the 1942 crown.

MOST BRILLIANT FIELD EVER

In his post-victory declaration, Hogan emphasized the quality of the field at the Hale America:

Everybody was in it.9

Biographer Tim Scott recalls Hogan expressing a similar opinion decades later:

The competition was as strong as any other Open...10

But are those statements accurate? Was "everybody," meaning all the top stars, actually in the field at the Hale America? Was the competition really "as strong as any other Open"?

According to the sportswriters of the time, the answer to both would be a resounding "YES!":

Grantland Rice - The greatest field that ever qualified, or tried to qualify, for a big tournament now has two weeks left to get ready for the Hale America war fund show in Chicago.11

William Richardson, New York Times -  Except for a few absentees like Sam Snead, now in the Navy, the field of 107 which will compete in the Hale America is beyond doubt the most brilliant ever to take part in a golf tournament.12

Associated Press - The field, one of the brightest ever brought together, includes the reigning open champion, Craig Wood; Capt. Robert T. Jones, one-time emperor of the fairways; Sergt. Jim Turnesa, runner-up to Sam Snead in the 1942 P.G.A. championship; Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Lawson Little, Lloyd Mangrum, Dick Metz and a host of others who are contenders in the 72-hole test.13

However, an objective review of the Hale America field reveals the press was engaging in carnival-barker hyperbole. The contrast between the top player representation in the Hale America field versus an actual US Open is stark. In 1941, all top 25 players on the PGA tour for the year were present at the US Open. The only top player missing was Porky Oliver, who won the prestigious Western Open in February, but was drafted in March, and, as a result, didn't play enough that year to make the top 25.
 In 1942, eight of the top 25 players for the year were absent from the Hale America field. On top of that, also missing were three premiere players not ranked in the top 25 due to limited play: once again, Porky Oliver; Vic Ghezzi, the 1941 PGA champion, who enlisted in January 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor; and Johnny Bulla, 1941 winner of the LA Open and ranked eighth for that year, who dropped off the tour in early 1942 to become a licensed airline pilot. Including those three raises the number of top players absent to 11 out of 28, or almost 40%.
As it turns out, far from "the most brilliant ever," the Hale America field was on par with the 1941 Chicago Open, arguably an appropriate state of affairs considering the Hale America was also the 1942 staging of the Chicago Open. Hogan's claim that "everybody was in it" and the "competition was as strong as any other Open" simply doesn't stand up. 

THE SAME MEDAL

 In a 1952 US Open preview article, National Editors Association sports editor Harry Grayson revealed the following:

Hogan contends that he really is competing for his fifth Open, inasmuch as he was given the same medal for winning the Hale America Tournament, which passed for one in '42.14

However, Hogan's new assertion attracted little notice. Bigger news was the Hawk narrowly missing his fourth US Open title in Dallas, finishing third.

Hogan would capture his fourth Open at Oakmont the following year, 1953, and smiled for the camera while displaying the four fingers of his right hand:

Two weeks after Hogan's triumph, Grayson repeated Hogan's claim to an extra US Open crown, now totaling five, again citing "the same medal" for the Hale America. However, Grayson did not explain why Hogan hadn't displayed his right thumb after his Oakmont victory to signal "five":

Hogan claims he has won five Opens, for he bounced down in front with 271 in the wartime substitute, staged for the benefit of Navy Relief and United Service Organization at Chicago's Ridgemoor Country Club.

Grayson then implicitly validates Hogan's claim, and repeats the exaggeration that "all the headliners were there":

Ridgemoor might have been a pitch and putt layout, as Hogan's score would indicate, but all the headliners were there and Bantam Ben was given the same medal he received for the four legitimate Opens he won.15

But, just as in 1952, widespread interest in Hogan's claim to an extra Open title did not materialize. 

