In a service as subdued, formal and dignified as the man himself, Ben Hogan was eulogized Tuesday as one who battled overwhelming odds to become the finest shotmaker in the history of golf.
With golf legends Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Tommy Bolt looking on, family, friends and admirers paid final respects to Hogan.
Quoting from Romans, Charles Sanders, associate minister of the University Christian Church, alluded to the poverty, hardships and pain that Hogan overcame in a career interrupted by a near fatal car accident.
“Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope,” Sanders said. “I think Ben Hogan’s life underlined the truth of that passage.”
Sanders recalled that Hogan “experienced the untimely death of his father and agonized over the realization that his golf swing must change dramatically in order for him to survive on the tour.”
Recounting the terrifying car-bus collision in 1949, Sanders said Hogan’s legs were “severely shattered and that he was told first that he might not live and then for sure that he would never walk again.”
But Hogan struggled back.
“Ben set his heart on a goal knowing what it would cost him to reach it,” Sanders said. “He was willing to pay the price.”
Stoic and small of stature, Hogan often was called Bantam Ben or the Hawk. In 1953, after he won the British Open at Carnoustie, the Scots christened him “The Wee Ice Mon.”
Hogan died Friday, a day after suffering a major stroke. But his mind and body had been ravaged in recent years by Alzheimer’s and cancer of the colon.
He was 84.
Honorary pallbearers included Snead, Bolt and Ken Venturi, Fort Worth writer-author Dan Jenkins, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jim Murray and the chief executive officer of PGA of America, Jim Awtrey.
Among the professional golfers on hand for the service were Ben Crenshaw, Doug Sanders, Rives McBee and Doug Higgins.
The services were held only minutes from Colonial Country Club, nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” in honor of his five PGA victories there.
It was at Colonial, in 1959, that he won his 63rd and final PGA title.
Scores of club members were among the hundreds attending the service, traditional from beginning to end except for a poignant moment when Hogan’s wife, Valerie, first appeared in the sanctuary.
The organist deviated from such religious classics as “Amazing Grace” and “Shall We Gather at the River” to play the old Irving Berlin standard, “Always.”
Among the phrases that would seem so fitting for Hogan and his wife of 62 years is this:
“Days may not be fair …
“That’s when I’ll be there …
“Not for just an hour …
“Not for just a day …
“Not for just a year, but always.”
The minister described Hogan’s devotion to his wife, now tiny and fragile but composed, as “a thing of beauty.”
He also described the reticent Hogan as a “good and gentle man,” one whose humility was reflected in a rare 1991 interview.
Before the Colonial that year, Hogan was asked by a writer from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram if he agreed that he had put Colonial on the international golfing map.
“I think it’s just the reverse,” he replied. “Colonial helped put me on the map. Winning here, building a name… . I’m sure it helped me more than me helping the course.”
It was in that same interview that Hogan pinpointed the major change in the game since he first arrived on the tour in 1932.
“The prize money,” he said, sounding very much like his old friend and adversary Sam Snead, who, like Hogan and Nelson, was born in 1912.
“I never played in a $100,000 tournament in my life,” Hogan reminisced. “I went broke twice … and had to take odd jobs to try again. It stops you when you can’t eat or pay your caddie.”
He seemed awed by the current multimillion-dollar purses.
“I was always looking forward to making the cut and winning last place, which was $50, so you could make enough gas money to get to the next one.”
His 63 career victories ranks third behind Snead’s 81 and the 70 of Jack Nicklaus.
Hogan won nine major championships, six after his car accident in 1949. He won his fourth and final U.S. Open title in 1953, the same year he also won the Masters and British Open.
But after the car accident, his faltering legs forced him to limit his tournament appearances to no more than seven a year.
Even then he would win 13 more tournaments.
“The Hawk’s shadow will be felt upon the game forever,” said Crenshaw, also a Colonial champion.
That’s an eloquent way of saying that Hogan is gone but his legacy is immortal.