"Never Walk Again" - What Hogan's Doctors Actually Said - Part 3

Feb 24, 2021

Part 1 of this four-part series reviewed the contrast between what Hogan's doctors actually said on the record during the first two weeks following the accident and what his biographers claimed they said. Part 2 compared how Hogan's biographers portrayed the challenges posed by the radical treatment undertaken to address life-threatening blood clots and what Hogan's vascular surgeon actually said on the record. Part 3 chronicles Hogan's long recovery and his eventual return to golf, as reported on the record. Part 4 concludes the series.

THE LONG RECOVERY

Despite the unequivocal optimism expressed by Dr. Ochsner after the vena cava surgery, biographers present Hogan's quest to return to competitive golf as flying in the face of the opinions of the "best medical experts," who said it couldn't be done.

What biographers wrote:

Jimmy Demaret, 1954 - Back home, [Ben] would start off nearly every conversation with "When I play golf again...," and Valerie would smile. Doctor after doctor had told her that Ben was never going to play golf again. But these were only doctors. They didn't know her husband. He said he was going to play again and she believed him.1

Follow the Sun, 1951 - Scene: Valerie and Ben in the car on the way home after Valerie found Ben on the ground at a practice range. Hogan had collapsed while awkwardly trying to swing a golf club, grabbing his left leg in pain as he fell.

VALERIE: Look Ben, ever since that day in the hospital when you wanted to start exercising your hands, I've tried to go along with this. I know how you feel, I know how much this means to you. But I've got some feelings, too. You're my husband, and I want my husband alive.

We've had eight doctors and only two of them thought you could ever walk again. All of them said golf was out, that you couldn't walk that far on sick, numb legs. That you mustn't punish them, that you were taking a risk going from just one chair to another, that there would always be danger of a clot, and you know what that could mean. 

I love you, Ben. I just can't take any more.

BEN: I'm sorry, Val.2

In interviews many years later, both Ben and Valerie mostly confirm the somber assessment by Hogan's doctors found in Follow the Sun. For example, from Kris Tschetter's Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew:

"Don't believe the doctors," [Mr. Hogan] said. "They told me I'd never walk again, but I knew they were wrong. If you want it bad enough, you can do it. You can do anything you set your mind to."3

From The Ben Hogan Story documentary produced by Tom Harmon:

VALERIE:  When Dr. Ochsner came, Ben's brother asked me to speak to him and ask him would Ben be able to walk again. And he was the only person who gave us any encouragement. But he admits later that, at the time, he didn't realize what golf involved and that when he meant Ben might be able to walk, it meant only just to be able to get around.4

However, in their public statements throughout the recovery, none of Ochsner, Hogan or Valerie conveyed such a dire outlook.

What Hogan, Valerie and Ochsner said on the record:

About two weeks after discharge, April 17, 1949:

Jack Murphy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Ben is pleased with his progress, but he knows it will be at least four months until the swelling leaves his legs and ankles. He estimates that it will be a year before he can return to golf.

"They told me at the hospital that it would be at least five months before this swelling is gone," says Ben. "That was a month ago."

"The doctor says the only way I can build up my legs is walking every day."...

Ben's encouraged over medical reports that he'll recover, but he still entertains some doubts.

"They say I'm going to be all right, but you have to play tournament golf to know what it is."...

Ben feels that he'll need two tournaments, perhaps more, to determine if he'll be able to play money golf.5

A week later, April 24, 1949:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Out for a constitutional Saturday morning, Hogan looked so jaunty in cap, sports coat and slacks that a neighbor might have surmised he was ready to defend his national PGA and Open championships.

"That's what I tell him," said his wife, Valerie. "He looks so healthy until the walking tires him. I thought he looked better this morning than he ever has before. He's doing better every day."

Except for occasional rests, Ben is on his feet most of the day. He usually limits his out-of-door strolls to 15 or 20 minutes, or until he becomes fatigued.6

Day after checkup at Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, April 30, 1949:

Associated Press - Dr. Alton Ochsner of New Orleans said Saturday golfer Ben Hogan "is getting along very well." He said "it will take time" before he returns to competition....

"Hogan's condition is very encouraging," the surgeon said in an interview. Hogan still has some swelling in his legs but the doctor said he appeared to be recovering...

