Book Review: The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever

by Roy M. Barineau, Ph. D. on September 10, 2012

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Book Review: The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever

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Mark Frost, The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever, Hyperion, New York, 2007.

The Players

Ken Venturi (b. 1931)

As a fourteen-year-old boy in 1945, Kenny Venturi caddied at the Olympic Club and the San Francisco Golf Club, and he dreamed of playing competitive golf among champions like Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. As his age and playing abilities increased, Venturi dealt with a stammering issue. Because of his unwillingness to speak except “more than a few words at tournaments or in response to reporters, he developed a reputation as an arrogant, cocky young kid with rough edges” (p. 41). Not long after he won the San Francisco City Championship in 1950, he was invited by Eddie Lowery to play at San Francisco Golf Club. When he walked to the first tee with Lowery, his former fellow caddies appeared and gave him a standing ovation. Venturi had vowed that he would return one day to play the course with a member.

In 1949, Venturi had been awarded a partial scholarship from San Jose State University where he studied for the profession of dentistry. With Eddie Lowery, however, Venturi discovered a more enticing life. In 1952, due to Lowery’s request, Venturi received a call from Bing Crosby who invited him to replace someone who was unable to play in his tournament, the National Pro-Am Golf Championship. A few months later, at the United States (U.S.) Amateur Championship in Seattle, Lowery introduced Venturi to Byron Nelson. Nelson invited Venturi to play with him and Eddie the next day at the San Francisco Golf Club. With great excitement, Venturi accepted the invitation and only later realized that he had driven to Seattle, not flown. He drove all night and even had to change a flat tire at three in the morning by flashlight in order to make the tee time around noon. After they played, Venturi was a little disheartened when Nelson told him that there were a few things in his game that the two of them needed to address. Venturi, though, was a good student. Lowery arranged for Byron Nelson and Venturi to play exhibitions up and down the West coast, and Venturi learned enough to be invited onto the 1953 Walker Cup team. When he graduated from San Jose State that same year, Venturi went to work for Lowery as a salesman in the used-car lot at Van Etta Motors. Ken and Conni MacLeann were engaged and later married (1954).

Young Ken Venturi Putting

When Venturi and Ward played in the 1954 Masters, Ward was already selling cars with Venturi at Van Etta Motors. Lowery arranged for them to play together in the first round and orchestrated a second-round pairing for Venturi with Masters champion Ben Hogan, “whom Venturi had forever worshipped but never met” (p. 101). Ward, who had played with Hogan, advised Venturi not to take any guff from Hogan, saying that Hogan would respect Venturi more if he stood up for himself. On the first green Hogan advised Venturi to putt out before him so that Hogan’s massive gallery would not disturb him as they left for the next hole. Venturi said, “Thank you, Mr. Hogan.” Hogan said, “Call me Ben.” When Venturi hit a three iron to within six feet on the fourth and Hogan hit his three iron into the bunker, Hogan asked to see Venturi’s club. Hogan looked at the club and dismissed it as an inferior piece of equipment. Venturi, heeding Ward’s advice, responded, “That’s great. I’m in the army [drafted for the Korean War effort and later serving in Austria] making seventy-two bucks a month. These are the only clubs I have. You want me to call you Mr. Hogan again?” “Hogan stared at him for a moment, perhaps a little in shock, then with a twinkle in his eye said: ‘No. Call me Ben. But I want your address when we get in’” (p. 102). Hogan sent Venturi a new set of Hogan signature irons the next week.

Harvie Ward (1925 – 2004)

In 1948, Edward Harvie Ward Jr. drove down from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he played on the Tar Heels’ golf team, to Pinehurst in order to play on the number-two course in the North and South Amateur Championship. Ward beat Arnold Palmer, from the Wake Forest team, in the semifinals and Frank Stranahan in the finals. In 1949, Ward would win the NCAA Collegiate Championship, qualify for the National Amateur and make his first appearance at the Masters.  In 1952, he won the British Amateur Championship.  In 1953, at Lowery’s invitation, Ward joined Venturi on the sales team at Van Etta Motors.

Harvie Ward in the Center with Arnold Palmer on the Right

Eddie Lowery (1902-1984)

Edward Edgar Lowery, at ten years of age, played hooky from school in order to serve as Francis Ouimet’s caddie in the 1913 U.S. Open Championship. Ouimet won the event and gave a lot of credit to the little Lowery for helping him win. When Ouimet suggested that fans pass the hat to pay for Lowery’s services, Lowery collected 125 dollars. Lowery became a good golfer in his own right, winning both the Massachusetts Junior Championship and the Massachusetts Amateur Championship during the 1920s.

Lowery also became a successful advertising man in Boston. In the mid 1930s, though, after his first wife died, he moved to California, was remarried, and bought into a car dealership in San Jose. As he became more and more of a “car dealer tycoon,” Lowery joined San Francisco Golf Club and Cypress Point, and he made friends with Bing Crosby, Ed Sullivan, Ben Hogan, and Byron Nelson. His second wife, Louise, died of cancer in 1951. In 1953, through his connections, Lowery became a member of the Executive Committee for the United States Golf Association (U.S.G.A.). Lowery supported amateur golfers by giving them jobs as car salesmen. “They were expected to sell Lincolns and Mercurys in the morning and play golf in the afternoon, often with important clients – company golf, as the practice came to be known – with time off as needed to compete in important tournaments” (p. 29).

