On April 8, 1951, a 38-year-old Ben Hogan shot a final round 68 to win his first Masters Golf Tournament by two strokes over Robert (Skee) Riegel. This was his tenth attempt to win at Augusta National, finishing second in 1942 and 1946.
1951 Masters: A 38-Year-Old Ben Hogan Shot a Final Round 68 to Win His First Masters Golf Tournament
His 280 total for the four rounds was one stroke off the tournament record shot by Ralph Guldahl in 1939 and Claude Harmon in 1948.
Ben had won the US Open three times (we count the 1942 US Hale American Open as his first major victory) and the PGA Championship twice previously making this victory the completion of the slam on the American Major Championships, a feat only matched previously by Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson.
The only other golfers since that time to win these three majors include Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tiger Woods, and Raymond Floyd.
Ben arrived at August National ten days before the beginning of the tournament to prepare and hit over a thousand practice balls to his caddie, Willie Lee Stokes.
In the first round, Ben shot a pair of 35’s for a two under par 70, two strokes behind George Fazio who shot a four under par 68 to take the lead, one stroke better than Sam Snead, Lloyd Mangrum, and Hogan. Snead was showing no ill effects from a recently fractured hand.
In the second round, Ben shot an even par 72 despite taking 37 putts to place him one stroke behind Skee Riegel who shot a four under par, 68 for a one-stroke lead over Hogan, George Fazio, and Lew Worsham.
Snead went three over par on the 12th and 13th holes, but still shot a 74, which kept him in the thick of the tournament, two strokes back in a tie for fourth. Byron Nelson was in a tie for eighth, three strokes back of the leader.
In the third round, Ben shot a two under par 70, one stroke back of Riegel who also shot a 70 and Snead who shot a four under par 68. It rained so hard on Saturday afternoon that the course was nearly unplayable. Both Hogan and Snead finished their rounds prior to the rain starting, but Riegel had to play his entire round in a drenching rain.
Hogan was quoted after the third round: “Snead is the man to beat. The leaders usually fade, but I can’t depend on that. I’ve got to let go.”
During the fourth round, Riegel teed off early and shot a respectable one under par 71, but then had to stand around and wonder what the outcome of the tournament would be as reports of Hogan, who was only on the eighth hole, making birdies and pars drifted back to the clubhouse.
At that time the Masters Committee did not pair together the leaders of the tournament going into the final rounds as they do today.
Co-leader Sam Snead dumped two balls into the water and took an eight on the par four eleventh hole. He wound up with an 80 and tied for eighth.
Hogan’s late start gave him the advantage of knowing the mark he had to beat to win the tournament. He shot a three under par 33 on the first nine and knew that all he had to do was to record pars on the rest of the holes to win the tournament.
He played meticulously slow, measuring every difficult situation for minutes and taking no unnecessary chances. On the eleventh hole, he intentionally hit his second shot far to the right of the green, chipped up to four feet, and looked at the putt from every direction before ramming it home.
On the par five, 480-yard thirteenth hole he started to go for the green in two with a fairway wood, then changed his mind, played an iron shot short of Rae’s Creek, and then sank an eight-foot putt for birdie. On the eighteenth hole, he had a two-shot lead.
Knowing that he had three-putted from above the hole on this green on numerous occasions (1946 to lose the tournament and in 1950 to miss an opportunity to tie for the lead), he intentionally laid up on his approach shot, leaving it 30 feet short.
Back in the clubhouse, Jimmy Demaret, ever the jokester, walked up to Ben Hogan’s wife, Valerie and said:
His wedge shot landed four feet below the cup and made the putt. With a bogey free round of 68, the best of the day by three strokes, Hogan had won his first Masters Tournament by two.
Hogan had 14 pars and four birdies on the day. His only five on the scorecard came from the 485 par five fifteenth hole where he played conservatively.
During the awards ceremony, Club President, Bob Jones announced that the prize money would be increased by 50% all the way down the line. Hogan was awarded $3,000 for his victory. He also said that Hogan’s comeback was one of the greatest in sports history.
Club Chairman and Tournament Chairman Clifford Roberts said, “The final 18 holes was a classic in strategy and execution. Not a single one of those strokes would be called a missed shot or a mistake in judgment.”
When interviewed by the press after his victory Ben humbly said:
“I got a big bang out of it. If I never win again, I’ll be satisfied. I have had my full share of golfing luck.” Asked about his conservative play he said: “I played it safe. Not the way I like to play. The only way to win was to play it safe.”– Ben Hogan
When asked if he would make the trip abroad to play in the British Open he said that he will stick to his plan of playing the White Sulphur Springs tournament and the Colonial in May and would definitely not be traveling overseas.
Pictured is a perfectly balanced Ben hitting a driver on his tee shot at the 1951 Masters Tournament.
Pictured is the awards ceremony at the 1951 Masters Golf Tournament. From left to right is the President of the Augusta National Golf Club, Bob Jones, runner up, Robert (Skee) Riegel, champion, Ben Hogan, and the Chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, Clifford Roberts.