Asked when Hogan cold return to big time golf, Ochsner said:

"Only time will tell and it will take time."7

About a week after his visit to New Orleans, in early May, Hogan traveled to Dallas to attend the Texas PGA championship as a spectator. While there, Ben spoke with the Associated Press' Harold V. Ratliff and discussed the obstacles he needed to overcome in order to return to competitive golf: 

Ben Hogan, golf's little giant, said today there were three obstacles in the way of his return to the game as a competitor.

They are: a fractured ankle, a cracked collar bone and a case of nerves. He isn't sure which is the biggest obstacle but said he was mighty hopeful he could lick all three.

Hogan elaborated on the ankle and collar bone injuries:

"My left ankle is too weak to support my full weight in a golf swing right now," he declared, "and the particular type of shoulder injury in my left shoulder has slowed the healing process."

Regarding his "case of nerves":

"I sure get them at times," he reveals. "Perhaps that's the way with everybody who ever was in a car accident and it'll go away but I sure wouldn't want to be out there playing and shaking like a leaf and making a show"...

And what his doctors have said:

Ben's doing all the walking he can. That's what the doctors have told him he needed..."I can walk about three holes now," Ben said. "The doctors don't know how long it will be before I can play again. Personally, I think it will be a long time."8

Later that month, towards the end of May, Ochsner reiterated his optimistic prognosis to reporters covering a medical conference he was addressing:

Ben Hogan will probably play golf again because he's "got more nerve and more guts than any man I've ever known," one of America's outstanding surgeons said today...

"I think he will be all right," the renowned surgeon stated. "I think he will be able to play professional golf again." 9  

A consistent theme of Ochsner's was that the recovery would take time, but how much time was unknowable. During a trip to Los Angeles in July, Jack Curnow of The Los Angeles Times interviewed Hogan, who echoed Ochsner's theme:

"I'm going back to the doctors for another checkup in two months," Hogan said wryly. "Only time will tell my future golf plans. I putt a little on the carpet now. But that's mighty boring. Otherwise I haven't touched a club since the accident. Don't know when I will either."

Curnow also outlined the current state of Hogan's injuries:

Bantam Ben doesn't show any outward ill effects now of of his crash injuries -- until he walks. Then he moves kind of slowly, has sort of a slight shuffle. His legs still bother him, especially his left ankle. They swell during the day. He sleeps with his legs slightly elevated. Ben wears a special set of elastic stockings to help keep the swelling down.10

Ed Schoenfeld of the Oakland Tribune also interviewed Hogan during the LA trip. His report was a bit more revealing, as well as decidedly downbeat:

A pale but smiling Hogan declared:

"I know I never will be able to play again in such major championships as the National Open and National PGA.

"Those types of championships call for a golfer to walk 36 holes a day. I realize I won't be able to go that distance.

"There's no reason to kid myself.

"These legs of mine just won't be able to go all that way."11

 Later in July, another interview simply added to the uncertain message:

Bantam Ben Hogan, who hasn't swung anything but a putter since his near fatal accident Feb. 2, said Friday he still doesn't know when and if he'll be able to play again.

The noted golfer said he will return to New Orleans sometime in the next two weeks for another physical checkup by Dr. Alton Ochsner...

"I'm feeling pretty good. I've gained back all the weight I lost, but I'm having a little trouble with my back and there is still some swelling in my legs"...

He also indicated that he's not sure if he'll take up tournament golf again even if Dr. Ochsner gives the O.K.12

Unfortunately, Hogan's trip to visit Ochsner revealed another unexpected obstacle to his recovery, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jack Murphy reported on August 22:

Ben learned that he had a torn knee cartilage -- similar to football players -- that eventually require an operation...

Hogan has expressed hope that he might begin swinging his clubs within a year from the date of his accident, but this will be another setback...

Almost seven months have passed since the accident that halted his brilliant career, but he still bears many scars. His legs are still swollen, though less painful, and there's a certain looseness in a shoulder that keeps him from swinging a club.

Ben has never handled any club other than a putter since the crash and he doesn't dare try now until Ochsner approves. Ochsner told Hogan to stay away from golf until he returns for another checkup three months hence. That's all he knows for now--no golf for three more months...