Lowery met Bryon Nelson at the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am in 1938, and he and Nelson were defending champions in 1956, having won the year before. Lowery used the Calcutta money he had won with Nelson in 1955 to finance a trip so that Nelson could compete in the British Open and the French Open, the latter of which was Nelson’s last professional win.

Byron Nelson (1912-2006)

Three of golf’s greatest champions, whom George Peper (in The Story of Golf) called an “American Triumvirate,” were all born in 1912: Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Byron Nelson. John Byron Nelson, Jr. became affectionately referred to as Lord Byron, titled after the English poet who did with words what Nelson would do with golf clubs and balls.

At the age of eleven, when his family moved from Waxahachie, Texas to Fort Worth, John Byron Nelson suffered a bout with typhoid fever. He lost almost half his body weight and nearly lost his life. Sometime into his twelfth year, he began caddying at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth. In 1927, at age fifteen, Nelson journeyed to Dallas so he could watch one of his heroes, Sir Walter Hagen, play in the Professional Golf Association (P.G.A.) Championship at Cedar Crest Country Club. Seeing Hagen struggle with the sunlight, the young Nelson offered Hagen his baseball cap to shield his eyes. Hagen made a show of dawning the boy’s cap, hit a great iron close to the hole, and returned the cap with a bow. Hagen would win his fourth P.G.A. Championship in a row, his fifth overall.

Like Ben Hogan, Nelson dropped out of high school. Nelson worked at variety of jobs, most notably a railroad clerk, around the Fort Worth area, and he won a few local golf tournaments. At the age of nineteen, he qualified for the 1931 U.S. Amateur Championship. He lost early in the tournament and did not have the funds to stay on in Chicago to see Francis Ouimet win his second Amateur title. Nelson never had a pair of shoes until the age of five, and he was never able to afford a date with a girl until the age of twenty. In 1932, he went to play as an amateur in the Texarkana Open (Arkansas). He learned about the five hundred dollars in prize money and asked a tournament official if he could play for the money. Nelson was told, “Pay five dollars and say you’re playing for the money” (p. 70). Just like that, Nelson turned professional.

Ben Hogan was at Texarkana and warned Nelson about the life of a touring professional. Hogan had already quit the tour once. When playing in California, Hogan related, if he knew he had no chance to finish in the money, he would “hook a drive out of bounds into an adjoining grove” just so he could secretly fill his golf bag with oranges” (p. 71).

Nelson finished third at Texarkana, won seventy-five dollars, and, since it was paid in cash, held in his hand more money than he had ever seen in his life. Based on his showing at Texarkana, friends in Fort Worth contributed five-hundred dollars for Nelson to test his skills on the California tour. Nelson won a grand total of thirty-four dollars and fifty cents. He left California with nothing and had to bum a ride back to Fort Worth.

Nelson accepted the head professional position at Texarkana Country Club. There he fell in love with the first girl he ever took out on a date, Louise Shofner. In the winter of 1934, she “convinced her father, who owned the local grocery store, to loan Byron the money so he could make another run at the West Coast tour” (p. 73). Nelson won just over a hundred dollars, breaking even on expenses, but he owed a debt of $660 to Mr. Shofner. After California, Nelson finished second at the Texas Open, winning $450, and, the following week, second again in Galveston, winning $325. Nelson immediately returned to Texarkana, paid back the $660 to Mr. Shofner, and went down to Arnold’s Jewelry store where he bought an engagement ring for a hundred dollars.  Nelson married Louise three months later.

The following winter of 1935, Nelson ventured forth on the California tour once again. In the San Francisco Open, a match-play event, he played against Lawson Little, the defending U.S. and British Amateur champion with a reputation for length. When Nelson hit it by the highly touted Amateur champion some twenty yards off the first tee, Little was befuddled. Byron “walloped the champion,” beating him five up with four to play, “an earthshaking upset that stunned Little’s hometown crowd and earned the unknown Texan his first national headlines” (p. 75.). Byron did not win the San Francisco Open, but he made it into the quarterfinals. Further, his showing here earned him an invitation to the 1935 Masters Touranment, only the second to be played, where he finished ninth.

Nelson accepted an invitation to become the assistant pro at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. He would earn his first professional victory at the New Jersey State Open in 1935. In 1937, closing with a thirty-two on the back nine, he won the Masters. They did not award green jackets back then, but Nelson received a gold medal from Bob Jones and a nice check from Clifford Roberts.

Nelson won a couple of tournaments in 1938, including the Thomasville Open held at the Glen Arven Country Club in Thomasville, Georgia. He won four in 1939, three in 1940 (including the P.G.A. Championship), three in 1941, and three in 1942 (including a second Masters title).