Published in 1954, Jimmy Demaret's biography of Ben, My Partner, Ben Hogan, included a brief discussion of the "fifth Open" claim, which is attributed to unidentified "statisticians and record keepers," who are also cited as the source of "the same medal" assertion:

Some of our statisticians and record keepers claim that Hogan has already won five Opens, rather than four. They maintain that the Hale America Tournament in 1942, which Ben won with a four-round total of 271, was actually the Open in wartime disguise and that the victor received the same medal awarded to U.S. Open winners.16

Casting doubt on the sincerity of this claim is what's missing elsewhere. Similar to Power Golf, the back of the dust-jacket of My Partner, Ben Hogan lists some of Hogan's victories and other golfing achievements. As with Power Golf, the Hale America title is missing. Were the "statisticians and record keepers" not consulted when the list was prepared?:It would take until the 1961 Masters for "the same medal" claim to reappear in the sports sections. But, this time, it wasn't clear whether Hogan was actually serious or, perhaps, simply seeing what he could get away with:

[S]ome of the scribes who have known [Hogan] a long time finally got around to asking some pointed and even personal questions.

One of them went something like this: "Do you feel you've won five National Opens since at the time all the newspapers said that you won the tournament that was the successor to the National Open?"

"Well," smiled the Hawk at the memory of his first "national" championship, "I got a medal, the same kind I got when I won the four Opens. Joe Dey (executive director of the United States Golf association which stages the Open) says I won five."

"BEN, WHEN you now read in the papers that Ben Hogan is now going for an unprecedented fifth Open victory, do you silently say to yourself 'six'?"

That brought a real guffaw, and when he finally quieted down, the Texan answered: "No, I won only four. I'm glad the record books don't have me down for five."[emphasis in original]17

In a 1965 US Open preview column, sportswriter Ronald Green reported a similar exchange in the locker room at the 1965 Masters. Writers had asked Hogan if he planned to enter that year's US Open, to which Hogan replied, "No." When asked if he'd play if exempted from qualifying, he again answered, "No." A sympathetic reporter than said:

"Ben, we wish you would change your mind and play in the US Open again. All of us would like to see you become the only man to ever win five Open titles."

Hogan this time concedes with his first answer that five medals does not necessarily mean "five US Opens," omitting "Joe Dey says I won five" in his 1965 response:

Hogan smiled a little smile that said thank you, then replied, "I've already won five of them, but I don't get credit for it. I have five medals given to me by the USGA for winning the Open. All of them are alike. But apparently one of them doesn't count."

Green then takes Hogan's side against the USGA:

Hogan, the great Texas Hawk who has won all of the world's major professional titles, is deprived of the distinction of being the only five-time winner of the US Open by a technicality...

Hogan won [the Hale America] with scores of 72-62-69-68--271 and was awarded a U. S. Open Championship medal but the USGA doesn't recognize that tournament as a genuine, by-the-book, Open.18

As it turns out, in 1966 Hogan did change his mind and decided to play in another US Open, which had returned to Olympic. Two separate interviews provide further evidence "the same medal" claim did not mean Hogan genuinely believed he had won five US Open titles. In an interview that appears to have been filmed at Augusta National during the 1966 Masters, Hogan reflected on his loss at Olympic in 1955, and acknowledged he was still in search of his fifth Open:

It was a great disappointment to me in that I had been trying for years to win my fifth Open, and that was as close as I've gotten and it might be that that's as close as I'll ever get.19

In June, while at Olympic preparing for the 1966 US Open, Hogan was quoted as follows:

"I'd like to win No. 5 of course," said Ben, following his first practice round on the Olympic Club's famed Lake Course yesterday.

"Anyone would like to win five Open championships, but it will be no tragedy if I miss."20

In the years that followed, others included "the same medal" appeal in advocating for Hogan's "fifth Open," and some of those instances will be discussed in Part 3. However, it wasn't until 1983 that Hogan spoke out again on the topic, famously in a filmed interview with Ken Venturi. The topic was introduced at the end of the discussion about the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills, where Hogan's wedge spun back into the water on the 71st hole to end his chances: 

VENTURI: Well, that would have been number five.

HOGAN: [hesitating] Well...well...I may have already won the fifth one.

VENTURI: Yeah, tell me about the fifth one...