Otherwise, Ben is keeping as fit as possible through long walks and exercises, particularly deep knee bends. Saturday afternoon at Colonial he followed his friend, Randolph Scott of the movies, for several holes, keeping up a steady run of good-natured kidding.13

Throughout the months following his hospitalization, naysayers regularly appeared in the press predicting that Hogan would never be able to play competitively again, or that his return would be delayed considerably longer than Hogan's hoped-for timetable of a year. For example, in May, an unidentified "source close to Ben Hogan" (reportedly "a friend") confided that Hogan "will be able to play golf again but only for pleasure and not as a serious grind."14

In July, it was reported from the St. Paul Open that "[m]ost of the golfers are of the opinion that Ben Hogan will never play golf again."15

In August, without identifying any sources, the Independent News Service announced "Hogan Sidelined For Fives Years," claiming "[t]he doctors have handed down their verdict" that the accident "did things to [Hogan's] innards...that leaves him, at best, a protracted convalescent for five years."16

In response to these stories and others, the North American Newspaper Alliance asked Jack Murphy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to "check the facts." Although the resulting article, published on September 7, revealed little new about the recovery timetable ("I think I'll swing again," says Ben, "but I can't even guess when"), Murphy emphasized Hogan's determination to attempt a return to competitive golf:

But the important thing is that Hogan does think he will return to competitive golf. At least he'll try. He says he positively won't accept a soft teaching job and wants no part of an exhibition schedule, a la Byron Nelson.

He'll either play the game the way he did before or not at all. That's what Ben insists and he is not given to reckless remarks.17

The September 1949 issue of Sport magazine contained an article by Dallas sportswriter Bill Rives, aptly titled "I'll Be Back," that delivered a similar message:

Hogan is a complete realist. He doesn't indulge in any romantic or fanciful ideas when he talks about his return to golf. "I don't know what my chances are," he said. "All I know is, I'm going to give it everything I've got. My recovery is going to be slow but that can't be helped."

As this was written, Hogan can't even walk, much less play, 18 holes. About nine holes is all he can walk.18

Also during September, Hogan traveled to England to captain the US Ryder Cup team at the biennial match, held at Ganton that year. Upon his return to the United States late in the month, Hogan offered nothing new concerning the state of his recovery:

Hogan, injured seriously in an automobile-bus collision near El Paso, Texas, last February 2, told newsmen he had not swung a golf club since the accident.

"It will be some time yet" before he can play competitive golf, Hogan said.19

With the end of the golf season, news concerning Hogan's recovery all but disappeared from the papers during the month of October. In early November, Associated Press writer Harold Ratliff slipped the following update into a column covering Texas college football:

Ben Hogan, the great golfer who almost lost his life in an accident near Van Horn last February, is making an amazing recovery.

Hogan was in Dallas Saturday for the Texas-Southern Methodist football game -- and to appear on the radio -- and reported he had gained 15 pounds.

However, the upbeat report shed no new light on the recovery timetable:

Little Ben has just returned from England where he captained the American Ryder Cup team. He didn't play any golf, however, and says it will be some time yet before he does.20

Ratliff's optimism notwithstanding, writers generally adopted a pessimistic tone in November. In an article looking forward to the 1950 golf season, Grantland Rice wrote this about Hogan (note the hyperbole re: the "so many broken bones" Hogan suffered):

Ben Hogan was so badly broken up in a bus accident it is still a question how so many broken bones can be welded together again to bring about his magnificent swing -- one that matched even Snead's.21

An article reporting on Snead's selection as "Golfer of the Year" included this:

Ben Hogan, the mighty mite, may never play tournament golf again following his injury in an automobile accident.22

In his column published on November 24, the United Press' Oscar Fraley penned a golfing obituary for Hogan:

Added proof that time is short and memory fleeting came today when in all the furore over the naming of Slammin' Sammy Snead as golfer of the year there was no mention of a little man who walks with a limp after being swept by fate from the fairway pinnacle.

One year ago this mighty mite -- Ben Hogan -- was the king of the golfing world.

Now he is gone from the sport, his career smashed at its height in an automobile accident. He was at his peak, was Hogan, holder of the National Open and PGA championships. Now, in all probability, he is through...