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, golf became less important. The U.S.G.A. announced early in the year that the sanctioned championships would be suspended for the duration of the war. There was no U.S. Open from 1942 through 1945. Nelson, Hogan and other golfers registered for the draft. When Nelson underwent his physical, though, examiners discovered a mild form of hemophilia, “free bleeding” and he was rejected for military service with a “4-F” classification. Unable to serve in the expected manner, Nelson volunteered to play golf exhibitions for the United Service Organization (U.S.O) and the war bond campaign.

The P.G.A. Tour resumed, in limited form, in 1944. Nelson won eight tournaments and was named Athlete of the year by the Associated Press.

In the 1945 season Nelson won eleven straight P.G.A. Tour events, a record that may never be surpassed. At this point the press started referring to Nelson as “Mr. Golf.” Nelson won a twelfth in a row in Spring Hill, New Jersey, but the event there was not an official tour event. Hogan, who had been awaiting his discharge from the army finally became a civilian again. Hogan won the tournament in Nashville. Jimmy Demaret reported that “when Byron went to congratulate him, Hogan let his true feeling slip: ‘I guess that takes care of this “Mr. Golf” business’” (p. 145). When the season of 1945 was over, Nelson had won eighteen out of the thirty tournaments he entered. Nelson was once again named Athlete of the Year. Against the suggestion that Nelson’s accomplishments in 1945 were not all that remarkable given that the number and quality of competitors had dwindled due to the war effort, Frost notes that Sam Snead was there, wining six events for himself, and that Hogan returned for almost half the season, claiming five victories of his own.

Nelson informed his wife, Lousie, and his sponsor, MacGregor Golf, that he had decided 1946 would be his last year on tour. In spite of the fact that he was in his prime as a golfer, Nelson had made no secret of the fact that he had longed for life on a ranch, and he had made enough money to buy a ranch near a town called Roanoke, twenty miles north of Fort Worth. He played his last official P.G.A. Tour event, where it all began, at Glen Garden Country Club, at the Fort Worth Open in December of 1946.

Ben Hogan won thirteen tournaments in 1946, claiming the scoring title that year. Hogan, though, had never beaten Nelson man against man, and he never would.

By the year of “The Match,” 1956, Nelson was forty-four years old and had been retired from the P.G.A. tour for nine years. He was a gentleman cattle rancher in Fort Worth, but the Crosby National Pro-Am was one event he still played.

Ben Hogan (left) with Byron Nelson 1942

Ben Hogan (1912-1997)

Clara and Chester Hogan gave life to their third child, William Ben Hogan. Chester was a blacksmith in Fort Worth at a time when the auto industry was growing stronger and blacksmithing was growing weaker. Aside from financial depression, Chester may have also suffered from manic depression or bipolar disorder. After an argument with Ben’s mother about moving back to Dublin, Texas, Chester committed suicide by shooting himself. As Frost writes, “it appears that little Ben ran into the room after his father, whom he adored, perhaps to comfort him after the fight, just in time to witness Chester hold the revolver to his chest and pull the trigger” (115). Hogan, a man of few words anyway, never spoke about what happened. This was Hogan’s real secret.

Hogan sold newspapers at a train station and became a caddie at the Glen Garden Country Club, the same club where Nelson caddied. Hogan suffered the abuses of a small boy trying to earn respect among a group of more established caddies. Frost writes, “Ben quickly developed a tough, leathered exterior, a consequence of the beatings he endured from, and then learned to efficiently dispense to, other newsboys and older caddies” (p. 116). Hogan, like Nelson, dropped out of high school. By the age of twelve, though he had already met the girl he would marry, Valerie Fox, who lived nearby. They would be reacquainted several years later (1932) and married in 1935.

At the age of fifteen (1927), Hogan and Nelson would face off in Glen Garden’s Caddie Championship. After a tie in the nine-hole match, the two young men went into a playoff. Hogan thought it was to be a sudden death playoff, in which he would have been victorious; but, after the first hole, the boys went to a nine-hole playoff in which Nelson was victorious. Nelson was granted a junior membership with full playing privileges. Hogan got nothing.

At the age of eighteen (1930), Hogan began trying to survive on the professional golf tour, playing when he could and working in pro shops to survive. In 1938, trying to make it on the California tour, Hogan found himself down to his last fifty dollars at the Oakland Open. Seeking to avoid paying the parking fee at the hotel where he was staying, he parked his car across the street. When he came out the next morning to make his way to the tournament, he found his car jacked up on blocks and missing four tires. Hogan was forced to ask Byron Nelson, who was driving a brand new Studebaker, to give him a ride to the course. Hogan had decided to quit the tour. He had some success at Oakland though, and by the end of the year he had won $4,800. The Hogans and Nelsons began to travel with one another, and Hogan’s competitors began to call him “the Hawk” because of his concentrated, piercing vision on the course.

Still planning to play on tour, in 1938, Hogan took an assistant pro’s job at Century Country Club in Purchase, New York, and he soon became the head pro. In 1941, he accepted the head professional position at Hershey Country Club, Hersey, Pennsylvania, where he had won his first tour event, a four-ball event in 1938.

