If you love the history of the game of golf, you have to love the great Ben Hogan. Still to this day, he has one of the purest golf swings the world has ever witnessed.
He used his amazing game and work ethic to go on to win 64 tournaments that are accredited PGA Tour wins. His first victory occurred in 1938 and his final in 1959. He played with players like Sam Snead, Bobby Jones, and other generational players on the PGA Tour.
To make his golf resume even more impressive, he did this during World War II and had to fight injuries after a very serious car accident. In 1974, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and is still considered a legend in the sport all these years later.
But Ben wasn’t like most golfers, he was very secretive about his game and in general with the rest of his life. He wasn’t the type of guy who had a lot of friends that he hung out with after a round of golf.
This makes his success even more interesting… How did he do it? What was the thing that made him great for so many years after being a caddy at Shady Oaks?
Well, there’s quite a few theories behind his “secret” and we’ll break them all down in this post.
Ben Hogan’s Secret
Mr. Hogan is generational player that we don’t get to see too often. He is widely considered one of the best (if not the best) ball strikers of all time.
According to Golf Digest, Nicklaus once responded to the question, “Is Tiger Woods the best ball striker you have ever seen?” with, “No, no – Hogan, easily”.
Sorry Tiger, but apparently he hit it even better than you did (not even sure how that’s possible but I believe the Golden Bear as he got to see both).
While his ball striking is a thing of beauty (just look at that 1-iron from the 1950 US Open), what makes him more interesting is the mystery and intrigue that surrounds his entire life. He was known to be very secretive and took the game very seriously and rarely spoke wtih competitors.
What made things even more interesting is that he openly said he knew the “secret” to the game of golf. With an impressive record like his, it’s easy to believe that he in fact did have some sort of secret that us mere mortals didn’t get the memo on.
So what is Ben Hogan’s secret?
Well, it’s never been confirmed! Yes, this legend of a golfer took his secret to the grave with him. Needless to say, there are about as many theories to his secret as there is to Area 51 or the Loch Ness monster.
Here are some of the most common theories for you to decide what made Mr. Hogan have such a repeatable move that led to such incredible results.
Theory #1: Left Wrist Action
In case you didn’t know, Hogan was an anti-left golfer. His entire swing, starting with his left hand to his wrist position, was based on creating a fade instead of hitting a hook or draw. Mr. Hogan once said, “I hate a hook. It nauseates me. I could vomit when I see one. It’s like a rattlesnake in your pocket.”
He suffered from the hook in his career and thought long and hard about how to fix this issue. According to Sports Illustrated, he first made this discovery in 1946 and by 1948 he had mastered it.
So what is it?
Perhaps the earliest version of his secret is the wrist action that Mr. Hogan made in two different ways.
First, he started experimenting with pronating his left wrist on the way back. Essentially, he was opening the club slightly on the backswing. On the downswing, his left wrist is supinated (aka rolled to the left) which made his palm roll upward, thus closing the face at impact.
The idea is that if done correctly, the face is perfectly square at impact with the golf ball. This move actually doesn’t promote a cut but adding in a weak left hand grip, it does just that.
The final part of this theory is something that Hogan did ever so slightly on his backswing. It’s actually invisible to the naked eye. Apparently, he slightly cupped his left wrist on the way back.
At this point in the swing, the left wrist is actually tilted slightly upward which Hogan deemed “hook-proof.” Apparently, he used this complicated move for nearly 100% of his shots unless a hook was the desired shot for the hole.
He has said that the cupped left wrist at the top of the backswing was a major key to success. This move, paired with a weak left hand grip, made sure that the ball didn’t go left.
Theory #2: Right Knee
Another theory is how Mr. Hogan used his right knee to initiate the backswing. According to Joday Vasquez’s book, Afternoons with Mr. Hogan, the magic of Hogan came from his back knee.
If you watch any of his swings, it’s easy to spot the little hitch move that he makes to initiate his swing. It’s as though he is kicking in his knee similar to recent phenom Matt Wolfe (despite his unorthodox swing).
Part two of this theory is how he uses his right knee throughout this swing. He starts with his right knee angled inward toward the target. Essentially, he is giving himself a head start and allow him to maintain his flex throughout the swing.
As he maintained this flex, combined with his left wrist, he had a swing with perfect balance and control.
Theory #3: 20 Minute Morning Routine
Another theory of what made Mr. Hogan so great was his 20-minute daily morning routine. In 1953, Hogan was interviewed for Golf Digest and talked in depth about his morning routine to groove his swing to perfection.
Here’s how it went:
- Each morning upon waking Mr. Hogan would perform a full swing drill.
- Hogan would start his backswing while his feet were close together.
- Starting out, he would only take a short swing of a few inches. As the time went on, his backswing kept getting longer (about one foot intervals) until it reached a full backswing.
I know it sounds simple but this is what Hogan told the Golf Digest reporters over 60 years ago. No guessing or theorizing about it.