There can be small doubt now that Hogan, only man besides Sarazen ever to win the Open and P.G.A. in the same year, is through as a top flight competitor. At 37, the strain of recovering completely and then hoping to recapture his game, is too much.23

There was even speculation in a column published on December 5 that, since his competitive career was very likely over, Hogan might be offered the position of PGA tournament manager:

There is talk of [PGA tournament manager George Schneiter] resigning and in the event he should the job might be offered to Ben Hogan. Many think the Little Atom will never be the same golfer and the offer of the tournament manager job would be to his liking.24

Presumably unknown to these writers, sometime in mid-November (according to most sources) Hogan received the go-ahead from Dr. Ochsner to resume practice of the full swing. The news broke without warning on December 12, following Hogan's first two rounds of golf since the accident, played at Colonial on the 10th and 11th.25

 And, just like that, Hogan was back on the golf course. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram put it this way:

[Playing partner Ray] Gafford says Hogan still has the "touch," so it looks like the pro's golf circuit vacation is just about over.26

Part 4 concludes the series and covers Hogan's return to competitive golf at the 1950 LA Open. Other parts are here:  Part 1  Part 2 


1. Jimmy Demaret, My Partner Ben Hogan, 1954, page 86.

2. Follow the Sun, Twentieth Century Fox, 1951.

3. Kris Tschetter with Steve Eubanks, Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew, 2011, page 74.

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

5. Jack Murphy, Indoor Laps, Ben Adopts Routine In Fight to Recover, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 17, 1949, page 14.

6. Hogan 'Doing Better Every Day' In Regaining Health And Weight, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 24, 1949, page 13. 

7. Associated Press, Hogan's Physician Says Links Star Getting Along Well, The Daily Oklahoman, May 2, 1949, page 27.

8. Harold V. Ratliff, Associated Press, Ben Hogan Returns to Golf Links, But Only to Watch, Pampa Daily News, May 5, 1949, page 16.

 9. Ochsner Says Hogan Will Resume Play, The Ogden Standard-Examiner, May 27, 1949, page 13.

10. Jack Curnow, 'Only Time Will Tell About My Golf Future,' Says Hogan, Here for Visit, The Los Angeles Times,  July 7, 1949, page 55.

11. Ed Schoenfeld, Hogan Sees End of Road, Oakland Tribune, July 12, 1949, page 31.

12. Independent News Service, Ben Hogan Still Uncertain If He Will Be Able to Play Tournament Golf Again, Long Beach Independent, July 23, 1949, page 12.

13. Jack Murphy, Knee Injury Latest Impediment to Ben, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 22, 1949, page 9.

14. Al Abrams, Sidelights on Sports, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 4, 1949, page 18.

15. Sid Hartman, Caddy King Picks Demaret, Star Tribune, July 28, 1949, page 18.

16. Independent News Service, Injury Idles Bantam Ben, Hogan Sidelined For Five Years, El Paso Times, August 21, 1949, page 28.

17. Jack Murphy, North American Newspaper Alliance, Bantam Ben Still Believes He Will Swing Again, But Not Soon, The Atlanta Constitution, September 7, 1949, page 10.

18. Bill Rives, I'll Be Back, Sport, September 1949, pages 15, 98 and 99.

19. Associated Press, Hogan May Never Play Golf Again, The Morning Herald, September 28, 1949, page 11.

20. Harold V. Ratliff, Plentiful Grid Talent in Texas Furnish Material for Many Bowls, The Monitor, November 1, 1949, page 7.

21. Grantland Rice, North American Newspaper Alliance, Snead Will Be Golfer To Stop in 1950, Too, The Times (Shreveport), November 9, 1949, page 20.

22. Snead Is Chosen Golfer Of Year, Sante Fe New Mexican, November 11, 1949, page 7.

23. Oscar Fraley, United Press, Ben Hogan Rates Place In Golfdom's Hall Of Fame, The Daily Herald, November 24, 1949, page 7.

24. Bill Wallace, Chip Shots, Course Closed, 180 Entries For Open, The Miami News, December 5, 1949, page 20.

25. Associated Press, Hogan Retains Old Touch, The Windsor Star, December 12, 1949, page 32.

26. Ben Dusts Off Golf Equipment, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 12, 1949, page 25.

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