In 1940, at the Texas Open in San Antonio, the formerly warm relationship between Hogan and Nelson was somewhat damaged during a radio interview. During the tournament, Nelson had made a birdie on the eighteenth hole to force a playoff with Hogan the next day. Nelson and Hogan drove to the radio station together. During the interview, Nelson made the usual complimentary and respectful remarks that one would make when playing against a friend like Hogan. Hogan, on the other hand, made “an ill-considered stab a humor,” saying “Byron’s got a good game, but it’d be a lot better if he practiced. He’s too lazy to practice.” “The comment,” Frost writes, “froze the air between them,” and Ben made no effort to retract, conciliate or explain (p. 122). Frost indicates that “from this awkward moment in San Antonio forward these two decent, hardworking friends would drift slowly, almost imperceptibly apart” (p. 124). The next day, Nelson “won their play-off to capture the Texas Open by a single stroke” (p. 124).

Nevertheless, Nelson did assist Hogan.  At the North and South Championship in Pinehurst later that year Nelson arrived with a pair of new prototype drivers that MacGregor Sporting Goods had sent him. Nelson had already picked his favorite of the two, and he offered Hogan the other one to try. Ben hit a few shots and “knew instantly he had found his Excalibur” (p. 125). Hogan won the North and South over Sam Snead (finishing second) and Nelson (finishing third). This was Hogan’s first individual win; many more would soon follow. Hogan won four events in 1940, five in 1941, and six in 1942, winning the money title three years straight.

With Japan’s attack and the U.S.’s involvement in World War II, Hogan had registered for the draft. In March of 1943, he reported for military duty, entering as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The P.G.A. tour would resume, in limited form, in 1944, but Hogan was still in the army. Discharged with the rank of sergeant in 1945, he returned to the tour in time to win five tournaments in the same year Nelson, “Mr. Golf,” had already won eleven straight. In 1946, Hogan won thirteen tournaments, including the P.G.A. Championship. In 1947, he won seven events, and in 1948, he won eleven events, including his second P.G.A. Championship and his first U.S. Open.  Frost writes,

A few national columnists still grumbled that Hogan’s bluntness, cold and mechanical demeanor on the course, and relative lack of social grace in interviews left a great deal to be desired when compared to their memories of the gentlemanly Nelson and the aristocratic [Bob] Jones. One dismissed him as the ‘Frigid Midget,’ and many others were even more unkind. His closest friends were constantly being quoted on the defensive, affirming Ben’s personal warmth, loyalty, and good humor, but few reporters or people had or ever would gain access to the small circle he allowed to show those qualities. For the public at large he remained a forbidding figure, a man on a distant mountaintop, admired but hardly loved (p. 159).

In 1949, Hogan won the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am and, the next week, the Long Beach Open. After the Phoenix Open the following week, an event in which he finished second to Jimmy Demaret, Hogan announced that he would be returning to Fort Worth in order to move him and Valerie into their new home. At eight-thirty in the morining on February 2, a foggy Wednesday, the Hogans were making their way to Fort Worth, heading east from El Paso on a two-lane highway.  A Greyhound bus smashed head-on into their Cadillac. The bus was trying to pass a freight truck on a small bridge, and both vehicles were travelling over fifty miles per hour. Just before impact, Ben Hogan threw himself across the front seat to protect Valerie. As Frost writes, “in trying to save her life [Hogan] saved his own. The steering column rocketed backward through the driver’s seat he’d just vacated and would have killed him instantly” (p. 161).

Hogan was severely injured and came close to death during the next few weeks. He suffered a double fracture of his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, and severe blood clots. After fifty-nine days, Hogan left the El Passo hospital in a rolling bed and traveled by train and ambulance to his new home in Fort Worth. The doctors were not sure he would ever walk again, much less play golf. Recovery was slow and painful, but it came. Hogan began putting again, hitting again, and playing again at what was now his home course, Colonial Country Club. “He took to wrapping both legs from hip to ankle in elastic bandages, a practice that would continue to the end of his playing days, to quicken circulation and encourage any feeling, or illusion, of solidity” (p. 164). By September, he was able to serve as a non-playing Ryder Cup captain. Jimmy Demaret, who was a member of the Ryder Cup team that year, indicated that, in light of Hogan’s battle against enormous odds and horrendous pain, “the American team felt too ashamed to lose” that year (p. 164).

The Cadillac Hogan was Driving When Hit Head-On by a Greyhound Bus

Hogan returned to the P.G.A. Tour in 1950, starting the season at the Los Angeles Open where he tied Sam Snead over seventy-two holes but lost in the eighteen-hole playoff on the following day. Later that year, Hogan won his second U.S. Open and the title of Player of the Year. Sam Snead won eight tournaments that year and secured the money and scoring titles. The year was Snead’s best season, a very impressive season, but the Player of the Year award went to Hogan who had won only one event. Slammin’ Sammy was not happy.

In 1951, Hogan won his first Masters and another U.S. Open. In 1952, he won his own unofficial tournament, the Colonial National Invitational. Also in 1952, the movie of his life, Follow the Sun, starring Glenn Ford, carried Hogan’s story to the public. The apparently unfriendly, tactless, and cold Hogan became a national hero, a sentimental favorite. He was on a first-name basis with President Dwight Eisenhower, and he was in discussions with Marvin Leonard (developer of Colonial National), George Coleman, and Eddie Lowery about the prospect of forming his own company for the production of golf equipment.

