The United States Air Force saved Ben Hogan’s Life!

The United States Air Force saved Ben Hogan’s Life!

Ben Hogan began 1949 with two victories on the PGA Winter Tour. At the Phoenix Open Hogan holed a tricky four-foot putt to tie Jimmy Demaret for first place. One week before that Hogan and Demaret had finished in a tie for first at the Long Beach Open, with Hogan winning an 18-hole playoff and the $2,000 first prize.

The Phoenix Open tie was also settled with an 18-hole playoff that began on Monday at 12:30 p.m. Demaret won the $2,000 top money with a 67 against a 70 for Hogan. Demaret was heading to the next tournament, the Tucson Open, but Hogan citing the need for a break, was heading home to Fort Worth. He said it wasn’t the golf but the travel that wore him out.

The next day, February 1, Hogan and his wife Valerie drove 550 miles to Van Horn, Texas, which was a little more than half of the 1,000 miles to Fort Worth. They stayed at the $4.50 a night El Capitan motel.

Wanting to get home at a decent hour, the Hogans were on the road at 8 a.m., Ground Hog’s Day. There was an early morning fog so Ben drove 20 or 30 miles an hour. As they were crossing a culvert with a walled bridge, four headlights loomed in front of them. With no place to leave the road Ben, dove across the automobile’s bench seat in front of Valerie. A 19,500-pound Greyhound bus that was passing a truck collided head on with their automobile, ramming the steering wheel through the driver’s seat.

After some time an ambulance was located. The Hogans were driven 119 miles back west to a hospital in El Paso. Valerie was only bruised, but Ben had a double fracture of his pelvis, broken ankle, broken collar bone and broken rib, along with internal injuries.

Driving east later that morning, Herman Keiser and Dutch Harrison arrived at the scene of the accident. Keiser said, “That looks like Ben’s Cadillac.” On learning that Hogan had been taken to an El Paso hospital, they headed back west to check on him. When they entered Hogan’s hospital room, Ben motioned for Keiser. Keiser had won the 1946 Masters, when Hogan three putted the last green from 15 feet. Ben said, “Herman would you check on my golf clubs?”

At first Ben seemed to be doing well. He was moved to a larger room to accommodate all of the guests and flower arrangements. But sixteen days after arriving in the hospital Ben complained of a pain in his chest. It was blood clots. Blood thinners were tried, but he was losing strength and weight. Surgery was needed. The Mayo Clinic was contacted. His El Paso doctors were told the best vascular surgeon in the country was in New Orleans.

With bad weather in Louisiana airline flights were being canceled. Ben’s brother, Royal, called the El Paso Air Force Base and asked the commanding officer for help. During World War II Ben had been a captain in the Army Air Force. The commander dispatched a B-29 bomber to New Orleans, which returned to El Paso with Dr. Alton S. Ochsner.

Eight hours after Royal’s telephone call to the El Paso Air Base Ben was under the knife of Dr. Ochsner. The doctor tied off some of Hogan’s major arteries, blocking the blood clots from reaching his heart. The smaller veins now had to handle Ben’s blood flow, which would cause cramping and swelling in his legs for the rest of his life.

On April 1, nearly two months after his auto accident, Ben was well enough to leave the hospital and travel to his home in Fort Worth by train. He had to learn to walk again, at first only being able to take a couple of steps with a walker.

Hogan was named non-playing captain of the US Ryder Cup team, and was well enough to travel by ship to England for the matches in mid September. On December 11 he played his first 18-hole round since the auto accident. He filed an entry for January’s 1950 Los Angeles Open, where he tied for first only to lose an 18-hole playoff to Sam Snead. In June he won the US Open at Merion Golf Club.

Some details for this article have been taken from Curt Sampson’s book, “Hogan”.

Ben Hogan was the professional at the Hershey Country Club from 1941 to 1951. When he was not on the PGA Tour or in the Army Air Force Hogan was at the Hershey Country Club during the golf season. Ben and Valerie had an apartment in Hershey. When Hogan was in Hershey, he was either practicing or playing a fast round of golf with Milton Hershey. Hogan had great assistants managing the golf shop.

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