You know those movies you watch every time you stumble across them, the ones that cause you to stop what you’re doing and put everything on hold for a couple of hours? Casablanca is on a lot of lists. Shawshank Redemption makes more than a few. For me, it’s always been The Hunt For Red October, a cold-war classic and one of Sean Connery’s best turns.
But as of next week I will be adding Golf Channel’s two-hour documentary Hogan to my must-watch catalogue. You should, too. Broken up into two parts – pre-accident and post-accident, which is my only quibble: it would have been better running two hours non-stop – the documentary, which airs Monday and Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, is a perfect blend of old footage, dramatization, still images and interviews. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about Ben Hogan; even if you’ve seen every YouTube clip and watched every old interview; even if you’ve read all the biographies (James Dodson’s is the best), you will learn something from this film. And you will want to watch it again, probably the moment it’s over.
Hogan avoids the pitfalls of most golf documentaries, Unlike some of Golf Channel’s other biographical films, this is not a hagiography. There are no soft edges or obsequious tones, no hackneyed clichés or poorly pinned fillers. It’s a hard look at a man who knew hard things; a man who slept in bunkers covered in newspapers as a child so he could be the first caddie in the pen the following morning; a boy who may have been in the room when his father shot himself to death with a revolver after an argument with Ben’s mom; a prepubescent runt who collected slights, insults and downright dishonesty like kindling that he packed away in his soul, using them as fuel for the deep blue flame that drove him into history.
Where most other golf films fail by being too slow and meandering – The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, and even Follow The Sun, the first movie about Ben and Valerie Hogan, were painful in that regard – Hogan is edited like one of the man’s swings: quick, efficient and beautiful. The director also uses the dramatization in a way that is not distracting or upsetting to purists. What the movie Seve got wrong in its dramatizations, Hogan fixed. Most of the created scenes are from Hogan’s days as a child, with the son of GolfChannel.com editor Jay Coffin playing Benny Hogan as a boy. The fact that Brady Coffin has a good golf swing helps. But the director also gets in and out of those sequences quickly with a narrator providing voiceover, much like some of Guy Ritchie’s best work. Those simple details make these dramatic reenactments the best in the golf-movie universe.
Hogan is for guys like me and people like you. Whether you love sports, golf or just enjoy a fantastic true story, this documentary has it all.
There are also more voices in Hogan than in most documentaries. While some of sports’ documentaries are rushed through with three or four talking heads that seem to appear on an endless loop, the release date for Hogan was pushed back in order to interview the right experts and place them in the right spots.
The film opens with a random guy in Texas who has his own Ben Hogan museum – a collection of everything from autographed photos to a flawless copy of the 1942 Hale America Open program – in, as he put it, “almost every room in my house.” Then there is a visit to the actual Ben Hogan Museum on the corner of Elm and East Blackjack streets in Dublin, Texas. Neither of these are to be confused with the Ben Hogan Room at the USGA Museum or the various shrines to the man, like his locker at Shady Oaks Country Club or the table where he ate lunch for years looking over Shady Oaks’ 18th green.
The obsession with the man mirrors his own obsession with perfecting an imperfect game. I admit to being in that club. Having met Mr. Hogan once – one of the most petrifying experiences of a young golfer’s life – I began collecting the clubs his eponymous company created. At one point I had 90 sets of Ben Hogan irons, almost every set the Ben Hogan Company ever made. But unlike Mr. and Mrs. Hogan, I had a lot of children. And all obsessions are toxic to one degree or another. I sold the collection. The proceeds probably went to Little League baseball or some other kid-friendly endeavor.
Hogan is for guys like me and people like you. Whether you love sports, golf or just enjoy a fantastic true story, this documentary has it all. The fact that the man lived such an extraordinary life helps, as does the mystique that still surrounds his name. As one of the many tour players interviewed said, “Hogan is the gold standard,” not just today but for as long as the game of golf continues to be played.
Ben Hogan during the first round of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club. Photo: John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
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