In 1953, Hogan won five out of the six tournaments that he entered, and the five that he won included three majors: a second Masters title, a fourth U.S. Open, and an Open Championship. For the latter, Hogan crossed the pond, for his only time, to play for the British title at the difficult Carnoustie venue. He set a new Open scoring record and won the hearts of the British people. Though, they did refer to him as the “Wee Ice Mon” because of his cold, mechanical demeanor and method. When he and Valerie returned home, they were treated to a ticker tape parade down Broadway in New York, an “honor that hadn’t been accorded a golfer since Jones’s triumphant return from England twenty-three years earlier” (p. 169). Unfortunately, the 1953 P.G.A. Championship, a match-play event until 1958, was held at the same time as the British Open, so Hogan was not able to attempt the modern version of the Grand Slam. Nevertheless, his victory in the three major championships that year earned the title of the “Hogan Slam.” It was the only time a golfer had won these three majors in a year until Tiger Woods won them in 2000. Tiger, of course, went on to win the first major in 2001 to complete what has been called the “Tiger Slam.”

Ben Hogan in His Ticker Tape Parade, New York, 1953

Hogan “would never again play a full season on tour or win another major” (p. 170). The Ben Hogan Company opened its doors in 1954; investors included Marvin Leonard, George Coleman, and Eddie Lowery. In 1956, as a favor to an old friend, Bing Crosby, “Hogan traveled north to play in one last Clambake as Bing’s partner, his last go-round at the world’s most popular pro-am” (p. 171). On Tuesday evening before the tournament, he received a call from George Coleman inviting him into a match.

George Coleman (1912-1997)

The Coleman family made a fortune in mining in northeastern Oklahoma, and George had many business interests that served him very well. By 1956, Geroge L. Coleman held an annual cocktail party at the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. Crosby held his own party at the same time, at his home just off the thirteenth green at Peeble Beach, but Crosby’s party was smaller and more subdued. Coleman’s party had become a highly sought-after invitation.

Bing Crosby (1903-1977) and his National Pro-Am or “The Clambake”

In addition to being a singer and actor, Bing Crosby was also a solid golfer. “Crosby carried a single-digit handicap his entire life, won his club championship at Lakeside Golf Club [Hollywood] five times, and qualified for both the U.S. and British Amateur” (p. 14). Near the height of his entertainment stardom, in 1937, Cosby acted on the notion of establishing a casual, friendly golf tournament at the beginning of the year in which pros would be partnered in a better-ball event with show business personalities.

Bing Crosby

The first National Pro-Am Golf Championship was held at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, California, but the opening day was washed out. “Bing tossed some steaks on the grill and sang a few tunes on his own patio, which was just off the back nine. Mixed drinks flowed like the Ganges. Waves of aspiring actresses, unbidden, materialized like woodland nymphs” (p. 15). Because of the party atmosphere, the tournament quickly became known as “The Clambake.” “Bing used to hand out commemorative, handcrafted ceramic fifths of bourbon, whiskey, and brandy – one a day to every participant – so a good percentage were either still lubricated from the night before when they reached the tee, or replastered by the time they finished” (p. 18).

Due to World War II, the event was suspended from 1942 until 1947, when the tournament was moved up the coast to the Monterey Peninsula to be played on courses at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Cypress Point Golf Club, and Pebble Beach. When the P.G.A expressed reluctance about having a tournament played on different courses, Crosby indicated that he would be happy to hold the tournament without P.G.A. sanction and pay the purse from his own pocket.  The P.G.A. relented.

An invitation to play in Crosby’s tournament as a celebrity was of immense value, so much so that in the mid 1950s Crosby began retreating to a house in Baja Mexico to avoid solicitations. Crosby would invite 168 celebrities and assign them handicaps so as to avoid any sandbagging. “Bing always took his pick of playing partners, but never rigged the game, only once coming within five shots of winning his own pro-am.” For his last appearance in the tournament in 1956, as his game was faltering, Crosby recruited four-time U.S. Open champion, Ben Hogan, “the Hawk,” to be his partner.

The Bet: Tuesday, January 10, 1956

Ben Hogan was one of Coleman’s houseguests during the Clambake of 1956, but he was Crosby’s partner and had gone to Crosby’s house at about seven-thirty for dinner. Close to when the Hogans left the Colemans, Eddy Lowery and Byron Nelson, who was Lowery’s partner and houseguest for the week, arrived for Coleman’s party.

Lowery began touting the golfing talents of two young salesmen, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. “These two ambitious young talents hadn’t lost a best-ball match to any other team anywhere in the world during the four years they’d been playing together, and they had played hundreds of them, in every imaginable circumstance” (p. 153).  Once or twice during the evening, Lowery said that his two amateur car salesmen could beat any two players in the world, amateurs or professionals. Coleman took Lowery up on his boasting and proposed a wager. The exact amount of the wager is confused, but memories range from five to twenty thousand dollars. Lowery agreed to the terms.

