Iconic Moment IV: The
April 28, 2008
On, theandfor Golf History will open to the public following a
three-year renovation and expansion project. The new
exhibitions in thewill present the game's history in a unique and
original way, viewing golf within the context of American
social, cultural and political history. USGA champions and
memorable moments in championship history will be placed at
the forefront of the visitor experience. Central to each
gallery is a main story - an iconic moment - pivotal for
understanding the game's development. Our national
identity is inextricably linked to these defining
This is the fourth in a six-part series highlighting
each iconic moment.
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By Doug Stark, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - America in the 1950s was a country on the
move, exhaling after a hard-fought struggle in World War
II. It was finding ways to win the peace. The nation was
entering its greatest period of prosperity as Americans
purchased new houses and cars, received their education on
the G.I. Bill, and resumed the lives that had been
temporarily postponed. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower
entered the White House, the country was poised to embark
on a new era.
Sports in the postwar decade were on the cusp of exploding.
For years, sports were largely regional, but the war, with
an active sports program building troop morale, excited
everyone about returning to the playing field. The time was
right for professional leagues to start. In golf, the
Women's Professional Golfers Association began, and the
USGA and PGA resumed a full schedule of championships and
More so than at any other time, Americans could identify
with their sports heroes. After a decade and a half of
sacrifice and coping with loss, Americans understood what
it was like to face a setback and overcome it. For five
years, sons and daughters - young, optimistic, and
patriotic - left home and fought overseas. Some never
returned. Some returned injured and forever changed. But
everyone continued to forge ahead. They weren't feeling
sorry for themselves but were looking to make the best of
Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Ben Hogan. natives born before
World War I. The two epitomized the generation emerging
from the Depression and World War II. Their careers
started in the dark days of the worst economic crisis the
country had ever known.
After reaching the culmination of athletic achievement with
her gold-medal performances at the 1932 Olympics, Zaharias
took up golf and barnstormed the country earning a living.
She tried other sports and even resorted to
Hogan, meanwhile, left school at an early age and sold
newspapers to help support his family. He became a caddie
and turned professional in 1930 as stocks plunged. He
struggled to support himself, but soon found his game and
collected 15 victories before being drafted.
Sometimes, though, an athlete is remembered not for their
athletic feats, but for their courage and resilience off
the field. Stars like Lance Armstrong and Mario Lemieux
overcame illness and continued to perform at the highest of
levels. Today, public battles are part of our news culture,
but in the 1950s, overcoming such a serious setback
publicly took great courage. Long after their wins fade
into the record books, the legacies of Hogan and Zaharias
reside in how they confronted their personal battles. Their
return to the golf course inspired a new generation looking
On Feb. 2, 1949, Hogan, the reigning U.S. Open champion,
and his wife, Valerie, were severely injured in an
automobile accident. Shattered left collarbone, a double
ring fracture of the pelvis, broken left ankle and rib, and
blood clots cast grave doubts on whether he would survive.
Within months, Hogan began walking, and at the 1950 U.S.
Open, his recovery was complete as he won the championship
in a playoff.
Four years later, Zaharias walked onto the opening tee at
the 1954 U.S. Women's Open, seeking her third Open
championship. She was a little more than 14 months removed
from surgery for colon cancer. Fatigued, but
undaunted, Zaharias played her best golf, posting a
then-record 12-stroke victory. That year, Zaharias became
the first recipient of the Ben Hogan Award, given annually
to an individual who continues to be active in golf despite
a physical handicap or serious illness.
Hogan and Zaharias transitioned the game from the
barnstorming, small purses of the 1930s through the war
years to the boom of the 1950s. Between Bob Jones'
Grand Slam feat and Arnold Palmer's come-from-behind
win at the 1960 U.S. Open, Hogan and Zaharias carried the
game from adolescence to adulthood.
After all those years of sacrifice and struggle, Hogan and
Zaharias were not going to let sickness or injury stand in
their way. They had worked too hard. They did not know the
meaning of the word quit. The country was prospering,
people were coming out in droves to see them play, and they
were the sport's two biggest stars. Their comebacks
were like the nation's comeback - heroic, determined
DougStarkis the USGA's Curator of Education and Outreach.
E-mail him with questions or comments at