Hogan's memory produces plenty of thrills and chills

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Bo Van Pelt has carded 11 straight rounds in the 60s at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
May 23, 2012
Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspodent

FORT WORTH, Texas -- A 13th spike.

Whenever I think of Ben Hogan I always think of his golf shoes. He had them custom made in England and had a 13th spike placed under the ball of his foot for better traction.

I'm told Hogan was different from other players, always looking for an edge, never afraid to be different.

In 1949, most players stayed in El Paso, Texas, after the Phoenix Open. Hogan drove another 150 miles to Van Horn, Texas, where on a foggy February morning his Cadillac collided with a Greyhound bus.

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Following the crash, Hogan was transported back to El Paso for surgery and convalescence.

Since I've lived in El Paso for the past three decades, I've always felt a type of bond with the man. On the 50th anniversary of his crash, I drove to Van Horn looking for a story.

The site of his accident is hard to determine because the road no longer exists. However, I walked around the hotel he stayed in the night before the accident and later talked to people who remembered that day and had visited the accident site. They described how his car looked smashed like a garbage compactor had crushed the frame and wondered how anyone could have survived the crash.

Hogan was operated on at Hotel Dieu, a former El Paso hospital. It was a vacant building and scheduled to be razed back in 1999, but I persuaded a security guard to let me walk the deserted halls and visit the room assigned to Hogan.

In the soft light of a winter afternoon, the room took on an eerie glow. The mind plays tricks in a deserted building, and I started hearing voices and sounds as the hair on my arms was raised. I resisted the urge to run out of the room.

I got to meet Hogan one time. He attended the 1991 U.S. Women's Open at Colonial Country Club. He was watching a friend of his, Kris Tschetter, compete, and I was caddying for my wife Kristi.

As we walked off the 72nd hole, there he was ... right in front of me. I could not help but walk up and say hello.

I have committed the conversation to memory.

"Mr. Hogan, I'm Fred Albers from El Paso. I just caddied for my wife Kristi and wanted to say hello," I told Hogan.

I must have looked like a school boy or a puppy dog craving some kind of acknowledgement.

He stopped, looked at me, and paused for a moment as if he was deciding to speak or walk away. Then he said, " I admire your wife's game."

It was a full five words and 10 seconds of interaction before he turned away.

It's been 21 years since that conversation took place and I remember every word.

You can't walk onto the grounds of Colonial without thinking of Hogan. He won the tournament five times, there is a Hogan memorabilia room in the clubhouse, his locker is preserved and a statue of Hogan greets everyone as they walk down the steps to the course.

Hogan is shown holding the finish of a shot in perfect balance. His right foot is turned toward the target and on the sole of his golf shoe is a 13th spike.

I reach down and touch that spike every time before walking onto the course.

You can not think of the Colonial without thinking of Ben Hogan.

OBSERVATIONS

Bentgrass: Colonial was the first course in the south to have bentgrass greens. Sportswriter Dan Jenkins tells the story of how amazing it was to touch the grass that lay flat and provided such a good putting surface. Colonial greens are still comprised of bentgrass and it's still an effort to keep them in championship condition. Bentgrass thrives in cool weather and the Fort Worth summers are brutal. For the grass to survive, the greens must be kept moist. That's why these are the most receptive greens on the PGA TOUR. You won't see big bounces when the ball hits the putting surface. If they kept the greens firm, they would die in the heat. Receptive greens are one reason why you see low scores at Colonial.

Horrible Horseshoe: Before hosting the 1941 U.S. Open, Colonial founder Marvin Leonard brought in John Bredemus to "toughen up the course." Toughen it he did. Bredemus reworked Nos. 3, 4 and 5. That trio forms a horseshoe with No. 3 heading east, 4 turning north and 5 going back west � the horrible horseshoe of Colonial. The fifth is still the hardest hole on the course, flanked by the Trinity River on the right and a ditch to the left. Last year the fifth hole gave up 32 birdies and 93 bogeys. That 3-1 bogey-to-birdie ratio makes it one of the more difficult holes on the PGA Tour.

Winner, winner: It's hard to pick against Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner or Zach Johnson this week. All three are playing well and have the game to flourish at Colonial. Fairways and greens are the ticket this week. David Toms was fourth in both categories in winning last season.

I'm going to give you another name to consider: Bo Van Pelt. He has five top 10s this year including a T7 at THE PLAYERS. Van Pelt thrives at this golf course. He's 8-for-8 in cuts made and has shot in the 60s the last 11 rounds at Colonial, plus he finished a career-best third last season. Van Pelt has always been a strong ballstriker but this season he has dramatically improved his putting. He is ranked second in Strokes-Gained Putting. Break out the plaid jacket for Bo Van Pelt this week.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio and is inside the ropes this week at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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