Coleman, now, had only to arrange for two challengers. He picked up the phone, called over to Bing Crosby’s house, and asked Ben Hogan, his houseguest for the week, if he would play with Byron Nelson against Venturi and Ward. Hogan and Nelson, by this time, had a somewhat rocky relationship, but Colemen told Hogan that Nelson had agreed. So, Hogan agreed. Then, Coleman asked Nelson, telling him that Hogan would do it if he would. Nelson agreed, and the match was set.

When Coleman announced his two challengers, “Eddie swallowed hard” (p. 35). Then, resigned, Lowery brazenly said, “Well, they’ll beat them too!”

Coleman announced that they had a tee time at eleven to play the match at Pebble Beach, but that announcement was made just to throw everyone off the track.  Coleman was trying to keep the crowd down. He would get a time around ten o’clock at Cypress Point the next morning.

Lowery called Venturi and asked him to name two men in the field or in the world with whom he most would like to play. Ken, without delay, replied, “Byron and Ben. Why?” Venturi had played with both men on separate occasions and looked up to them as two of the game’s greats. Lowery informed Venturi of the impending match. Venturi and Ward were both planning on playing a practice round for the Clambake the next day anyway. Venturi asked Lowery if he thought Hogan and Nelson would mind a little side bet with he and Ward. Lowery was sure that a side bet could be arranged. Lowery then called over to Crosby’s home expecting to talk to Ward, but no one had seen Harvie.

The Match: Wednesday, January 11, 1956

At a little before nine, Lowery and Venturi were the first to drive up at Cypress Point on Wednesday, January 11, 1956. Bryon Nelson arrived at a quarter past nine. Shortly thereafter, Coleman arrived with Hogan.

By this time the personnel at Cypress Point were beginning to suspect that something interesting could be happening. Trying to figure things out, the professional at Cypress Point, Henry Puget, called over to Pebble Beach and asked the pro there, Art Bell, if he were coming over to play with his Clambake parter, Ken Venturi, against Hogan and Nelson. Bell responded negatively and indicated that Hogan had a tee time at Peeble for eleven o’clock.

The last to appear at Cypress Point was Harvie Ward. Ward rolled up in a “new red Mercury Montclair.” Ward had been out partying the night before and was operating with a serious hangover on only two hours of sleep. He found out about the match from Lowery at seven that morning. While Coleman and Lowery had the larger wager, Hogan and Nelson agreed to the one-hundred dollar Nassau proposed by Ward.  The match began. 

Caddie master, Joey Solis, “picked up the phone and began calling friends around the Peninsula to tell them about what was going on at Cypress.” (p. 60). As the group played, more and more cars drove in to Cypress Point, more and more people joined the gallery.  Solis, who, in the words of Frost, had “banged the jungle drums,” later estimated that five to ten thousand people filtered their way to Cypress Point to watch the match (p. 133).  Dozens of professional and amateurs in the Clambake field were among the spectators.

Coleman and Lowery had planned to play their own little match that day, but due to the exceptional quality of play among the primary foursome, Coleman and Lowery gave up their on rounds. 

The level of play was transcendent. Ben Hogan “tied his own course record at Cypress Point” with sixty-three (p. 184). Ken Venturi shot sixty-five. Both Byron Nelson and Harvie Ward shot sixty-seven. Spread among the four players were twenty-seven birdies and an eagle. Hogan and Nelson had shot a better ball score of fifty-eight, fourteen under par, to win the match one up after eighteen holes against Venturi and Ward who had themselves shot a score of fifty-nine. The one-up victory was due to an eagle Hogan scored on the tenth, holing an eighty-five yard shot. On the long, difficult par-three sixteenth, unbelieveably, both Nelson and Ward hit their balls within five or six feet to make birdies.  

After the match, “Ken and Harvie threw their arms around each other’s shoulders, their first loss as a team in four years, but considering the circumstances, they were happy in defeat; they had held their own against the two greatest pros of the age, and there was no shame in that” (p. 183).  Hogan and Nelson refused to accept the two-hundred dollars they had won from Venturi and Ward. Paying off a wager would have trivialized or profaned the golf that had been played. As for the bet between Coleman and Lowery, no one knows. “Greorge Coleman once hinted that in the wake of the events they’d witnessed, they had come to a mutal decision that the only gentlemanly thing to do was forget about their wager….” (p. 185). They, too, did not wish to sully or taint the extraordinary phenomena they had witnessed.

As they sat around Cypress Point afterwards, each player had one drink. Nelson “drank lemonade and iced tea.” Venturi had a beer. Hogan and Ward drank Scotches on Rocks. They congratulated each other on their play and spoke of how badly they wanted to win. Ward said that he and Venturi wanted to beat Hogan and Nelson “like a tied-up goat” (p. 185). “Ben held out his drink. The other three raised theirs and touched glass. Nothing else needed to be said” (p. 186).

