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Ben Hogan wins U.S. Open with courageous comeback

On June 11, 1950, Ben Hogan bests Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio in an 18-hole playoff at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, to win the U.S. Open.

About 16 months earlier, on February 2, 1949, Ben Hogan and his wife Valerie had been involved in a near-fatal car accident when a Greyhound bus swerved out into oncoming traffic to pass a truck and crashed into Hogan’s car head on. Hogan dove across the passenger seat to shield his wife as the engine was driven into the driver’s seat and the steering wheel into the backseat. While Valerie suffered only minor injuries, Hogan suffered a broken collarbone, broken ankle, broken ribs and a double fracture of his pelvis. While in the hospital, a blood clot appeared in his leg, forcing doctors to tie off the surrounding veins to keep the clot from reaching his heart. Hogan’s legs atrophied, and doctors worried he would never walk again, let alone golf.

Amazingly, just eleven months later in January 1950, Hogan returned to competition for the Los Angeles Open, fittingly held at “Hogan’s Alley,” the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, where he had won the 1948 U.S. Open. Golf pundits predicted that Hogan would be able to compete, but only for the first day or two, as his weakened legs would not carry him for all four days and 72 holes of a tournament. They were wrong. At the end of regulation, he was tied with Sam Snead, but lost in a playoff.

Six months later at the U.S. Open, Hogan was openly annoyed when reporters pestered him with questions about his legs. “I feel fine” was the most reporters could get out of the Texan, who was determined to win the championship for the second time in his career. Going into the final round, Lloyd Mangrum, the 1946 U.S. Open champion, had the lead, two strokes ahead of Hogan. Hoping to see a comeback many considered impossible, 15,000 people followed Hogan on the tournament’s last day, under a beating sun, as the former champion walked and played 36 holes. Hogan played consistently the first two rounds, putting himself in position for a championship push on the final day.

To the fans’ great delight, Hogan clawed his way into the lead in the final round, and had a chance to win the tournament if he could par the last four holes. Instead, he bogeyed two of the four, and ended the round in a disappointing tie with Mangrum and George Fazio, a golf pro from Washington, D.C. In the ensuing 18-hole playoff, Hogan put on an inspirational show, turning in a 69 and besting Lloyd Mangrum by four strokes and George Fazio by six to take home his second U.S. Open title. In his career, Hogan would win the tournament twice more, in 1951 and 1953.

Hogan is one of only five players–Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods–to win all four Grand Slam titles. He and Tiger Woods are the only golfers to have won three out of the four current majors in one year. Hogan accomplished the feat in 1953, when he won the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open.

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