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Why Ben Hogan emulated the best

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Until Ben Hogan began his rise to prominence in the 1930s, no professional golfer had ever improved his game so much by watching better players, then adopting their techniques and refining them.

“Ben wasn’t unique in having to watch others to learn that swing of his,” says Sam Snead, a golf legend in his own right. “But he sure as hell was probably the best at copying and refining what he saw.”

Hogan absorbed lessons from Macdonald Smith, who was born in golf mecca Carnoustie, Scotland, and won 30 times on the U.S. tour. Hogan learned chipping and putting excellence from Johnny Revolta and Paul “Little Poison” Runyan. The Brit Harry Cooper, whom the press dubbed “Robot Man” for his consistency, once alerted the young Hogan to a flaw in his back swing. And Hogan looked to Densmore Shute, a Bostonian who won the 1933 British Open and the PGA in 1937 and 1938, for his swing with low irons.

As for style, Hogan took his cues from Gene Sarazen, a little Napoleon who strutted into locker rooms filled with confidence, then blew away his opponents. Sarazen’s swagger, fine clothes, blunt opinions and respect for the game’s traditions deeply impressed Hogan, in some of the same ways Jack Nicklaus would later become the role model for Tiger Woods.

Also, as a young player, Hogan dissected every move Walter Hagen made and tried to copy it. In a 14-page letter to a friend later in his life, Hogan drew diagrams to show grip and other fundamentals he learned in conversations decades earlier with the great player.

“Keep on file,” Hogan advised, “and refer to when in doubt.”

— Adapted from Ben Hogan: An American Life, James Dodson, Doubleday

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