HOGAN: [breaks into a big grin]

VENTURI: [becoming animated] You know, everyone has been telling me about it. I know about it. Tell me, there is a fifth one in there somewhere.

HOGAN: Well, I have five medals. And the president of the USGA has presented each one of them to me. This was the Hale America National Open in Chicago.

VENTURI: What year was that?

HOGAN: 1942. I believe it was '42; yep, had to be '42, because I went into the service in '43. I played the last 36 holes with Bobby Jones. And I won the tournament and Jimmy Demaret was second. [hesitating with eyes closed, then looking at Venturi] And...uh...Mr. Tufts?

VENTURI: Dick Tufts.

HOGAN: Dick Tufts was president of the USGA [actually, it was George Blossom in '42] and he presented me with this medal for winning this tournament. And it is identical to the other four. 

VENTURI: So we would have to call it five, wouldn't we?

HOGAN: Well, Joe Dey does.

VENTURI: Well, I'll call it five.

HOGAN: [laughing] Ok!21

Needless to say, the Hale America medal is not "identical" to the other four, as Hogan, the detail-obsessed perfectionist, most certainly understood. The blank medal was cast from the same die, so the front resembles that of the other four, but that's true of all USGA medals: from the front, they are indistinguishable from each other:

Yet, the Hale America medal can be identified from the front because it's missing the light blue paint-fill in the circular field of stars above the eagle's head:

Hogan's five medals; the difference is easy to see if you know where to look:

Of course, the inscription on the back is completely different from a US Open medal:  

 Current Senior Historian Victoria Nenno of the USGA Golf Museum and Library explained the unsurprising origin of the Hale America medal in a piece published by the CDGA last year, hopefully settling the matter:

One source of confusion over the tournament’s place in history is the nearly identical appearance of Hogan’s Hale America medal with the gold medal presented to U.S. Open champions. This is not a coincidence. Hogan’s medal was intended to be presented to the winner of the canceled 1942 U.S. Open. With wartime cutbacks in place, the already created medal was repurposed for the new event. To confirm the medal’s use, the reverse side is engraved with the Hale America’s official name and purpose. The U.S. Open Trophy, emblematic of the championship since 1895, was not presented to Hogan. It remained with the 1941 U.S. Open champion, Craig Wood.22

In the end, Hogan appears to have capitulated and abandoned "the same medal" claim to a "fifth Open." Golf writer Charles Price concluded his June 1992 article, "The Open That Never Was," as follows: 

But a lot of writers who had known Hogan since the war had never heard Hogan himself claim the Hale America as his fifth.

Out of curiosity, one of them called Fort Worth earlier this year and asked Hogan point blank if he considered the "Hale America" his "fifth Open." There was a moment's silence. "I'm not sure I know what you mean," Hogan finally said. "It didn't even have the same name, did it?" Then they talked about the weather. It had been raining a lot in Texas.23 

IT'S NOT FAIR

The appeal that may have meant the most to Hogan was not one he ever made publicly, although Dan Jenkins and other surrogates would allude to it on Hogan's behalf. Here is how wife Valerie described Ben's true feelings:

"It's unfair," Ben once told me, "for the PGA to count Sam Snead's PGA Championship in 1942 at Atlantic City with a smaller field and for the USGA not to count the 1942 Open that I won."24

Tim Scott recalls similar sentiments being expressed by Hogan and his secretary, Claribel Kelly, on an occasion when Scott was present in Hogan's office helping to "look up some information":

[Claribel] came to the 1942 entry for the Hale America Open and paused. Then, disdainfully, she said, "M'sta Hogan really won 5 Opens because the Hale America was the U.S. Open of 1942. The event was sponsored by the USGA (United States Golf Association, the ruling body for the U.S. Open), the USGA ran the tournament and they played by USGA rules. They counted Byron's [Nelson] Masters win and Sam's [Snead] PGA victory, but they never did give M'sta Hogan credit for that U.S. Open. They all played in it, and the USGA ran it. So, it soulda counted as an Open win, if they're going to count Nelson's and Snead's wins as majors."

