Ben Hogan 1 Iron

The Secret in the Dirt

Ben Hogan once said: There are no shortcuts in the quest for perfection.

And this quest to mastery of something that cannot be mastered is what some people call insanity, and others call golf.

In his early career in the golf tour, Hogan was terrorized by Captain Hook: a ball flight that took off high towards the left and curved even more to the left. But unlike Peter Pan, Hogan could not fly nor had a magic powers to fix his swing. And that was many decades before the invention of ball tracking devices that revolutionized golf teaching and practicing. He had to dig it out of the dirt, based purely on the human eye and his feeling for the golf swing. He was famous for practicing like no one else. His hands would bleed, and he had theories on where the calluses  would be, and what they meant in terms of a good grip and good swing.

Hogan’s book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons, The modern Fundamentals of Golf” became a classic, with over a million copies sold..  The purity of his movements turned him in to a legend. There are channels on Youtube dedicated to his swing and his golf philosophy. His name is still stamped on golf irons today, 50 years after his heyday on the tour, and you can get very cool golf apparel on Walmart bearing his name (if you don’t buy golf shirts at Walmart you don’t know what you are missing, they are really cool.)

On his book, brilliantly illustrated by Anthony Ravelli, Ben Hogan talks about a glass plane, which went from the ball at address to his shoulders. He really believed that his was the best way to swing a golf club. And his fame and success proves it, no one can question the great champion. But there is a problem with his book, and a big one.  Keeping the golf club under this pane of glass worked very well for him, specially with the weak grip he advocated (for the ones who didn’t read the book, there is a whole chapter dedicated to the grip.) The problem of his advice  goes back to the reason he moved the way he did. For a short guy with very long arms who tend to hook the ball, his swing is a beauty of biodynamics. But for 80% of amateur golfers out there who are slicing the ball, moving from left to right, his grip and swing are TERRIBLE advice. And the kicked, his swing would eventually break the pane of glass, his theory was flawed. If you pick up the book, you will see that the illustration showing different clubs under the plane is a swoosh of undetermined lines, because  it would be very difficult to capture the bit and pieces of glass flying around.

What is hard to understand is not that Hogan’s swing was perfect (but it probably was), but he made it work for him.  His stature, his body, his aches and pains due to a terrible car accident, and he was brilliant at it. There will probably few that can get close to his skills in ball striking. But the concept worked for Ben Hogan, keep the club under this plane, keep it flat, weakening the grip (turning his left hand counterclockwise on the grip) resolved the lost balls to the left. And that is Ben Hogan secret in the dirt. Not that you should copy him, his posture, grip or swing. But do copy his work ethic, his determination and how he literally had to dig his swing out of the dirt.

You, on the other hand, have video camera in your pocket, smart phones with free apps to analyze you own swing plane and access to technology (perhaps not so inexpensively) that can tell you how much you are swinging up, down, left or right at the ball. Can you dig YOUR OWN swing out of the dirt? I bet you can.


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