By Jules Alexander
Museum Moment: What It Was Like To Photograph Ben Hogan
Mar 08, 2012
Jules Alexander grew up in the Bronx idolizing Ansel Adams and took his first picture when he was 12 years old. At 15, he was shooting the likes of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra for DownBeat magazine. Three years later, Alexander enlisted in the Navy and was an aerial reconnaissance photographer during World War II in the South Pacific. After the war, he returned to New York City and became one of the city's preeminent advertising and fashion photographers. It wasn't until 1959 and a self-assignment with Ben Hogan that Alexander began his work in golf. Since then, he has photographed golf courses worldwide and covered hundreds of professional and amateur tournaments.
In the late 1950s I was in my studio reading The New York Times and noticed that a golf tournament [the U.S. Open] was being held at the venerable Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Studio photographers do not work every day, but would like to and therefore plan a “self assignment” to keep their photographic eye sharp. I decided to photograph this tournament and it would turn out to be a life-changing decision.
It was there that I first saw the great Ben Hogan. I decided to photograph him for the week because I had just read his book, Power Golf, and he was the best-dressed golfer out there. I had an eye for fashion and recognized a well-dressed man.
I had three cameras with me, but no credentials. Namely, a Leica, a Rolleiflex and a Nikon with a long lens. All cameras were fairly silent and, of course, used film.
Often, I would be very close to Mr. Hogan but in no way would I interrupt his concentration and dedication to the shot he was playing. We never spoke, but I had the impression that he knew I was there.
After The Hogan Mystique was published, I read that he told his wife Valerie that I was one of his favorite people (he may have meant photographer). He sent me a letter saying that he appreciated the work I had done and that it was the most beautiful golf book he had seen.
I keep this letter in a safe place.
Finally, at the 1986 U.S. Open, a magazine published photographs from my 1959 self-assignment at Winged Foot for the first time. Immediately after, the Hogan Company used many of the pictures in advertisements and Mr. Hogan would approve them as they ran in magazines.
We had still never actually met, but that would become a reality at Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1995. I was photographing at Colonial Country Club and decided to call Michael Wright, the head pro at Shady Oaks, to request a visit with Mr. Hogan. Mr. Wright invited me to the club and I spent five or 10 minutes talking with Ben Hogan, but did not want to overstay my welcome. We discussed my photos and talked a bit about my sons, who are both golf pros. It was a brief meeting, but the memory lasts.
There is one picture that hangs over the fireplace at in the Hogan Room at the USGA Museum and happens to be Mrs. Hogan's favorite photograph of her husband. I took it at Winged Foot during my 1959 week. It shows Mr. Hogan standing on the 14th green holding his putter. No one else is in the picture. I call it “Alone On The Green.”
Claude Harmon, with whom he was playing that day, went off to a house to visit with [golf promoter] Fred Corcoran for five or 10 minutes, which left Ben Hogan waiting “Alone On The Green.”
I took the opportunity to use two of my three cameras and take this picture. I was just off the green, kneeling down and shooting for the full five minutes to get the perfect image.
I will never know but I think Ben Hogan posed for me.
Interestingly, I played very little golf in 1959, but began to study my pictures of him. I never took a golf lesson but those images were always in my mind and I was able to fashion a swing from them.
I attribute my enjoyment of golf to Ben Hogan. He set a great example. I play less golf now but enjoy it every time. I try to respect the game as he did and play according to the Rules.
Just a few weeks ago, 53 years later, I played Seminole Golf Club with [two-time USGA champion] Vinny Giles and two other fine gentlemen. Most of the day at Seminole, Hogan’s favorite course for practicing before The Masters, was spent talking about the great Ben Hogan.
Jules Alexander’s golf photos are featured at the USGA Museum, the World Golf Hall of Fame and in his books, The Hogan Mystique (1994) and Tiger Woods in Black and White (2008). Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alexander's photo, "Alone on the Green" hangs above the fireplace in the Hogan Room at the USGA Museum. Valerie Hogan called it her favorite photo of her husband. (© Jules Alexander)
Alexander's first time photographing golf was a self-assignment covering Ben Hogan at the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. (© Jules Alexander)
Though Alexander had photographed Hogan for over three decades, the pair did not actually meet until 1995 at Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. (© Jules Alexander)