Museum Moment - Hogan’s Famous 1-Iron

Apr 29, 2010

By David Shefter, USGA

Sixty years ago, one of golf’s greatest shots – physically and artistically – took place on the 18th fairway of Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.

Sixteen months removed from a near-fatal automobile accident, Ben Hogan miraculously was in contention for a second U.S. Open title.

On a dark February evening in 1949 while Hogan was returning home from the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, a bus collided with Hogan’s vehicle. Hogan threw himself in front of his wife, Valerie, but in the process suffered a double fracture of his pelvis along with a broken collarbone and ankle. During surgery to piece his pelvis back together, Hogan nearly died from blood clots and they continued to threaten his life for the next several months.

But 11 months and countless hours of rehabilitation later, Hogan returned to competition.

He wasn’t completely healed at the 1950 U.S. Open. Beneath his golf slacks was a swath of bandages from waist to ankles. Each step brought obvious pain, yet the Texan fought through the agony over 36 grueling holes on that final Saturday. (The U.S. Open in those days featured a 36-hole finale.)

When Hogan reached the 72nd hole, he shared the lead with George Fazio and Lloyd Mangrum. A par on one of Merion’s most challenging holes, an uphill par 4 measuring 458 yards, would get Hogan into an 18-hole playoff the next day.

Most golf aficionados know what happened next. The moment is forever etched in our memory banks thanks to photographer Hy Peskin capturing the shot that remains one of golf’s iconic images – Hogan’s 1-iron approach shot that found the green. Hogan likely would have hit his 4-wood to the green, but he wasn’t hitting that club well and he didn’t want to make a costly mistake at that juncture.

So he chose the 1-iron.

Two putts later, Hogan was in a playoff, which he claimed the next day.

Ironically, Hogan would hit a 5-iron into the 18th green during the playoff, the result of being a bit fresher, having more adrenaline and holding a comfortable lead (he shot 69, Mangrum 73 and Fazio 75).

What most people might not know, however, is that the 1-iron was not in Hogan’s bag for the playoff. That night, several items were stolen from his locker, including the club that helped him reach Merion’s final green.

For more than three decades, the club’s whereabouts remained a mystery. Hogan certainly had moved on, claiming two more U.S. Open titles in 1951 and 1953.

But in 1982, the club mysteriously showed up in a Williamsburg, Va., golf collector’s shop. Inside owner Bob Farino’s American Golf Classics shop were glass cases of vintage clubs, including a one-of-a-kind wedge used by Arnold Palmer, a Michael Jordan putter and clubs from Jack Nicklaus.

The MacGregor equipment company had hired Farino, who was respected for his expertise, to recommend clubs from its archives to be reproduced for a limited-edition 100-year anniversary set. That reputation led Farino to sell refinished clubs at The Players Championship outside of Jacksonville, Fla. While there, according to a July 1997 story published by The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, an anonymous elderly man approached Farino with a bunch of old Ben Hogan signature MacGregor clubs.

Farino paid the man $150 before making a thorough inspection. That’s when he discovered a 1-iron that didn’t quite match the set. The words “personal model” were also written on the club.
Could this be the 1-iron from the 1950 U.S. Open, the same 1-iron featured in Peskin’s famous photograph?

“It was a one-in-a-million chance,” said Farino in that July 1997 article. “It’s the most famous 1-iron in the history of golf.”

Farino put in a call to Hogan’s company in Texas. He wanted Hogan to verify the club. But Farino never got on a plane, instead giving the club to a North Carolina golf collector for him to hand the 1-iron to Hogan’s friend and fellow Texan Lanny Wadkins.

This is where the story gets fuzzy.

According to Doug McGrath, the former vice president of sales for the Ben Hogan Company who was in the room when Hogan verified the club, Wadkins got the club when somebody at the Atlanta PGA Tour stop came out of the crowd and handed it to him.

Whether that account is true is up to interpretation.

We do know the club eventually arrived in Hogan’s Fort Worth office in 1983.

“I was going through some numbers with [Hogan] when Gene Sheeley, Hogan’s chief club designer, walked through the door,” said McGrath, who now resides in South Carolina. “He said, ‘Ben, I got something that belongs to you.’ ”

Intrigued, Hogan replied, “What do you got?”

“Gene walks in with this club in his hand,” said McGrath. “Hogan looks at it carefully for a minute, then holds it up in the air. He turns it over and puts [the club] down.”

“Good to see my old friend back. Give it to the USGA.”

McGrath said Hogan told him the only thing that was different about the club was that someone had removed his velvet-cord grip. Everything else about the club was the same as he had last seen it on that June Saturday in 1950.

Today, the Hogan 1-iron is encased at the USGA Museum in the Ben Hogan Room along with most of his memorabilia. The collection was donated to the USGA so that generations of golf enthusiasts could learn more about Hogan and his remarkable 1950 U.S. Open victory.

As for Farino, he still lives in Virginia and is still involved in golf collecting. He said in the 1997 article that he could have fetched $75,000 for the club. Today, who knows what the club’s value is.

“If that club went to auction, well, what do you think the 1-iron of the greatest shotmaker in golf history is worth?” Farino told The Virginian-Pilot. “It’s hard to even put a price on it. What’s $500,000 to a serious collector? They just want stuff. Money is no object to these people.”

Farino also knows the club is resting in a proper place, and he’s happy to have a small slice of golf history.

“I happened to end up with it but it wasn’t mine,” said Farino. “It was his.”

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

Today, the Hogan 1-iron is encased at the USGA Museum in the Ben Hogan Room along with most of his memorabilia. The collection was donated to the USGA so that generations of golf enthusiasts could learn more about Hogan and his remarkable 1950 U.S. Open victory. (USGA Museum)