Today is December 5 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you prepare?” Spanish artist Pablo Picasso noted “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” One of the great embodiments of someone who ‘fervently believed and vigorously acted’ is professional golfer Ben Hogan who used such an approach to navigate the chaos amidst tragedy and loss throughout his life.
American professional golfer Ben Hogan, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, is notable for his profound influence on the golf swing theory and his legendary ball-striking ability. He practiced and achieved great success amidst many personal tragedies.
First, his father committed suicide when Hogan was nine years old, which left an impact on him forever. His father’s suicide placed the Hogan in financial difficulties, so his mother moved them from their rural Texas home to Fort Worth. To make ends meet, Hogan took to caddying to make money, and golf became his road out of poverty.
Second, it took Hogan 10 years to win his first professional tournament during which time he went broke more than once. Hogan practiced until his palms were cracked and blistered, then soaked his hands in pickle brine to toughen them up and practiced some more. On the loss of his father and intense practice sessions, Gilbert King wrote this of Hogan in a January 25, 2012 Smithsonian Magazine article:
“In 1922, when he was 9, his father, a blacksmith named Chester, pointed a gun at his chest and committed suicide. Hogan biographer James Dodson says some reports place Ben in the room of their home in Fort Worth, Texas, at the time. The loss of the family breadwinner meant the Hogan children had to contribute financially. Ben sold newspapers at the train station, then became a caddy at a nearby country club. He was 11. When he wasn’t carrying bags, he spent countless hours on the practice range. Digging hundreds of balls out of the dirt, day after day, he worked to the point where, legend had it, his hands would bleed. He sought to hit a perfectly controlled ball, and to achieve a repeatable swing that would hold up under pressure. Perhaps it allowed him to feel a measure of control over the chaos around him. Whatever, he could be found on the range long after his fellow caddies, and ultimately his fellow competitors, had left the golf course.”
Finally, he needed 59 days in the hospital to recover from a near death car accident that left Hogan with a double fracture of the pelvis, a fractured collar bone, and near-fatal blood clots. On Wednesday, February 2, 1949 a Greyhound plowed head-on into Hogan’s Cadillac. “At the last second, the golfer hurled himself across his wife. ‘That was the first break I got in all this trouble,’ Hogan later said. The steering wheel and part of his car’s engine was ‘hammered thru the cushion on my side of the seat.’ If he had stayed where he was, he was convinced, he’d have been crushed.”
It would take a grueling 16 months of rehabilitation for Hogan to play at the highest levels of golf once again. By June of 1950, 16 months after the accident, Ben was back on the course, this time trying to reclaim his place as golf’s greatest competitor in American golf’s biggest tournament—the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania. As King wrote “The tournament represented Hogan’s rebirth: He would go on to dominate golf like never before, winning in 1953 the unprecedented ‘Hogan Slam’ of three straight major tournaments. The car crash, and Hogan’s near death, many of his friends later said, made him a more outgoing and compassionate man. But despite everything he accomplished on the course after his accident, Hogan was convinced he had come as close to perfection in the months before the crash. His post-crash golf swing, recorded on film, is still used as an example of near-perfect ball striking and mechanics.”
With courage and perseverance, Hogan demonstrated time and again that despite a personal tragedy, a decade’s worth of struggle and a near death experience success is still possible. He didn't win his first tournament until 1940, when he was 28 and had been struggling (and mainly failing) for a decade to make it as a pro. All told, he went on to win 64 pro tournaments.
Hogan once observed “As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.” How do you cope with tragedy and loss as you walk down the fairway of life?