The Aftermath

Ken Venturi (b. 1931)

Ken Venturi made his second appearance in the Masters later in 1956. He entered the final round with a four-shot lead, but played poorly. Pressed by reporters, Venturi uttered comments that were construed as weak excuses and whinny complaints. “He was labeled a sore loser, a crybaby, and, worst of all, a choker” (p. 191). Days later, a telegram supposedly written by Venturi appeared in newspapers. The telegram apologized and explained that his statements had been grossly misinterpreted. Venturi, however, had not written the telegram; Lowery had written it without Venturi’s knowledge. Lowery defended his actions to an angry Venturi by citing his standing in the arena of golf and his membership at Augusta National. Lowery believed the telegram had to be written; Venturi did not believe that he had said anything wrong, and he did not appreciate Lowery stealing his name.

In the fall of 1956, Lowery offered Venturi the chance to manage the Lake Merced dealership of Van Etta Motors. Venturi declined the offer, informing Lowery that he intended to turn professional. Venturi toruned pro in November, but a P.G.A. rule required a waiting period of six months.

From 1957 through 1960, Venturi won ten tournaments, but he went winless from 1960 through 1963. In 1964, battling heat and fatigue in thirty-six holes of play, Venturi won the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club outside of Washington, D.C. Venturi became the P.G.A. Player of the Year in 1964, and he was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated. Venturi would win four more times on tour. He was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and turned to broadcasting in 1967, working as a golf commentator for the Columbia Broadcasting System (C.B.S.), a job he would hold for thirty-five years, retiring in 2002.

Venturi and his first wife, Conni, were divorced in 1970. He remarried to Beau Wheat in 1972, but she died from brain cancer in 1997. He married a third time, to Kathleen, in 2003.

Harvie Ward (1925-2004)

Later in 1956, Ward won the U.S. Amateur for a second time in a row. He finished fourth in the Masters, but then his world went awry. Someone connected with Van Etta Motors informed that Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) that the owner, Eddie Lowery, was cheating on his taxes. The I.R.S. launched a full investigation that resulted in  Lowery’s indictment on the charge of “felony income tax evasions” (p. 196).  All the expenses that Lowery had claimed as business related came to the surface, and among those expenses was airfare that Lowery had paid in Ward’s behalf so that Ward could play in various tournaments, “including the Masterrs, the National Amateur, and the 1954 Canadian Amateur” (p. 196). The I.R.S. also charged that Lowery had “illegally gifted” eleven thousand dollars to Ward in the form of what Lowery called a “loan.”

When the news came to the attention to the Executive Committee of the U.S.G.A., members were compelled to act. Lowery, while serving during the previous three years as a member of the Executive Committee, had been questioned about his actions (in 1954 and, again, in the summer of 1956). Francis Ouimet, who had experienced his own bouts with the U.S.G.A. over amateur status, actually spoke in behalf of Lowery, urging the body to allow amateurs to accept expense money is some circumstances. The body took no action for or against Lowery at the time, but Lowery did not seek another term on the Executive Committee.

Now that the I.R.S was involved, the U.S.G.A. felt the need to pursue the inquiry. Ward received a telegram from Joe Dey, the U.S.G.A.’s Executive Director, summoning Ward to address questions related to his amateur status. On June 7, 1957, Ward attended a formal hearing at Glen View Golf Club in Golf, Illinois. Ward defended the fact that Lowery paid his airfare to tournament sites by arguing that he represented the interest and sales of Van Etta Motors at these tournaments.  Ward also argued that the eleven thousand dollars Lowery had given him constituted a “no-interest promisory note for him to invest in the stock market” (p. 200). Ward indicated that he could pay the laon back now at any time.  Later that afternoon, Richard Tufts informed Ward that “he had unanimously been found in violation of the Rules of Amateur Status” (p. 201). Since the Committee found that Ward may have been misguided in these matters by Lowery, he would serve only a one year suspension rather than two. Ward could apply for reinstatement of his amateur status in 1958. “And with that, in golf circles around the globe, the best amteur to emerge from North America over the last twenty years was now persona non grata” (p. 202).

The U.S.G.A. sent a letter to Lowery the following week. The Executive Committee, in the letter, concluded that Lowery had broken the rules and stated the following.   “The Committee … with deep regret, deplores this and the very awkward situation you have created in your relationship with the Association…” (p. 203).

Ward had a high regard for amateur golf and felt as though he had been led astray by Lowery. He would leave Van Etta Motors within a year, and the five years he had spent there “would later disappear from his resume” (p. 205). Ward began drinking a lot. His first marriage came to an end in less than three years. Indicating their opinion of the U.S.G.A.’s ruling, Bob Jones and Clifford Roberts invited Ward to play in the 1958 Masters while Ward was still serving his suspension. The U.S.G.A. has little control over the Masters.  Ward played, but he played poorly. Ward was urged to turn pro and, thereby, resolve the issue in a very simple manner.  Ward, though, believed that his itegrity and honor were at stake.

Ward recovered his amateur status in May of 1958, but he never recovered his stellar game. In 1959, though, he made his third Walker Cup team and for a third time he went undefeated.  Along with Jack Nicklaus, Ward “led the American side to victory” (p. 206).

