This Day in Hogan History: 1948 Western Open Victory
By: Mark Baron – On August 2, 1948, Ben Hogan shot a course record 64 to win an 18-hole playoff against Ed “Porky” Oliver by nine strokes to win Western Open held at the Brookfield Country Club in Buffalo New York and earned $2,500.
Back in its day, the Western Open was considered a “Major” as every golfer wanted to win this tournament because it had one of the highest payoffs in its day and the prestige associated with it. Byron Nelson was quoted “We looked at the Western Open and the North and South as majors in our day because the companies, the sponsors, offered bonuses for winning them, just like they did for the U. S. Open and the PGA”.
In the first round, Clayton Heafner opened with a six under par, 34 -33 – 67 to take a one stroke lead over Hogan’s 68. Ben had a chance to tie for the lead but three putting the 225-yard par three 15th hole. Walter Hagen, who won this tournament five times, watched as his amateur son shot an 80.
Ben was one stroke behind after the second round to a little known 33-year old driving range operator, Michael Parco, who never held a pro job at a club, shot a 67 to add to his opening round 69 for a 36-hole total of 136. Ben shot a 70 to go along with his first round 67. Parco was a B-17 gunner in WWII, who flew 24 missions. He called his wife after the round and told her: “I did pretty good again today. Be home in a bit.”
In the third round, Hogan shot his third consecutive sub-par round, a 36 – 34 – 70 for a 54 hole total of 207, nine under par and three ahead of the field. Ben had five birdies, but hit three poor shots including a stubbed shot on the par 5 fourth hole where his ball only advanced a foot on a short approach. On the 17th hole he was 11 under par, but hit his tee shot out of bounds and then three-putted for a double bogie. Ed Oliver came in with a 70 for a 210 total in second place. Parco, the second round leader shot a 75 to end up in third with a 211.
In the fourth round, Ben started with a three stroke lead over Oliver, but shot a two over par 74 while Oliver, described as “the Pudgy Papa of Three” and “Seattle Fat Boy”, shot a one under par 71. Ben started very poorly in the fourth round, with bogies on three of the first four holes, but still held a one shot advantage due to Oliver’s bogie on the second. But with a birdie on the seventh hole, the match was all even. Both birdied the long eighth and parred the ninth. Hogan bogied the tenth with a wayward tee shot and his second ending up in a bunker, while Oliver parred. With a birdie on the 14th hole by virtue of a 15 foot putt, Oliver took a two stroke advantage. Hogan evened the match with pars on 15th and 17th holes. Oliver bogied those holes by hitting in a sand trap on the 15th and three putting on the 17th. Hogan had a chance to win the tournament outright on the 18th but his 20 foot putt curled away from the cup missing by inches.
The 18-hole playoff, held the next day was no contest as Ben shot eight under par to beat the course record by two strokes and defeat Oliver by nine strokes, the most lopsided playoff victory since Bobby Jones defeated Al Espinosa by 23 shots in the 36 hole playoff for the 1929 US Open. Oliver shot a one over par 73. Ben’s only bogie, of the round came when he hit his chip shot too hard on the third hole. He carded a 32 – 31 for a 64. Hogan had nothing by fours and threes on his scorecard, registering seven birdies, one eagle and one bogie. By winning the $2,500 first prize, Hogan boosted his tour leading tournament winnings to $25,297.50.
This victory was the fifth of six in a row for Hogan, which is tied the third longest winning streak in professional golf. The streak started with the U.S. Open at Riviera Country Club, followed by the Inverness Four Ball Tournament (Teaming with Jimmy Demaret), the Motor City Open and the Reading Open. His sixth victory came at the Denver Open Invitational Championship.
With this win Ben became the first golfer to hold the US Open, the PGA Championship and Western Open titles in the same calendar year.
1948 was a great year for Ben. He won a total of 10 tournaments (the most on the tour) including six in a row and the three most prestigious championships on the tour at that time, the Western Open, the US Open and the PGA Championship, was awarded the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average on tour (69.90), was the tour’s leading money winner ($36,812) and was voted the “PGA Player-of-the-Year”.
Ben took the next several weeks off after this tournament due to what he was quoted as movie commitments, but the tournament that was scheduled for the next week was the Tam O’Shanter and even though he was the defending champion and it had the highest payout of the year (Lloyd Mangrum won $15,000 for the victory, compared to that of Hogan’s win this week at the Western Open of $2,500), he refused to play because the organizer of the event, George S. May, had all of the players wear numbers on their backs so they could be easily recognized by the fans and press, which Ben found distasteful. When it was decided that the caddies would wear the numbers, Ben agreed to participate in the following years.
It was during this week in 1948 that the Olympics kicked off in Wembley England with the Americans dominating in the medals race.
Mark Baron is a Ben Hogan expert who posts daily about the legend. Check out Mark's huge following on the Ben Hogan Facebook Page and stay tuned for special Hogan anniversaries for Mark's insight. Check out the page here: www.facebook.com/benhogangolf