One of the greatest successes in golf history was the confluence of Ben Hogan, Colonial Country Club and the month of May. Hogan was a five-time winner of the Colonial National Invitation—which this week goes by the Dean & Deluca Invitational—and won for the first time 70 years ago with a memorable start to the legacy: On May 19, 1946, the Fort Worth native shot a final-round 65 to win by one shot.
Hogan successfully defended the title in 1947, then won back-to-back again in 1952 and 1953 when he was in his early 40s and still considered a realistic threat.
When Hogan won in 1959, a few months shy of 47, he was more of a sentimental pick. He had not won at all since his three-major year of 1953, and although he was still intensely competitive, he was also playing a limited schedule.
After a third round with winds up to 40 miles per hour, Hogan was three back of leader Ted Kroll. In the final round, Kroll shot a 77, and the tournament came down to Hogan and Fred Hawkins, who were tied on 14 and stayed that way to the end, finishing five over par. Hogan missed a 2½-foot putt on 18 that would have won.
There was no sudden-death playoff then, so Hogan and Hawkins came back the next day, May 4, for an 18-hole playoff. Unlike the 1955 U.S. Open playoff between Hogan and Jack Fleck, this one went as logic suggested: Hogan 69, Hawkins 73. Some speculated that since Hogan had won Colonial in 1953 and went on to win the U.S. Open and British Open, perhaps this was an omen for winning a fifth U.S. Open, at Winged Foot that June. But Hogan tied for eighth, five shots behind winner Billy Casper.
Colonial in 1959 was Hogan’s last tour victory, a similarity he shares with Tom Watson, who won his final tour event on May 24, 1998, at Colonial at 48.
The month of May was the setting for another Hogan career note—his final tour appearance altogether, but it did not go well. Forty-five years ago (May 13, 1971), a 58-year-old Hogan was playing in the first round of the Houston Champions International Invitational at Champions Golf Club on the Cypress Creek Course, having spent a full week practicing at the club. On the par-3 eighth, Hogan hit three straight tee shots into unplayable lies in a ravine and took a 9. When he got to the 12the hole at 11 over par, he requested a cart to go back to the clubhouse, saying to a friend in the gallery as he left, “Don’t ever get old.”
Talking to reporters after the withdrawal, Hogan said he strained his left knee when he inspected his lie in the ravine on No. 8, felt best to leave and said he would try to play at Colonial later. He also noted how golfers know how bad things can get, recalling an 11 he had shot in the 1946 Jacksonville Open when he posted as score in the low 80s and lost by 15 to Sam Snead.
Not a memorable way to go out for someone of Hogan’s legendary status, but it’s Hogan and Colonial in May that’s the lasting memory.