Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Secret Society of Hogan Bootleggers

Something just jogged my memory and reminded me of an hour or so I spent with a friend, a golf pro, a few years back.

My friend had a stash of videos - almost all of them of poor quality, from having been recorded and re-recorded so many times - of Ben Hogan's swing. Golf pros and Hogan are like high school football geeks and game film. These are guys who have the game film from the game in which Kenneth Hall set the Texas state rushing record back in the 1950s, or the 1971 (or was it '72?) state championship game where Tommy Kramer led San Antonio Lee to a stirring victory. And once a month they get together with their fellow high school football geeks and watch the games all over again. (Yes, these people actually exist.)

My friend's Hogan video collection included such things as copies of television commercials Hogan made in the late 1970s and early 1980s for Ben Hogan Golf, commercials in which he was shown hitting shots. These are the scraps of video on which the Hogan bootleggers hang their hats. (Some of these have shown up YouTube.) Another was a very poor-quality clip from the 1950s of Hogan hitting balls on a range prior to the start of a PGA Tour event. My golf pro friend stopped-and-started the video, backing up, switching to slow-mo, pointing out things I couldn't even see because of the quality of the video.

Like the high school football geeks, the golf pros cart their Hogan booty to conventions and gatherings, and huddle around TV screens oohing, aahing, and comparing notes about the master.

But this golf pro's prize Hogan bootleg is a home movie shot by friends of Hogan's during a visit from The Hawk to their Florida home in the late '70s or early '80s. This is a personal videotape, friends talking, Hogan and his hosts hitting balls in the backyard - which was the Florida coastline. So there is Hogan, barefoot in the sand and surf, hitting balls into the Atlantic Ocean. My friend asked me never to reveal his identity, but the bootleg-purity of this particular video is so good that he wouldn't even tell me, privately, how he got it.

But the highlight comes when Hogan's host (or at least the person holding the camera) asks Ben to demonstrate his swing in slow-motion. The camera doesn't have a slow-mo setting, so Ben sets up to the ball, does his waggles and looks down the "fairway," takes the club back, takes it through impact, and makes his follow-through, and the whole thing takes about two minutes.

Now, many instructors are strong believers in the helpfulness of practicing one's swing in slow-motion. What was amazing about Hogan's slow-mo show for the camera was that, when the tape was speeded up, it matched exactly his actual swing. I mean, exactly. And he was in his late 60s or early 70s at the time, yet there was no difference from the swing of his prime. This was a man who knew his swing, who felt it in his bones and muscles. And Hogan's swing in slow-motion - complete with commentary from the man himself - makes this beach video the holy grail for the Hogan bootleggers.

Editor's Note: Good news - the Hogan slow-motion beach video is now online! And when you watch it, you'll notice that Bogey mis-remembered a few of the details. But no mind - watch it now. - flogger

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