The most reverberating golf quote I know actually comes from John Ford’s 1962 western called “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, featuring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, who were leading men in their time, the equal of Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan. In the mystery of who shot whom, a crusty old editor sums it up at the end: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
It came to mind earlier this year when a set of Titleist 681-T irons and two “TIGER” stamped Vokey wedges sold at auction for $5.15 million, the second more valuable behind the jersey worn by Babe Ruth which cost $5.6. million in 2019. The legend is that Woods used these clubs to win his Grand Slam in 2000-01 and gave them to his friend and Titleist tour representative Steve Mata, who passed a polygraph attesting to this fact. We know that Mata sold the clubs for $57,242 in 2010, and the buyer resold them in April through Golden Age Golf Auctions to an undisclosed American businessman for the record price.
Here’s the spoiler: Woods said in a press conference at Players 2010 that “[Mata] may have my set of irons, but they are not from these tournaments. They are in my garage. Prior to the auction, Tiger’s manager repeated his denial. The highest bidder believed Mata rather than Woods and bought the clubs anyway.
Notoriously frugal, Tiger is known to hate the idea of others profiting from his success, so you might say the provenance here is uncertain. But the best debunking argument I’ve heard came from a mutual friend who said, “You know Tiger. Do you think he would give something of such value? »
Either way, Tiger irons aren’t the most coveted golf memorabilia. This distinction belongs to two clubs on display at the USGA Museum at Liberty Corner, NJ One is the Wilson 6 iron used by Admiral Alan Shepard Jr. on the moon in 1971 (Authenticated by NASA). The astronaut hid the clubhead in his spacesuit until he strapped it to the handle of a rock picking tool and hit two golf balls on the lunar surface, making golf the first sport practiced in space.
The other club holds more mystery. Ben Hogan suffered a serious car accident that threatened his playing career in February 1949. After a remarkable recovery – see Glenn Ford in ‘Follow the Sun’ – Hogan squandered a three-stroke lead at US 1950 Open at Merion and came to the final hole, a tough par 4 458 yards above a career. His tee shot left him 210 yards to the hole. Tour manager Fred Corcoran, standing in the stands, told Hogan he was tied with leaders Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio, so he needed a par to get into the playoffs. This is where the mystery begins.
Hogan’s long iron hit on the green was captured by Hy Peskin in what has become the most famous golf photograph of all time, the poetry in motion with the gallery a serpentine backdrop and the player in “total awareness as another movie might put it. This is the only shot described by Hogan in his classic 1957 instruction manual, Five Lessons: Modern Golf Fundamentals. Working with America’s most revered golf writer, Herbert Warren Wind, Hogan wrote, “I went with a 2 iron and played what was, in my honest opinion, one of the best shots of my last round, possibly one of the best I’ve played during the tournament.” These two perfectionists called the 2 iron club and left it as such in dozens of subsequent editions of their bestseller.
The problem is that Hogan, without explanation, changed his mind and later, in numerous letters, interviews and conversations, said that the club in the photo was an iron 1. That club and his white golf shoes were stolen between the fourth round and the playoffs and remained missing for decades.
In 1978, Hogan described the shot to Nick Seitz in Golf Digest: “I had a 4-wood cut shot in there, actually. But the pin was set behind that bunker on the right, and I wasn’t hitting my 4 wood very well. I was a little goosey about it. I had to get a tied 4. And where that pin was, I knew I couldn’t get a 3. I took a 1 iron to bounce the ball onto the green. I couldn’t get him into the hole. If I faded the 1 iron, I couldn’t reach the hole. I made a putt of about 30 feet and went down in half luckily.
It sounds definitive until you listen to an audio clip from a phone interview with Herb Wind by golf writer Guy Yocom in 1995: “We thought it was a 2 iron, all of us that were there. Why he later chose to say it was a 1 iron I have no idea, and I wouldn’t go any further than that because Ben in some ways might be grumpy, and I think that’s is a very good example,” Wind said. “There is no doubt that this is correct. Well it was a 2 iron when we saw it [at Merion]and if Ben accepted it in the book, then there is no doubt.
None of this mattered much until classic club dealer Bob Farino acquired a MacGregor “Personal Model” 1-iron in 1982, suspected it was the missing Hogan club, and agreed to trade it. sell for $200 to collector Jack Murdock, the Wake Forest basketball player. player and coach. I recently spoke to Lanny Wadkins, who played on the Wake Forest golf team and knew Murdock. Lanny was on staff at the Hogan Company and used to gamble with Hogan at Shady Oaks, so Murdock asked him to be the bag man to get the club to Hogan.
I first wrote about this club in the September 1983 issue of Golf Digest, describing a “quarter-sized” worn area right on the sweet spot – more towards the hosel than the center of the face. of the club – and I quoted Murdock as saying, ‘Whoever used that club knew what he was doing. Not many people could use a 1 iron like this. Essentially on this evidence and a review of the club by Hogan – he never hit the club to test because he had back pain at the time – Hogan pronounced it the Merion 1 iron. In a letter to Murdock , Hogan wrote, “I liken it to the return of an old, long-lost friend.”
In a letter to the USGA, he definitively states, “Yes, my old No. 1 iron, which was stolen from my bag at Merion, has been returned. The grip had been changed so as soon as I can find an All Weather grip to replace the club grip now I will send it to you to hang under my portrait at Golf House. (Note: It no longer hangs there, but instead is unceremoniously presented in a “throwback” display with memorabilia from Babe Zaharias. Hogan wouldn’t be pleased.)
To demonstrate how meticulous Hogan was, he had his personal clubmaker, Gene Sheeley, install the appropriate All Weather cord grip, placing a wooden jig on the underside of the shaft “at 5:30” to ensure a weak left stance, preventing the hook that Hogan hated. How could such a careful man allow the club to be called a 2 iron in his book?
To my knowledge, John Capers, the longtime historian of Merion, is the only person who ever asked Hogan about the discrepancy between iron 1 and iron 2. In 1995, two years before Hogan’s death, Capers showed up unannounced at Hogan’s office in Fort Worth and was granted an impromptu hearing.
When Capers asked him what club he hit into the 72nd green at Merion, Hogan replied, “It was a 1-iron.” When Capers asked why his book said it was Iron 2, Hogan replied, “Someone must have edited the manuscript after they corrected it. To my knowledge, that’s the only thing that could have happened.
I’ve come to think of Hogan’s 1 iron and Tiger’s Grand Slam irons from how the art world views the lost and found painting “Salvator Mundi” (“Savior of the World”) by Leonardo de vinci. It may or may not be da Vinci, but someone paid $450 million at Christie’s, and it looks pretty good.
“Unless I saw someone hit the shot with the club, pull it out of their bag, and hand it to me as they came out of the last hole, I couldn’t guarantee it was the club,” said Capers. “But I believe Hogan’s 1 iron is the one in the USGA museum because I believe what Hogan told me.”
When the legend becomes a fact, print the legend, it’s written here.