In reality, I could see this working to some degree. The mind learns best through repetition and when the subconscious is highly active (which is early in the morning and late at night before bed). By grooving his backswing daily, he would constantly remind his subconscious of the correct moves and through repetition, make it automatic (plus hours on the range doesn’t hurt either).
Theory #4: Move Your Head to the Right
Another theory about his greatness is so simple it’s hard to believe if it’s true. Before we get into it, here’s the backstory behind it.
The Korn Ferry Tour was previously named the Hogan Tour during its inception. At the beginning of the launch, Al Barkow (a top reporter) was supposed to have an exclusive interview with him to draw attention to his company and the new affiliate to the PGA Tour.
Apparently, Hogan pulled Barkow aside and had him set up to an imaginary golf ball. Then, he had him adjust his head position to the right.
He said that was his secret!? Again, it sounds simple and there isn’t much more detail on the subject but wanted to include it in this list.
Theory #5: Hard Work
I personally don’t know if there was a specific trick, nor do I think there is any secret for success in any sport (or life for that matter). To me, it comes down to consistency, perseverance, and the will to keep improving even when you’re at your peak. It’s the same thing for Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and other all-time great athletes that amaze us through the ages.
Mr. Hogan didn’t become an amazing ball striker by chance. He became so consistent by being such a hard worker, day in and day out.
There have been stories told that he would have a caddy stand by a flag on the driving range with his bag and that he barely had to move to pick up golf balls. He was that consistent!
Hogan was a practice-aholic. The guy couldn’t get enough of the game and was an absolute grinder on the range.
He was so in the zone on the driving range that he would go all the way to the right side to hit balls. This way, he wouldn’t see anyone else’s movements and could focus only on what he was working on.
Habits like this only add to the intrigue that is Mr. Hogan. Remember, hard work never fails in the game of golf (or life). His famous quote, “Dig answers out of the dirt” proves his unrelenting work ethic to consistently get better on the range.
FAQs about Ben Hogan’s Secret
Got more questions about Hogan?
Well, we have more answers to help you make your own decisions about what made him such a successful golfer.
Does Ben Hogan have a book?
Yes, he published his classic “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” decades ago but it’s still a best-selling golf book that I highly suggest you pick up. It’s short, easy to read, and pack with illustrations to help you take his words to improve your golf swing.
Inside the book, he reviews:
- Proper left hand position and grip.
- The best place to be at the top of the backswing.
- Illustrations of Ben Hogan’s swing and a lot more valuable tips.
He also has another book, Power Golf, which has 120 golf tips to help golfers lower their scores.
Finally, the book Ben Hogan’s Secret Fundamental by Larry Miller is another option for additional reading on the subject. The author was mentored by Tommy Bolt (who was a protege of Hogan) and shared what he learned in his own golf journey.
He breaks the magic trick into two aspects, plus the book has tons of images and illustrations for the average golfer to implement into their game.
How do you swing like Hogan?
Practice, practice, and practice some more to take your game to the top and reach your potential. I’ll be honest, most golfers will never be anything like Mr. Hogan – no offense, I am not going to either.
Why? Because most golfers won’t put in the work to get that consistency.
To think how well he struck the golf ball at the top of his game, with the clubs he was using back then is nothing short of amazing. Add in a potentially career ending injury and it’s almost hard to believe.
Remember his famous quote as your mantra for success, “There are no shortcuts on the quest for perfection.”
What kind of putter did Ben Hogan use?
While Ben was a legendary ball striker, he’s never been considered an amazing putter. In fact, he once suggested that to eliminate putting all together from the game of golf! How funny is that?
So what kind of putter did he use?
After watching some old films and researching it, it looks like he used a MacGregor Spur Puter. This was considered an advanced golf club for it’s time.
The reason he wasn’t an amazing putter like Tiger or Bobby Jones might have been a medical issue following his car accident. Reports have said that he had damage to an eye following the accident and impacted his putting.
After reading this post, what do you think about Ben Hogan’s secret?
Do you think there was a specific thing he did? A combination of the theories above? Or, was he just messing with golfers and fans worldwide about something that didn’t really exist?
Personally, I don’t think he had any tip that made him great. He did two things all great players do well – never settled and worked hard.
An easy comparison is Tiger Woods. Despite his historic run in the early 2000s, he changed his plane and found a new teacher in Hank Haney. While most judged him for making such a drastic change at his “peak”, he went on to have another incredible stage of his career and quiet the naysayers.
Plus, his work ethic is unparalleled as well. Both players were range rats and constantly were looking to groove their game on the range so they could trust it in the course.
As he said, “There is no such individual as a born golfer. Some have more natural ability than others, but they’ve all been made.”
If you’re looking for a real secret to shooting lower scores, keep it simple and don’t fall into any gimmicks. Train your mind + body, work on your weaknesses, focus on your short game and don’t forget to keep going even after a slump.
Remember, no golfers are born great (well maybe Tiger Woods) but for most of us, getting better is all about fundamentals.
What do you think is Hogan’s magic fundamental (or was there more than one trick that made him the legend that he is today)? Was it something he learned from his time at Shady Oaks?