Hogan grumbled his agreement. "The competition was as strong as any other Open, and they did count Sam's PGA and Byron's Masters as major wins. And the head of the USGA presented me with exactly the same medal as my four other U.S. Open medals. Oh, the hell with 'em."25

Fair or not, the Masters and PGA were held in 1942, but the US Open was not. It's reasonable to argue that the USGA made a mistake by canceling the US Open, and, as revealed in the Esquire poll, none of the groups polled supported the USGA's decision except the category "Amateurs," which was more or less a USGA surrogate: "nationally and regionally prominent [amateur] players" and "U.S.G.A. and regional golf association officials":26
But disagreeing with the USGA's unpopular decision, even if it were an ill-advised one, cannot undo what has been done. There was no US Open in 1942. 

Part 3 concludes the series and examines the arguments advanced on Hogan's behalf by supporters of the "fifth Open" claim. The first part of the series is here: Part 1 


1. Gayle Talbot, Associated Press, Hogan Captures Open Title In Everything Except Name, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 22, 1942, page 13.

2. Bob Considine, On The Line, The Tribune, June 25, 1942, page 13.

3. Ben Hogan, Money Golf, Liberty Magazine, June 27, 1942, pages 57-59.

4. Cy Peterman, Strictly Sports, Slice-Proof Golf Stick Offers No True Solution, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 15, 1942, page 19.  

5. Ben Hogan, Power Golf, 1948, page x.

6. Ben Hogan, Golf, Democrat and Chronicle, June 8, 1948, page 23.

7. Braven Dyer, The Sports Parade, The Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1948, page 33.

8. Ben Hogan, Golf, The Leader-Post, July 6, 1948, page 10.

9. Gayle Talbot, Associated Press, Hogan Captures Open Title In Everything Except Name, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 22, 1942, page 13.

10. Tim Scott, Ben Hogan: The Myths Everyone Knows, The Man No One Knew, 2013, page 261.

11. Grantland Rice, The Sportlight, Asbury Park Press, June 2, 1942, page 11.

12. William D. Richardson, 107 Set To Tee Off On Chicago Course, The New York Times, June 18, 1942, page Sports S29.

13. Associated Press, Golf Aces Are Set, The Kansas City Times, June 18, 1942, page 13.

14. Harry Grayson, National Editors Association, 'Bantam Men' Out To Better Mark In Open Tourney, Public Opinion, June 9, 1952, page 8.

15. Harry Grayson, National Editors Association, Hogan's Worst Scores In Open Was Jonses' Best In Grand Slam, Southern Illinoisan, June 26, 1953, page 10.

16. Jimmy Demaret, My Partner, Ben Hogan, 1954, page 76.

17. Ben Garlikov, Masters Notes - Placing Pins Isn't A Whim, Dayton Daily News, April 9, 1961, page 13.

18.  Ronald Green, Hogan Claims Five Opens, The Charlotte News, June 3, 1965, page 12.

19. Bantam Ben - The Ben Hogan Story, 98 Sports Productions, 1970.

20. Roger Williams, 'No Tragedy' if Hogan Misses, The San Francisco Examiner, June 10, 1966, page 54.

21. Ben Hogan Interview with Ken Venturi, CBS Sports, May 12, 1983.

22. Ed Sherman, Was It a Major?, CDGA, June 12, 2020 https://medium.com/@CDGAGolf/was-it-a-major-53bc03700d11

 23. Charles Price, The Open That Never Was, Golf Digest, June 1992, pages 138-140, 143 and 144.

24. Martin Davis, Valerie Hogan with Dave Anderson, The Ben Hogan I Knew in Ben Hogan, The Man Behind The Mystique, 2002, page 46.

25. Tim Scott, Ben Hogan: The Myths Everyone Knows, The Man No One Knew, 2013, pages 261 and 262.

26. Herb Graffis and Ralph Cannon, The Esquire Sports Poll, Esquire magazine, July 1942, pages 84 and 85, 141-144.

 

 

 

 

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