The legendary golfer Ben Hogan was so devoted to the game that he sometimes practiced until his hands bled.
Overcoming a car accident in 1949 that nearly killed him mid-career, Hogan went on to win nine major titles and stands squarely in the pantheon of golf 17 years after his death in 1997.
Living up to that famous surname, Princeton resident Bill Hogan has displayed his love of golf in his own way over the last decade. A member of the Bedens Brook Club in Skillman, he has averaged 200 rounds of golf a year from 2004-2013.
Hogan, who turns 76 this week, achieved the feat of a golfing lifetime last December when he shot a round lower than his age, carding a 73.
Like the golf legend, the Princeton Hogan was introduced to the sport through a summer job.
“I started playing golf when I started caddying at age 14,” said Hogan, a native of Hawthorne, N.J. who worked at the Ridgewood Country Club. “We were allowed to play on Mondays.”
As a teenager, Hogan actually crossed paths with his namesake. “I did caddie for Ben Hogan at Ridgewood when I was 19,” recalled Hogan, noting that the main attraction that day was a trick shot artist named Paul Hahn.
“I introduced myself to Hogan and told him that I was Bill Hogan and he said huh. He didn’t say much the whole time.On the practice range, he had me stand 140 yards away and he was hitting shots on one bounce to me one after the another. I knew every blade of grass on that course and he never once asked me for any help, he was doing it all on his own. It was a Monday exhibition and he was still so focused.”
After playing basketball and baseball in high school, Hogan’s last name led to him joining the golf team at Montclair State.
“My phys. ed. teacher was also the golf coach,” said Hogan, whose career goal was to became a coach and a teacher.
“I was planning to play baseball and one day he saw me headed to practice with my spikes and he saw me and said you are named Hogan, you can’t play baseball. He convinced me to join the golf team.”
While Hogan wasn’t a star for Montclair State, he had his moments.
“I was shooting in the mid-80s,” said Hogan. “We played in the collegiate open in Bethpage that had about 120 players. I shot an 83 and finished in the top 10 percent. I probably should have quit after that.”
After graduation in 1960, Hogan coached basketball and taught math at two Catholic high schools in Northern Jersey. He took a job with IBM in 1965 and moved to Princeton in 1968 when he became a sales manager at the company’s Trenton office. He coached the Notre Dame High boys’ hoops team from 1969-73 in his spare time. Raising a family and busy with his career, Hogan didn’t play a lot of golf from 1972-85.
Joining Bedens Brook in 1985, Hogan renewed his passion for the game and began playing on a 12-month basis, aided by the fact that he is working from home running his own management consulting business.
In 2001, he started keeping track of how many rounds he was playing on an annual basis, getting out 161 times that year. He played 2001 rounds from 2004-2013, with a high of 231 in 2012. Last year, he needed 225 rounds to hit the 200 average and he ended up playing 226 as he hit the course twice in the last week of December.
Noting with a chuckle that playing so often has not improved his game, Hogan does not take part in many tournaments.
“I don’t play much in competition, some Bedens Brook events like the member-member, and member-guest,” said Hogan, explaining that he sometimes plays alone and also has some regular playing partners.
“I have played some Trenton District stuff. I have played in the Bedens Brook seniors championship for players 70 and older and won it four straight times. I was second last year and third this year.”
Last December 3, though, he put in a championship effort as he carded a 73 to achieve the bucket list item of shooting his age.
“It has been a goal but I thought that when I got near 80, I would have a good chance so I wasn’t thinking about it that day,” said Hogan
“When I had 34 on front 9, I needed a 41 on the back and I have done that a lot of times. But then I had four bogies on the back 9 and I needed to par 17 and 18. No. 17 is a par 5 and my third shot was a 9-iron and I thought this was it. I took about 15 practice swings and hit a real good shot, about 6-7 feet from the hole. I sunk the birdie putt. I was so loose that I went and parred the 18th.”
Hogan’s current golfing goal is to keep out on the course as long as possible. “I want to stay healthy enough to keep playing,” said Hogan, who had played 76 rounds in 2014 headed into the last week of June. “I carry my bag most of the time. I have done that since I started caddying.”
For Hogan, the allure of the game comes from chasing perfection. “It is a sport you can’t master but tomorrow you think you will be better,” said Hogan, who hasn’t achieve a hole-in-one but notes that he has five eagles, two hit with a 5-wood, one with a 3-iron, one with a 3-wood, and another with a 9-iron. “There are those shots that bring you back, like my 9-iron on 17 the day I shot my age.”