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ROSIEDIDYAKNOWZI: Can Tiger Comeback Like Ben Hogan?

(Jim Rose)
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April 8, 2022
(Jim Rose)

At ten Omaha time Thursday morning, Tiger Woods—once the world’s greatest - will do something quite remarkable.

He’ll tee off in The Masters, on arguably golf’s most famous golf course in search of the game’s most coveted title as a walking, albeit gingerly, symbol of perseverance. Fourteen months ago, Woods, driving recklessly, left a curvy highway in California, tumbled down a hill and slammed into a tree.  

Woods is deservedly receiving a global shower of well wishes and hopes for a memorable weekend, perhaps even a win.  It would rank among the seminal moments in American sports. A confirmation of man’s will to overcome adversity.

But it would be only the 2nd most remarkable comeback in golf.

2:00am, February 2, 1949.  On a lonely 2-lane highway 80, 37 miles west of Van Horn, TX, a late model Cadillac carrying the greatest sportsman of his time and his wife were navigating ice and fog heading home. Traveling just 25 miles per hour, they came upon a narrow bridge unable to see barely beyond the hood ornament. Suddenly, two giant beams filled the windshield. It was a 20,000-pound Greyhound bus passing another vehicle. The Cadillac driver jerked the wheel to the right then FLUNG himself across his wife as the bus came barreling toward them at 50 miles an hour.

If not for these actions, they both would have been killed. She thrown through the windshield, he crushed by the car engine which jammed through the steering column.

She suffered only minor injuries but his were severe. Broken left ankle, multiple contusions, a fractured collarbone, cracked ribs, a broken pelvis, head abrasions and internal bleeding. It took an hour to painfully pull his mangled body from the junk heap. There were no cellphones, somebody hoofed it to a farmhouse hoping to roust a highway patrolman out of bed.  It would be 90 minutes before an ambulance arrived.

In the El Paso hospital, doctors were sure he was a goner. Certainly, he’d never walk right again. Thirty days into his 59-day stay, blood clots formed. One got loose into his right lung. He should have died then. A specialist was flown in from New Orleans. He tied off the Vena Cava, the main artery from his heart to his legs. The trade for no clots? A lifetime of agonizing pain, daily ice baths followed by hot water and Epsom salt treatments.

By now, you know about whom I’m speaking. The great Ben Hogan, who the year prior in 1948 had captured 10 tour wins, including the US Open, PGA, and the Vardon Trophy.  In the previous three years, he’d won 37 tournaments.  

He was Tiger Woods.

On April 1st, sixty days after the accident, he came home. Ambulance staff carried Hogan through his front door.

By May 1st, he could walk three holes. Now the worry was the collarbone. Not set properly could he ever again make that famous shoulder turn?

Ten months after the accident, he played his first round. Not well, but he made it through all 18 holes.

Eleven months after the accident, he teed off in the Los Angeles Open at hilly Riviera and was tied for the lead after 72 holes with fellow legend Sam Snead. Never mind he lost the playoff, the world was fully astonished just five months later when he defeated both Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio in an 18 hole playoff to capture the US Open.

Just 16 months from lying near death in a broken body on a cold, foggy Texas highway, Ben Hogan had re-ascended to the top of the sporting world. He would add five more majors:  Two Masters, two more US Opens and the 1953 British, after which he was given a ticker tape parade through New York’s Canyon of Champions.

The weary, aching legs shortened his promising career. Only 11 of his 67 victories came after the crash. The 1960 US Open was the last major in which he contended.

They say history is often enhanced by time. That the feats of today’s heroes however impressive don’t quite match those of past legends. Sometimes, they’re right.

Jim Rose can be heard daily on 1110 KFAB from 5:30-9:00am.  The audio version of this commentary can be found on kfab.com/podcasts and iHeart Radio

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