Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Mid-Am qualifying results
Ben Hogan tees off at Chicago Golf Club (Courtesy Ben Hogan)
The Monday-morning tee sheet at Tartan Fields Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio contains two iconic golf surnames. At 9:50 a.m., on Aug. 27, Gary Nicklaus will tee off alongside Ben Hogan in a U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier. It’s double-take inducing and requires some explaining.
Hogan, for one, doesn’t think a Hogan-Nicklaus pairing was a coincidence (the 9:50 group also includes Jeremy Boskovitch). To clarify, this Hogan is a 37-year-old retired police officer who gave professional golf a go nearly 20 years ago and now is returning to the game he loves. He relishes the chance to play alongside a fellow former professional in Nicklaus, however the pairing came to be.
“I think it will probably bring back some of those feelings of maybe playing professionally and with some fellow professionals,” said Hogan.
Ultimately, neither player advanced from the 18-hole qualifier. Nicklaus had 4-over 76 at Tartan Fields and Hogan had 77. It took 73 to get into a playoff for the fourth and final spot.
Hogan’s story is similar to those of many U.S. Mid-Amateur hopefuls, just with a little more grit – and an iconic name. Hogan’s father Pat was an accomplished player when Ben was growing up in Ohio. As a young man, Pat’s friends often called him Ben after one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
“He always liked that name, and of course it is very synonymous with golf,” Ben explained. “He kind of had it in his head, and always had it in his head.”
It seemed the perfect name for a son with whom he would eventually share a love for the game.
As talented a junior golfer as Ben Hogan was, and as heavily recruited he was by the time he graduated high school, he knew that college (and college golf) wasn’t for him. Hogan began working at his home course, Oberlin (Ohio) Golf Club, immediately after graduating in 1999, turned professional and began an apprenticeship through the Northern Ohio PGA section. He moved to San Diego in 2001 to chase a professional career, and began at the bottom level, playing the Pepsi, Gateway and Golden State tours.
Despite a love for golf, a young Hogan had always imagined himself finding a career in law enforcement.
“The golf kind of jumped in the way when I was playing well and I thought I could make a career out of that,” he said. “I put the law enforcement thing on the back burner.”
It became clear in 2005 that a professional career wasn’t going to pan out, so Hogan decided to chase his original dream. He entered the police academy in March 2006. Hogan has worked as police officer in Southern California ever since. In the line of duty, Hogan incurred more close calls and injuries than you might imagine – certainly more than he ever imagined.
His partner was shot in 2011 during a mass shooting (he survived), but it took a toll on Hogan. He lost count of the number of times he was attacked with weapons. Each medical leave provided an opportunity for Hogan to use golf as therapy until eventually, the job began to weigh on him so heavily that Hogan knew it was time to hang it up.
“In my 12 years, I’ve got a couple lifetimes of stories. I’m OK with leaving,” he said. “That’s actually what got me back into golf.”
Related: U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifying roundup
Hogan applied to regain his amateur status in 2015, and it was granted quickly. For one thing it had been 10 years since he played professionally. One he started playing more frequently, Hogan got his game back to a level that he thinks was better than it was even in his professional prime. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t intimidating to try to re-enter competitive golf. Hogan distinctly remembers feeling out of place and a little overwhelmed upon showing up at a U.S. Amateur qualifier and setting his bag down next to a group of college bags.
“That’s what I love about the mid-amateur,” he said. “It gives guys like me a shot. It takes the college kids out of play, it takes the professionals out of play.”
Hogan is still chasing his first USGA championship start. At his prime, he has been as low as a plus-6 handicap, though he admits his game is a few shots away from that this summer.
As he completes a cross-country move from San Diego back to his Ohio roots just outside of Cleveland, Hogan hopes his story might someday read a little like that of last year’s Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale, who works as a firefighter in Brockton, Mass.
Thanks to his name, Hogan certainly doesn’t go unnoticed anytime he is on a golf course. But Hogan can play, and that’s what initially drew fellow Mid-Am hopeful Ken Weixel’s attention. Both are Ohio natives and California transplants.
“I like his story because being a police officer is about the hardest job there is,” Weixel said.
After seeing Monday’s pairings, Weixel and a few of his golf buddies took a look at the numbers. They were relieved to see that more than 80 golfers entered the Dublin qualifier. Weixel, a five-time U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier, knows that should guarantee a few more spots for mere mortals.
“That means Nicklaus and Hogan can have a spot,” Weixel explained, “and we can all still get one, too.”