Ben Hogan and his wife, Valerie, were on their way back to their home in Fort Worth, Texas, from a golf tournament in Phoenix and had driven about 500 miles east the first day and had another 500 or so to go on February 2, 1949.
They set out from rural Van Horn, Texas, on a cold morning and had gone only about 10 miles on two-lane Highway 80 when they ran into heavy fog and a thin film of ice. Hogan slowed down to 25 miles per hour. That’s when, as he would later put it, he saw “four lights winking at me.”
The bus driver, trying to pass a truck in the fog, did not see the oncoming Cadillac. In that instant, Hogan knew they were going to get hit head-on. He hurled his body across the front seat to shield his wife — and it saved his life.
The steering column was found impaled in the driver’s seat. Hogan surely would have died on impact had he not had the instant instinct to protect Valerie. She would end up with minor injuries. He would be left with a fractured collarbone, a double fracture of the pelvis, a broken ankle, and a chipped rib, plus a left eye swollen nearly shut.
Hogan and his wife were left pinned against the dashboard. He was unconscious; she lowered her window and called for help. He came to and implored her to get out of the car lest it catch fire. Another driver came along and helped her drag Hogan out, but it would be 90 minutes before an ambulance arrived.
Legend has it that as he was lifted into the ambulance, he asked Valerie if his clubs were secure.
Yes, she said.
He and his wife were brought to El Paso — a nearly two-hour commute — where Hogan spent nearly two months at Hotel Dieu, a famous hospital that was built in 1894, but then demolished in 2003.
Following is the Feb. 3, 1949, El Paso Times article on the crash:
Ben Hogan hurt in crash, improves;
golf star to recover, say doctors
Ben Hogan, golf’s Mighty Mite, Wednesday night was showing improvement in Hotel Dieu after eight critical hours following a car-bus collision on U.S. Highway 80, 29 miles east of Van Horn, at 8:30 a.m.
A bulletin issued by the medical staff called in to diagnose Hogan’s injuries said he had received a fractured pelvis, collarbone and rib in the collision. He was rushed the 109 miles to El Paso after a delay of more than an hour and a half in obtaining an ambulance.
The man who was last year’s top money winner among professional golfers is starting a long road back to recovery and the golf links. Doctors said he would play again, but they would make no predictions as to how soon Hogan would be able to leave the hospital.
Mrs. Hogan, who received a cut over her right eye and minor bruises in the crash, was under sedatives and resting in the home of an El Paso physician throughout the afternoon, before returning to a downtown hotel.
Mrs. Hogan stunned by impact
Mrs. Hogan said she was stunned by the impact and regained consciousness to find her husband stretched across her unconscious. Luggage from the back seat pinned the couple against the dashboard of the badly wrecked car.
“I stuck my arm out of the window and screamed for help, but none came,” she said. “Finally, when Ben began to stir and moan, I somehow found strength enough to push the luggage away and get out. Then I helped Ben out of the wreckage.”
The injured golfer’s brother, Royal Hogan, Mrs. Ralph Waters, sister of Mrs. Hogan, and Dr. Howard Ditto arrived in El Paso by American Airlines from Fort Worth, Wednesday afternoon. The party rushed immediately to the hospital to learn that earlier reports that Hogan had received a broken back were incorrect.
El Paso physicians attending Hogan were Dr. Leopoldo Villareal, Dr. Lester C. Fenner and Dr. David Cameron.
Visibility cut by fog
Hogan was driving his 1949 Cadillac east on U.S. 80 when the accident occurred. The highway was icy and visibility was cut by fog to 150 to 200 feet. A Greyhound bus, bound for El Paso from Dallas, reportedly was passing a truck when Hogan’s car appeared suddenly out of the murk.
Unable to return to the right side of the road, the bus, driven by Avin H. Logan, Pecos, Texas, sheared the driver’s side of the car and badly wrecked the vehicle.
The truck, to avoid hitting the bus, stopped suddenly and jack-knifed on the icy pavement to a cross-ways position. Before signal flares could be placed on the highway, two more cars hit the truck. Only Hogan received serious injuries. The bus was not badly damaged, Greyhound officials said.
Mrs. Hogan told reporters that her husband had saved both their lives by throwing himself in front of her when he saw the impending collision.
“We were driving slowly,” Mrs. Hogan said, “because the road was hazy Ben tried to swerve out of the way to miss the bus, but there was a culvert at the roadside, and we couldn’t get off the road.
“We crashed head-on. Ben threw himself in front of me, to protect me. That saved his life, for the engine of our car was tossed into the set and the steering gear was shoved into the backseat.”
Because of confusion at the accident, no one notified an ambulance for over an hour, Mrs. Hogan said.
“It seems that everyone thought someone else had called for help,” she explained.
Hogan starts trip home
Hogan was pushed to the train in a wheelchair March 31, 1949, for his trip home to Fort Worth:
He appeared in good spirits and smilingly posed for cameramen. He was obviously excited at the prospect of reaching his new home in Fort Worth.
Accompanying him were his wife, Valerie, his brother, Paul, and Dr. Howard Ditto, Fort Worth physician, who came here to make the return trip.
Before moving into his room for the night he said he was certain that he was out of the rough and again headed down the fairway.
Hogan won PGA Tour events 13 times after his accident, including six majors, for his career total of nine major championships. This included his otherworldly 1953 season, in which he won five of the six events he entered, including three majors in dominating fashion — the Masters by six strokes, the U.S. Open by six, and the Open Championship, in Scotland, by four. “The Scots took to Hogan,” wrote John Barton in Golf World, “because he was understated, muted, polite. The quiet American.”
They threw a loud ticker-tape parade for the quiet American in New York after that one. Hogan didn’t have a chance for the Grand Slam, because he didn’t compete in the other major that year; the PGA was match play then, which required walking as many as 36 holes on some days.
If all this sounds like a Hollywood script, well, it was. The 1951 biopic “Follow the Sun” was a based-on-a-true-story telling of Hogan’s life, with Glenn Ford in the title role. The poster for its theatrical release showed a smashed-up car and called it “The real-life love story of two kids from Texas.”
The love story came to a close in 1997, when Hogan died at 84 — an old man, not a young one, as he had told Time. He and Valerie had been married for 62 years.
USA Today Contributor Erik Brady also added reporting to this story.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/04/24/remembering-when-ben-hogan-spent-two-months-recovering-in-this-border-city/