Editor’s note: In the April issue, in the last story Dan Jenkins did for Golf Digest before his death at 90, he introduced our Greatest of All Time Invitational—The GOAT. The top 32 in the mythical event advanced from stroke-play qualifying at Augusta National to match play at venues around the world. In the May issue and online daily from March 20 through April 3, Senior Writer Guy Yocom is documenting the 30 match-play results leading to the final at Pebble Beach. Who will become the champion? The winner will be revealed online April 4 and in the June issue. Screenwriter Mark Frost, whose books have included The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever, will write two versions of the final with different winners.
The Round of 16
Ben Hogan vs. Byron Nelson
Whiskey Ranch, Fort Worth
The plan had been for the old Fort Worth rivals to play at Glen Garden Country Club, where they had caddied and learned to play as youngsters. But when they arrived and found some of the 112 acres had been transformed into an outstanding whiskey distillery, teetotaling Byron blanched. Hogan noted skeptically that the course had been altered, its par shortened to 68. But with half of Fort Worth in attendance to see the showdown, Nelson said, “Ben, seeing as you’re here and I’m here, let’s just play.” The Hawk, hungry to avenge his loss to Nelson in a long-ago Glen Garden caddie championship, agreed.
The ball-striking exhibition that ensued was spectacular, even on a course that measured just over 5,000 yards. They each birdied six of the first nine holes, and Nelson provided the match highlight with a hole-in-one at the par-3 seventh. At the turn it was Nelson by 1 up. The small, push-up greens continued to offer little defense on the back nine. On the 12th tee, while waiting for the gallery to clear the fairway, Hogan pointed to a piece of sloped ground in the distance and said, “The older kids used to roll me down that hill in a barrel.” Nelson’s reply—“You won nine majors and 64 tournaments, so apparently it didn’t hurt you much”—seemed to irritate Hogan slightly. He won the 12th to square the match, and a short time later birdied the 15th to take a 1-up lead.
Hogan missed a three-footer for birdie at the 16th, and his supporters swore they noticed the slightest bit of yip in his stroke, but there was no need to worry. Hogan never relinquished his 1-up advantage, matching Nelson’s birdie on the 18th for one of the most satisfying match-play victories of his career. After spending a few minutes with reporters, Hogan declined a celebratory sip of whiskey and instead limped toward the ninth fairway, caddie and shag bag in tow. “Where you going, Ben?” Nelson asked.
“There’s still daylight and time for some practice,” Hogan answered. “I hear that Palmer fella doesn’t lie down for anybody.”