“After Hogan’s Accident, Doctors Initially Told Him He’d Never Play Again”
By Mark Baron – On February 2, 1949 at 8:30 AM, Ben and his wife Valerie were driving east on Highway 80 near Van Horn, Texas in very foggy conditions. An oncoming Greyhound Bus trying to pass a truck hit the Hogan’s car head on. Ben stretched across the passenger seat to protect his wife, saving her from significant injury and saving his life as the steering column was rammed into the back of his seat. The entire left side of Ben’s body was crushed, including his pelvis, ankle, knee, rib, collarbone and shoulder. He sustained injuries to his internal organs and incurred damage to his left eye which worsened as he grew older.
Ben and Valerie were traveling back home to Ft. Worth after playing in the Phoenix Open. The previous night, they stayed at the El Capitan Hotel in Van Horn which was about half way between Phoenix and Ft. Worth. That fateful morning, the Hogan’s departed for the second leg of the journey. Coming in the opposite direction was a 20,000-pound Greyhound bus, running late. The driver of the bus was trying to make up time and speeding at over 50-miles per hour. Despite the fog that severely cut visibility, the driver decided to pass a truck on a bridge. The Hogan’s were traveling very cautiously at about 25 miles per hour, but in spite of their caution they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They suddenly saw the headlights of the bus
emerge from the fog heading straight for them. Valerie said in a strangely calm voice, “Honey, I think he’s going to hit us.” The concrete barriers on the side of the bridge prevented them from moving out of the way. As this was a time before seat belts (they became common practice in 1958), Ben dove across the passenger seat to protect his wife. The car was crushed, trapping them inside. Ben lay unconscious on Valerie’s lap, for a brief time she thought he was dead. Some of the passerby’s who stopped tried to help the Hogan’s get out of the car. Ben, falling in and out of consciousness was afraid the car would catch on fire said, “I’m not hurt. Help my wife. I’ll be okay” then passed out in a state of shock. It took over 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive; while they were waiting Valerie approached the driver of the bus and said “You coward. Why don’t you go over and see what you’ve done to my husband?” It took another 2 ½ hours for the ambulance to take him to the Hotel Dieu Hospital in El Paso, Texas.
The news wires first reported that Hogan was dead. At the Tucson Country Club, Ben’s friend, Jimmy Demaret was playing in a pro-am golf tournament when Del Webb the owner of the New York Yankees told him that Hogan had just been killed in a car crash. Demaret walked off the course and called the Texas State Highway Department to find out that he was not dead, but injured and at the Hospital. Demaret said, “It felt good, damned good to know he was alive.”
Friends of Ben and fellow professional golfers, Herman Keiser and Dutch Harrison drove to the Hotel Dieu Hospital in El Paso to check on Ben. In a moment of lucidity, Ben recognized Keiser and said: “Herman would you check on my clubs?” He took Ben’s clubs from the trunk of his car and put them under his hospital bed, insuring Ben would know they were safe.
Prior to the accident, Ben was known as a professional golfer who won a lot of tournaments. After the accident when the story hit the newsstands how he bravely protected his wife from injury he became an international hero.
During his convalescence, people said he would never walk again. When he started walking, they said he wouldn’t be able to play golf again. When he started golfing, they said he would never play competitive golf again. When he started back on the tour they said he would never win again. He went on to win 12 more tournaments, including six majors, motivated by the people who said he couldn’t. They might have known better than to count out Mr. Hogan.
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