Should Ben Hogan get credit for a 5th U.S. Open?

During his career as golfs great shotmaker, Ben Hogan collected four gold medals for winning the U.S. Open four times.

But Hogan owned a fifth medal, identical to the others in every way but one. On the back of the medal was an inscription for his victory in the Hale America National Open Golf Championship.

The story of Hogan and the 1942 Hale America tournament is a tale of sports on the home front, individual accomplishment and a can-do spirit among organizers who somehow pulled off the event.

Seventy-five years later, golfs greatest players will gather this week at Erin Hills Golf Course for the 117th U.S. Open.

Theyll be competing for a purse and blasting shots over a course that would have been unimaginable to those pros who assembled in 1942 at Chicagos Ridgemoor Country Club.

If not for Hogans victory, the Hale America would be a little-remembered tournament, played just once during World War II.

World War II put U.S. Open on hold

But over the years, there has been the inevitable question among golf historians: Should the Hale count as Hogans fifth Open? Its an intriguing question since only four men have won four U.S. Opens: Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Willie Anderson.

With the United States Golf Association postponing its championships for the duration of World War II, the Hale was about as close to an Open as the country would have until the conflict was over. The U.S. Open resumed in 1946.

A lot of debate in the golf world has gone on for decades as to whether his win in that golf tournament is a fifth U.S. Open, said Adam Barr, director of the USGA Museum in New Jersey.

The USGA has never said that this constitutes a fifth U.S. Open. There were some essential differences between a U.S. Open and the Hale tournament.

The tournament was part of a larger national program to promote physical fitness. The Hale America program, taken from the phrase hale and hearty, was overseen by famed Olympic rower John B. Kelly Sr., of Philadelphia, the father of actress Grace Kelly.

The tournament was promoted to raise funds for the United Service Organization and the Navy Relief Society. Initially, there were so few entries that the event was nearly called off by tournament co-sponsors, the USGA, Chicago District Golf Association and the PGA of America.

Organizers asked Bing Crosby and Bob Hope to play to ignite interest. But there was a big change when two men entered: Hogan, then the head pro at Hershey Country Club in Pennsylvania, and the legendary Jones.

After winning the Grand Slam in 1930, Jones retired from tournament golf, other than making an annual appearance in the tournament he helped create, the Masters.

Just like the U.S. Open

In all, 1,528 golfers entered and there was district and sectional qualifying, just like for a U.S. Open.

The field included most of the eras top golfers, including 1941 U.S. Open champion Craig Wood, Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen and Jimmy Demaret.

Even though the field was deep, the course wasnt up to the taxing standards of an Open. The tournament was 72 holes, without a cut for the field of 107 players.

In 428 rounds over four days there were 50 rounds with scores in the 60s which was more than in the prior eight U.S. Opens combined, Barr said. What you had here was a golf course that wasnt typical for the U.S. Open challenge and wasnt intended to be.

Hogan rallies with 62

Hogan shot 72 in the first round and was so disappointed he put in two hours on the practice tee before the second round when he scorched the course, shooting a 62. It was the nearest thing to a perfect round, said Hogans playing partner, Tommy Armour.

Billy Sixty, a Milwaukee Journal sportswriter, said of Hogans second round: He did it so simply, so workmanlike, so seemingly unconcerned by his great shooting, that few of us realized what had happened until his putt for a 61 lipped the cup on the eighteenth green.

A roar went up when the announcer reported that the 62 broke the Ridgemoor record by three shots and was the lowest major tournament count ever posted.

Hogans 62 put him 3 shots behind tournament leader Mike Turnesa. At the end of the third round, Hogan had a share of the lead. On the final day, to boost the gate, Hogan was paired with Jones, who was far from contention.

An estimated 12,000 people trouped out to see the final round. Hogan won by 3 strokes over Demaret and received $1,000 in war bonds plus that gold medal. The medal was intended for the winner of the 1942 Open, which, of course, wasnt played.

135 pounds of whipcord

The Associated Press reported that Hogan, who was described as 135 pounds of whipcord, had finally won that major golf championship that eluded him.

However, the AP acknowledged that Hogans name would not appear in golfs record book as a winner of the national open title. Because of the war, there will be no open tournament this year.

The AP said Hogan was in no mood for sympathy.

What difference does it make? he told the press. If this wasnt an open championship, I dont know what could be. Everybody was in it. Im glad to win, whatever they call it.

Hogan biographer James Dodson said the golfer considered the Hale victory as a fifth Open title.

I think its one of those things that will always get debated by historians since none of us were there, said Dodson, author of Ben Hogan: An American Life. I think it has to be memorialized as the launch pad for Ben Hogan.

In his mind it was his first real national moment and thats why he clung to the description of it being a fifth Open years after he left the game, Dodson said. This was a man who was motivated by failure so the failure to have the USGA acknowledge it was a major championship was probably just one more source of motivation for him.

Like so many others, Hogan joined military

Hogan and other golfers would soon enter the military. It was after the war when Hogan achieved golfing greatness and also overcame adversity with his remarkable comeback from a devastating auto accident.

Perhaps the best way to recall the tournament is to consider what was accomplished. Despite wartime rationing, the tournament was held and $25,000 was raised, including $1,650 for an auction of Hogans putter and golf ball.

There was a postscript.

A few days after the event concluded, The New York Times published a letter to the sports editor from W.T. Young of New York. The writer criticized the Ridgemoor course for not being a worthy site for a championship event and said: Par took such a beating in the first couple of rounds at Chicago that even the contestants themselves no longer took it seriously.

The only good consequence I can see that may have come of the Hale America Open at Ridgemoor is that there may be a rush for applications for membership by duffers grasping at an opportunity to get their scores under 100, Young wrote.

The New York Times responded with an editorial that supported the spirit of the era but also stated that the Hale America wasnt a U.S. Open.

The Times wrote: The Hale America tournament was an improvised event, carrying no official championship designation. The Ridgemoor Country Club officials should be thanked for bearing the burden of conducting a golf tournament under war conditions rather than badgered because their course was not difficult enough to test the real skill of the expert contestants.

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