At a U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier five years ago in Dublin, Ohio, organizers decided to have a little fun with the pairings and grouped a guy named Ben Hogan with a Nicklaus. Just a coincidence? Or did someone think they were going back to 1960 at Cherry Hills Country Club when the aging four-time U.S. Open champion was battling for a record fifth with the reigning U.S. Amateur champion who would claim 18 major titles?
In this case, the Nicklaus was Gary, son of Jack, and the Hogan wasn’t the legendary Texan who famously “dug it out of the dirt” en route to nine major championships.
“In the golfing realm, I get the usual questions,” said the Ohio native, who shot 78 that day and failed to qualify along with Nicklaus. “Am I related? A few ask if I actually was [the actual legend], which means they don’t know he died a long time ago (1997). Was I named after him? In my second life in law enforcement, a lot of people would ask if I was related to Hulk [Hogan]. I could easily weed out who were the golfers and who were not.”
For the record, this Hogan is 42 and his father, Patrick, a golfer himself, was often nicknamed “Ben” by his friends, so “that’s where I got the name.”
But when this Ben Hogan arrives at Sleepy Hollow Country Club and stroke-play co-host Fenway Golf Club for the 42nd U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, there likely will be more than a few inquisitive minds. And that’s quite OK for the reinstated amateur who spent 12 years as a police officer before medical issues forced him into early retirement. That led Hogan, who once chased professional-golf dreams, back to a game he now loves.
It all started as a kid growing up in the small northeast Ohio town of Elryia and Oberlin Golf Club. Hogan became one of the region’s best players, good enough to finish third in the state tournament as a senior at Midview High School. Several Division I schools offered him, including Toledo, which at the time had a top-25 program. But the idea of attending college didn’t appeal to Hogan, so he worked at Oberlin G.C. after graduating in 1999. When his dad was transferred to the San Diego area, he went out to Southern California, initially hoping to become a club professional.
Then Hogan found out he liked playing for money, so he went the mini-tour route, plying his wares on the Golden State, Pepsi and Gateway tours. He never went to PGA Tour Q-School because “I felt that would be a waste of money. I was never playing well at the end of the year.”
But Hogan also never ventured back to Ohio, where he had an offer to be an assistant pro. What was intended to be a brief respite from Midwest winter weather turned into a year-round endeavor, only his stats on the golf course failed to live up to his lofty expectations.
“I’ve always been good with being honest with myself,” he said. “It had nothing to do with money. It was all performance-based stuff. I’m kind of a nerd with stats. I know it’s common now. When I wasn’t progressing, it was time to go in a different direction.”
So, Hogan signed up for the San Diego Police Academy, and within six months, he was hired by his first department, a vocation that would last from 2007 to 2019.
“I always wanted to do it,” said Hogan. “I was drawn to that.”
Needless to say, the two occupations couldn’t be more polar opposites. While it can be gratifying at times, police work isn’t easy and as Hogan discovered, it’s much more dangerous than hitting golf balls. In August of 2011, Hogan and his partner were called into a domestic dispute in East San Diego County. Gun shots were fired and there were multiple fatalities. His partner was shot – fortunately not fatally – and Hogan sustained injuries.
This was not a one-off case, either. Certainly, there were days when the job provided the ultimate satisfaction, but there were plenty of rough experiences, ones that eventually wore on Hogan’s mental and physical health.
“Talking to other officers on the job 25 to 30 years, a lot of them didn’t have all the experiences and trauma I had,” said Hogan. “I didn’t know any different. It rained down on me. And for medical health reasons, I had to retire.”
Post Tramautic Stress Disorder is often a condition people associate with the military, but it can affect anyone who has experienced shocking, terrifying or dangerous events. After consulting with multiple doctors, it was in Hogan’s best interest to leave law enforcement. Now four years removed from the work, Hogan still misses it, but “it’s pretty tough to argue against a whole panel of doctors.”
“Being a police officer is incredibly satisfying at times,” he continued. “I worked in a pretty rough neighborhood. It’s very easy to dwell on the negative stuff in my life and career. But when you sit down and think about it, I did a lot of good things in a short period of time and made a difference in some people’s lives.”
Just as his career as a police officer was coming to an end, another one was about to start. For six to seven years, Hogan had put golf on the backburner. Yes, there was the occasional charity outing, but those were a far cry from the competitive golf he played as a junior or in his brief professional days. With more available free time, golf became a respite from life’s daily issues. It was therapy and Hogan discovered he still had game.
Even after moving back to northeast Ohio – he now resides in Wellington about 15 minutes from his childhood home – to be closer to family, Hogan continued to see his scores improve. He’d always been a good ball-striker with putting being the one Achilles heel. He started entering Northern Ohio Golf Association events and USGA qualifiers, including his Mid-Amateur one in 2018 when paired with Gary Nicklaus outside of Columbus.
While being retired offers much more time for golf, Hogan still is involved with police work. He volunteers at his local department, helping train new recruits and vet potential ones.
As for his golf, this summer he made the cut in the Ohio Amateur against a slew of Division I college players and finished tied for 27th out of 300 in the Ohio Open. Then on Aug. 3 at Kirtland Country Club in Willoughby, Ohio, Hogan, despite a late double bogey on Hole 17, carded an even-par 70 and survived a 3-for-1 playoff for the last spot by dunking a 150-yard, 9-iron approach on the first extra hole for an eagle 2 and a spot in the U.S. Mid-Amateur. It will be his first USGA championship.
“There were a lot of emotions today,” Hogan told the Northern Ohio Golf Association. “I played really solid for about 15 holes and then played my last four holes at three over par. I went from very, very happy with myself to very, very angry with myself, and I don’t know what emotions I’m having right now.”
Now, he’s headed to Metropolitan New York to compete on two classic venues – one originally designed by C.B. Macdonald (Sleepy Hollow) and the other by A.W. Tillinghast (Fenway) – although both have undergone extensive renovations recently by noted architect Gil Hanse. Hogan, like his legendary namesake, loves old-school layouts that provide stern challenges. One thing he missed during his time in California, were the classic U.S. Open-style venues often found in the Northeast or Midwest. Torrey Pines offered breathtaking views, but it couldn’t match places like Muirfield Village or other classics he grew up competing on.
To provide a calming influence, Hogan is bringing Oberlin head pro Cliff Purtilo to serve as his caddie. They are also hoping to use the pro’s connections to play a few other classic courses in the area to help in the preparation. Of course, nothing prepares you more than enduring the heat of the battle. As a former police officer, Hogan knows there’s a significant difference between what you learn in the academy versus being on the street.
“I am just going to try and enjoy the moment,” said Hogan. “I will try not to put too much pressure on myself. I’m using this as motivation to get back to a few more USGA championship.”
Whatever happens, the golf world is about to be introduced to the modern-day Hogan. He already knows he’ll probably get a double-take, and perhaps a wide smile, from the first-tee announcer.
Now, all he has to do is play like Ben Hogan.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.