GolfDigest.com will regularly highlight a book that it finds of interest to readers.
Ben Hogan’s Secret Fundamental: What He Never Told The World, By Larry Miller, Triumph Books, $15, hardback, 256 pages
If Ben Hogan truly had a secret to the golf swing, he did a poor job keeping it under wraps. In the years following the publication of his famous “This is My Secret” article in the Aug. 8, 1955 issue of Life magazine, Hogan revealed versions of the “real” secret to an astonishing number of players, celebrities and everyday people. In personal letters, on practice tees, from behind the desk in his Fort Worth office and even in restaurant kitchens, new truths were made known.
Always, the secrets came with the whispered directive, “don’t tell anyone I told you this.” One can imagine the sense of privilege the recipients felt, being singled out this way by the greatest ball-striker in history. Did any of these secrets unlock the mystery of the swing, magically transforming the recipient into one who, as writer Al Barkow said about Hogan, “had his own exclusive channel in the sky”? Not really, and there’s the catch. Although a lot of Hogan’s secrets were valid enough—swing “elbow to elbow,” deloft the club at impact, cup your left wrist at the top, brace your right knee, etc.—none by themselves were transformative. When I met with Hogan in 1989 to discuss the secret he sold to Life magazine for $10,000, I pointed out that it didn’t seem to help the pros who tried it. Hogan, with the hint of a smile, said, “I’ll only say they weren’t doing it correctly.”
The result was even more speculation that Hogan always held the real secret back. It continues to this day in magazine articles, message boards and Facebook posts, YouTube videos and books. The Hogan Secret world is one populated by seekers, worshipers, truthers and obsessives, all of whom have theories as to what made Hogan’s awesome swing tick. The ideas set forth range from solid to incoherent, with a lot in between.
The latest of the books is Ben Hogan’s Secret Fundamental: What He Never Told the World falls in the “solid” category. Here’s the premise: The author, Larry Miller, is a Louisiana teaching pro who, as a young man, briefly took a crack at the PGA Tour. In so doing, he sought swing advice from the great Tommy Bolt, a much-admired player who won, among other things, the 1958 U.S. Open. Bolt granted Miller’s wish and, in coaching him, passed along the swing insights he had gained from his personal encounters with Hogan. Hogan, who helped Bolt turn the corner and become the champion he was, conveyed to Bolt the real secret, with the admonition that he keep it under his hat until he found, in Bolt’s words, “a worthy and trusted protégé.”
In Ben Hogan’s Secret Fundamental, Miller lifts the veil. The secret, he claims, is actually twofold. The first element—we’ll merely hint at it—has to do with swing geometry. Lines, angles and directions. The second regards a principle for strengthening the body that will improve your capacity to swing the club faster, better and with more control.
The secrets sound pithy enough on first reading. But incorporating them is not simple. Miller walks us through every aspect of the swing, rebuilding us pretty much from the ground up. There are mini-secrets, drills swings thoughts and strategy tips. The swing he suggests admittedly is not a carbon-copy of Hogan’s, but one the average golfer will find more user-friendly. The task Miller presents is not an easy one, and toward the end he suggests it will come easier if we engage in “deep practice,” which includes hitting between 500 and 600 balls per session. Whew.
Miller writes clearly, and the book is edited well. It is not as slickly produced, tightly organized or lavishly illustrated as many of the glossy, high-profile books by more famous instructors. But Miller’s presentation contains a certain rough-hewn charm, a sense of one man tackling a formidable subject with passion, determination and much thought. When Miller took leave of the nitty-gritty instruction to spin personal tales and a few new ones about Hogan, I smiled. Good for this guy, I thought. How many ordinary teaching pros have wanted to do a book but haven’t found the wherewithal to actually get it done?
And now, the hard question: Is what Miller tells us actually Hogan’s secret? Are the revelations Hogan gave Bolt the true lynch pins to his greatness and ours, or was it Hogan being the rascal we know he sometimes was? Despite the joys and good information in this book, it’s the passage about deep practice and hitting 500 balls that resonates. The secret, as Hogan said many times, is in the dirt.