June 25, 2007

Who could forget Paris or Hogan's triple?

Ben Hogan's sweep of all three majors in 1953 isn't the only memory I cherish from that summer.

In this year of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ben Hogan's Triple Crown, I wish to confess something. The fact is, I was bouncing around Europe that summer — the trip being an overly generous college graduation present from my folks — and I fully intended to hop over to Scotland to cover Ben's British Open effort. As fate would have it, however, I was taken prisoner one afternoon while sitting at this sidewalk café in Paris — and I don't even remember her name.

Well, first we enjoyed a thoughtful discussion of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and then came a long chat about pathos and humor in the Russian novel ... but I digress.

I have a favorite story regarding Ben's triumph at Carnoustie. It's a story I didn't hear until several years later.

The story came my way from Cecil Timms, the sandy-haired, 33-year-old Brit who caddied for Hogan at Carnoustie. He was a professional caddie who'd been recommended to Ben by two of our finest amateurs of the era, Harvie Ward and Dick Chapman. They'd each employed Timms in previous trips abroad. So Timms lugged Ben's mallets that week and was not responsible for that "the wee ice mon" thing.

A Scottish caddie referred to Ben as the wee ice "man," not "mon," and a creative headline writer took it from there.

No Scot ever says "mon," I can tell you, being half Scottish, it just sometimes sounds that way to your basic Yank. All that "hoot, mon" stuff you may have grown up with was, or is, Hollywood's idea of Scotland.

Hogan always said Timmy, as he called him, had been a good caddie at Carnoustie, even though there'd been minor problems with him. Timmy was nervous, often refusing to watch when Ben stroked a putt. He was also frequently hungry — constantly eating the hard butterscotch candy Ben kept in his bag for energy.

Timmy naturally earned a wee bit of fame from that historic chore of bag-toting, and he tried to take advantage of it by moving to America for a while and working for some of Ben's friends at the Thunderbird Country Club in California and at the Seminole Golf Club in Palm Beach.

Seminole, as you know, is one of the great Donald Ross courses, and Palm Beach is that elegant town on the portfolio coast of Florida where the first "Shop Till You Drop" bumper sticker was sighted on Worth Avenue, and where the art of spending daddy's money for clothes, cars, houses, clubs and dining was originated in, I think, 1926.

Cecil Timms has been pushing up fescue for quite a few years now, but while in the States he often dined out on his Hogan reminiscences, such as my fave. Timmy claimed he helped Hogan only one time throughout the entire 72 holes at Carnoustie. It happened on the 10th hole of the final round when Ben was on the way to carving out a four-under 68 in the chill, mist and light drizzle for his four-stroke victory at 282.

The 10th at Carnoustie is a rugged par 4 of 450 yards, slightly uphill on the second shot. The green is guarded on the left by a yawning bunker and on the right by a large tree beneath which meanders a burn, or creek.

Hogan had played the 10th in the morning's third round with driver, 4-iron, and made his par, but now he knew he needed a 4 even more badly. Though the scoring system was no help in those days, he'd learned from rooters in the gallery that he was now even with Roberto De Vicenzo, and maybe a stroke ahead of Dai Rees and Tony Cerda. Those three were his main adversaries with nine holes to go.

So after a good drive, Ben reached for the 4-iron again, and that's when Timmy took his life in his hands. He quickly put his hand over Ben's on the 4-iron, saying, "The wind's changed up there. It's a 2-iron."

Hogan glared at him, thought it over, and took out the 2-iron, and addressed the shot. Then he paused and glared at Timmy again, and said:

"If this goes through the green, I'm going to bury this club in your forehead."

Whereupon, swore Timmy, Hogan took the hardest swing he'd taken at any shot during the whole championship, apparently trying to hit the ball through the green, just to prove his caddie wrong.

But the ball stopped on the green about 10 feet past the flag, and Ben easily two-putted for his par.

The evening long ago when Timmy dined out on me with the story, he said, "He never thanked me, and I didn't expect him to. He simply looked at it as if I was just doing my job, and that's how I looked at it."

And the rest, as they say, is Triple Crown history.