Ward became more and more reclusive and evasive.  He gave up golf  for a while after 1962.  Then, in 1974, Ward finally declared himself a professional and tried to play on mini tours. “Three years later, he was living hand to mouth, reduced to giving golf lessons in a downtown San Franciso discount department store…” (p. 214). Some friends from North Carolina, however, asked him to join the golf staff at a new resort called Foxfire, near Pinehurst.  Ward spent ten years as head pro at Foxfire and, then, became director of golf at Nicklaus’ new Grand Cypress Club in Orlando, Florida.  After three years at Grand Cypress, Ward moved on the nearby Interlachen Golf Club.  He finally met the love of his life, Joanne Dillon, and in late 1980s  moved back to North Carolina, the state in which he was born, to be with her.  Ward also played on the P.G.A. Senior Tour from 1980 through 1990, but without a lot of success.

Working at Southern Pines, near Pinehurst, Ward was named “Teacher of the Year” by the P.G.A. in 1990.  Ward’s most famous student was Payne Stewart with whom he began working in the 1980s.  In 2004, Ward was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. He made one last trip to Monterey and played at Cypress Point a final round during which he talked about the events of The Match.  Word of Ward’s visit seeped out, and many admirers were on hand to see him.  He died later that year.

Eddie Lowery (1902-1984)

Lowery continued to sell cars, and he continued to assist players from the San Francico area. One of those players was “Champagne” Tony Lema. Lema joined the tour in 1957 and won the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1964. Lema perished in 1966 when a plane he and his wife had chartered ran out of fuel and crashed. Lowery died in 1984.

Byron Nelson (1912-2006)

Nelson continued to ranch, but in 1963 he joined the American Broadcasting Company (A.B.C.) as a golf commentator. Nelson was working the broadcast at the 1964 when his pupil and friend, Ken Venturi, staggered his way to victory in the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Nelsons’s wife, Louise, experienced a stroke in 1983, and she died in 1950. They had been married for fifty years. Nelson married Peggy Simmons, a woman thirty-three years younger than he, in 1986. Nelson died quietly and peacefully in 2006.

Ben Hogan (1912-1997)

As the years passed, Hogan experienced putting issues. He would get stuck; he was unable to start his stroke. Also, the chronic suffering that stemmed from Hogan’s automobile accident worsened with age. He was playing less and less public golf.

In 1960, Hogan sold his golf equipment company, the Ben Hogan Company, to American Machine and Foundry (A.M.F.). He continued to serve on the board, though, for several years. After 1984, the Ben Hogan line was bought and sold on numerous occasions. In 2003, the line was bought by Callaway Golf Company; but, in 2008, Callaway discontinued the manufactue and sale of Ben Hogan golf equipment.

Hogan advised Marvin Leonard in the design and construction of Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth. Leonard, who had built Colonial Golf Club earlier in his life, was determined to build a course on the 1,220 acres he had found just seven miles from downtown Fort Worth, despite Hogan’s counsel against the project. Later in life, though, Hogan found refuge at Shady Oaks, rarely leaving the immediate area. I had the pleasure of meeting Ben Hogan during brunch at Shady Oaks in 1981. Hogan and I were not eating together; we met in the brunch line. We spoke for just a couple of minutes. He shook my hand and was very pleasant. Hogan died in 1997 at the age of eighty-four.

George Coleman (1912-1997)

Hogan’s friend, George Coleman, spent a lot time at Seminole Golf Club, Juno Beach, Florida. He served as a member of the Board of Governors at Seminole beginning in 1958 and served as President of the Club from 1981 until 1992 when he became President Emeritus. Hogan would visit Coleman at Seminole; and, in fact, find below a link to a wonderful video of Hogan demonstrating his swing at Coleman’s home on the beach in 1977, when Hogan was sixty-five years of age. Coleman died just a few days before Hogan in 1997. He and Hogan were the same age, eighty-four.

HOGAN HITTING BALLS AT COLEMAN’S HOME ON THE BEACH IN 1977

Bing Crosby (1903-1997)

Crosby died in 1977, at the age seventy-four. He had shot eighty-five at Club de Golf La Moreleja outside Madrid, Spain, and he was walking off the eighteenth green. He told his playing partners, “’That was a great round of golf, fellas,’ took another step, and died instantly of a massive heart attack” (p. 215).

The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever

Frost’s subtitle for The Match is The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever. He is referring to the change from amateur to professional golf. The economics of professional golf changed so drastically in the late 1950s that amateurs who could win professional golf tournaments would be financially foolish to remain amateurs. Frost writes, “the career gentleman amateur like Bob Jones and these two men [Venturi and Ward] is officially an archaic figure, gone the way of the buffalo and the buggy whip. For two generations the game hasn’t produced a player who could seriously contend in a major championship and was content to remain an amateur” (p. 231). From that day in 1956 onward, finding amateurs, like Venturi and Ward, who could contend with professionals, like Nelson and Hogan, would become increasingly more difficult.  In general, sticky amateur situations, like those in which Ward found himself, would be resolved by the simple fact that amateurs could not long afford to ignore the professional money.

Conclusion

I have read Frost’s other golf books: The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Grand Slam. All three books are well worth reading, but The Match may be Frost’s best golf book.   There are, I think, a couple of factual errors, but nothing too disturbing.  I’m awarding The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever a full sleeve of balls.

For related reviews, see The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Grand Slam .

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

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