By Tom Ward
The second time around was a charm for Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers as he took home the prestigious Ben Hogan Award Sunday night at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, TX. Rodgers was a Hogan finalist in 2012 when he was just a freshman. The Ben Hogan award, which has been called ‘The Heisman Trophy’ of college golf, is annually given to the top collegiate golfer in the country. Rodgers beat out fellow Stanford golfer teammate Cameron Wilson and Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans.
Rodgers said in his acceptance speech, “To be linked with Mr. Hogan, he’s such an iconic figure. Not just in golf, but in sports. He symbolizes what it means to work hard and have a disciplined approach.”
With the win, Rodgers received the first invitation to next year’s event at Colonial Country Club by tournament chairman Bobby Patton. The Master of Ceremonies for the black tie affair was WBAP 820 AM’s Brian Estridge, who always does a terrific job. The keynote speaker for the evening was 1966 Colonial Champion Bruce Devlin from Australia. Devlin told the packed audience that he first met Ben Hogan in 1962 at the Masters. He got an opportunity to play with Hogan in a practice round.
Devlin recalled, “It was scary to think I’ve come all this way to play my first practice round at the Masters and I’m playing with Mr. Ben Hogan. I called him Ben because the very first day I met him he told me to. In 1966, my wife Gloria and I had the opportunity to stop off in Dallas/Fort Worth on our way to the U.S. Open at the Olympic club. We hooked up with Ben and his wife Valerie and had dinner with them every night and I played practice rounds with him every day. On the first night, I hesitantly asked Ben at dinner if he ever talked about what happened that February of 1949 (the Hogan’s had a horrific car accident running into a bus). Hogan said, ‘Yes, I think about it all the time.’ He started on that Monday evening and finished his story on Tuesday morning. So people who say that Hogan wasn’t a person that was easy to get to know didn’t know the man I knew.” Devlin added, “He was quite a remarkable man and of all the people I’ve seen play the game there is no doubt in my mind that he was the greatest striker of the golf ball that I’ve ever seen. Hogan had control of the height of the golf ball better than anyone. You could stand behind him as he hit balls and you could picture a hole out there and that ball kept going through that hole whether he was hitting 6 irons or drivers. I remember him as a gentle kind soul and a very lovely man.”
Next to speak was Brandel Chamblee from the Golf Channel, who was the special guest speaker on the program. Brian Estridge introduced him saying, “He’s the best analyst in golf television today and someone who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, giving terrific insight”. Brandel told the audience about the time in 1983 he got invited to play the Colonial at 20 years old. He ended up sitting right next to Ben Hogan at the dinner and had heard about Hogan’s reputation for small talk.
Chanblee said, “I had seen Hogan hit golf balls from about 100 yards or so and he had a legend about having a secret. I was trying to define the secret on every golf swing he made and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was. So I thought on the drive over that night I am not going to ask him. I’m going to go that whole night and not say one word to him other than nice to meet you Mr. Hogan because I didn’t want to piss him off. So I sat there all night long and he and I have literally in my mind had a contest to see who would say the least. Well, I outlasted Mr. Hogan and finally he turned to me and asked me if I played golf. At the end of the night he said to me that he looked forward to watching my progress this week. Now I took that as we were best friends.”
Chamblee continued, “After 3 days I was tied for lead with Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopt and Andy Bean. I’m looking at the scoreboard and I had done the math and I figured I was going to get paired with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopt. Well, I ended up getting paired with Andy Bean and back then Andy Bean was like Steve Stricker today; he was as good as there was. As I was walking up the 18th hole and looked over and there was Ben Hogan sitting in a golf cart and as far as I knew he was watching me play. So when people ask me to list my biggest moments in the game of golf I never say that, but I think it.”
Brian Estridge asked Chamblee, “As you sit here when you think about these three young men and what they are about to embark on in careers in professional golf,what is it that they don’t know?” Chamblee replied, “They don’t know that the most dangerous place for a tour professional is the driving range. It’s a lion’s den and the lions are dressed like kittens. They’re in the form of agents, sports psychologists, fitness instructors, spoon benders, swing instructors, and short game gurus. All of them are well-intentioned, but they want to use your talents to elevate their status and to try out their theories and ideas. Now, I was a nice guy and I enjoyed talking about things so I engaged them and I learned a lot from it. The tour is a test of skill, but it’s really a test of will. That’s because the players that make it are arrogant. There is no other word for it. Now you can be arrogant and still be likeable. You have to have unbelievable amount of belief to go with that passion. I could talk all night about players I saw that come out on tour and lose their way engaging people. Now, I’m not saying they don’t know what they’re talking about because some of them do. However, if they weren’t directly involved in getting you where you are at then they don’t have as much skin in the game as you. I’d be worried and I’d be leery. There’s power in discovery. Ben Hogan said to dig it out of the dirt and what I think he meant by that was when you discover something yourself first of all you have the confidence to fix something yourself. Second, your belief that nobody knows what you know and that’s important. Third, you feel like you deserve success because it didn’t come to you easy. You had to solve these problems yourself. What I’m telling you is to make your own judgments.”
Chamblee told another funny story about playing with Jumbo Ozaki in the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. He said, “I was playing the first round with David Toms and Jumbo Ozaki. Jumbo won 100 golf tournaments and he was like a god in Japan. He was the only player I ever saw that had an entourage inside the ropes. At the 6th tee, a long par 3 of 240 yards, we were waiting on the tee and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on the golf course. Ozaki was leaning on his club and held up two fingers and within seconds there was a lit cigarette in his hand. That’s when you know you’ve made it big. After we finished the first round, Jumbo comes over and shakes my hand on the 18th green and gives me David Toms’ scorecard with my scores on it. I told him, ‘That’s alright we all look alike.'”
Also, singer/songwriter Sonny Burgess sang a beautiful original tune he wrote honoring Ben Hogan and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Eddie Merrins (pro emeritus from Bel-Air Country Club) spoke representing FOG (Friends of Golf). After the ceremony, I had a chance to speak with Patrick Rodgers to congratulate him and the other two finalists. It was great seeing renowned author Dan Jenkins there, as I just did a review of his new book. I also had a chance to visit with former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief and his wife Rosie. It was nice catching up with Marty Leonard, the daughter of Colonial founder Marvin Leonard. I visited with legendary Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who was in town as a guest of tournament Chairman Bobby Patton, who is one of the owners of the team. Before heading home, I stopped by to thank my friend Dr. Bill Barnes who, along with Dr. Wally Schmuck, is the Co-Chairman of the Ben Hogan Awards. I told them how much I appreciated the invitation to attend and for allowing me to bring my wife Mary Jo this year, who told me she really enjoyed the evening’s entertainment. On the drive home I told my wife that I look forward to following the careers of all three of the young men we met this evening, because they are great examples of how young athletes should act on and off the golf course. I could tell after speaking with these remarkable young collegiate golfers that they were in awe of what Ben Hogan accomplished and what this award bearing his name really meant.
Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com