Q&A With Author Peter May And U.S. Open Final Qualifying Roundup
Revisiting what Ben Hogan believed was his "first" U.S. Open win, plus Golf's Longest Day almost finishes
Whenever the USGA brings an event at Olympic Club we inevitably hear how Ben Hogan believed Jack Fleck took away his sixth U.S. Open win. For all of Hogan’s incredible moments, his U.S. Open playoff loss there has retained a strange resonance given that he was not a playoff winner over Jack Fleck.
Dan Jenkins and Jim Murray keeping the stories of that week alive also never hurt, nor did Hogan’s improbable run at a record fifth. Sorry, there I go again. Sixth if you asked Hogan.
The Open Question commences with the incredible championship at Olympic and then heads back to dive deeper into the 1942 Hale America National Open. The event started as a war bonds fundraiser and morphed into a de facto U.S. Open, complete with sectional qualifying and a similar-looking medal for the winner. Rough too. Hogan believed it should have counted. But the USGA, from the outset and to this day, will not count the win as a U.S. Open.
Fast forward seventy years, throw in a pandemic causing the U.S. Open to be played without fans or a qualifier, and the Hale America debate gets more interesting. That’s where Peter May comes in with his fantastic new book. It’ my kind of read: not too long, loaded with insight, all while providing an entertaining way to talk golf and a little World War II history. May’s the author of four previous books and is now a senior lecturer in journalism at Brandeis.
He talked to The Quadrilateral about his newly published book from Rowman & Littlefield.
Q: What prompted an author of books about the Celtics to open this can of worms which, in my lifetime, always annoyed old guard USGA types whenever Hogan fanboys brought it up?
Peter May: I think in a way me not being a golf writer might have been a factor. I always paid attention to the sport, or tried to, and I covered golf for UPI, the Globe and the New York Times. And my suspicion was that if I had not heard of the HA and the controversy, then there were a lot of golf fans out there like me. (I'm guessing the younger generation knows little to nothing about it.) And I think that's right. Plus, I don't think Dan ever did a deep dive into the tournament; I don't think anyone did until I did. Maybe that's why I got so many rejection letters from publishing houses who didn't see a "there, there." But I came to the issue honestly; it is a prime example of ignorance is bliss. And I also wanted to include some stuff from the war, another favorite topic of mine. I'm again not sure how many today know how bleak things looked in early 1942.
Q: How did you go about your research and how long has this been in the works?
PM: I made two trips to the USGA Museum, where the people there could not have been more friendly or helpful. My second trip came a week before it shut down due to COVID. So I lucked out there. I read a lot of archival stuff on Jones in the war at Emory University. But I think the big find from a research perspective was Mangrum's service in the ETO. Thanks to the unflagging work of Norm Richards, a historian for the 90th Infantry, I was able to determine Mangrum was neither at DDay or the Battle of the Bulge. Virtually every story I read about him had him at one or the other, sometimes both. It took me two years to do the research. That was the most rewarding part of the project, for I learned a ton about the tournament, the period in golf and the war.
Q: How was delving into golf “controversy” different than your work covering other sports?
PM: Since I went into the project advocating for the HA to count, it was no different than arguing the merits of Bill Russell vs. Michael Jordan as the GOAT. (I am firmly in the Russell camp. Eleven titles in 13 years and a 21-0 record in games where the loser went home is all you need to know.) But again, doing the research revealed that the USGA's fingerprints were all over this tournament, from scheduling the qualifying rounds to removing Sam Byrd's clubs for a groove violation to classifying Bobby Jones as a pro because of the money he had made after he retired doing golf videos and the like. While the USGA has its reasons, I hope I've shown that however earnest and sincere the organization was back in 1942 - and it was - that times have changed and maybe it's time to take another look.
Q: Did the pandemic year U.S. Open, with no crowds and the general weirdness of those events, further influence your views on Hogan’s ’42 win? Especially since the Hale America included sectional qualifying when last year’s U.S. Open did not?
PM: No. I had already decided where I was going before COVID hit. I did think it was interesting that, with no qualifying in 2020, there was never a doubt as to the authenticity of Bryson's win. Again, the more time moves on, to me, the USGA's stance is less convincing.
Q: Why do you think there has been such resistance to giving Hogan credit for the win essentially dating back to the time?
PM: I think the USGA made up its mind in January 1942 and that was that. I don't think the organization envisaged what the Hale America eventually came to be, as it was sending out invitations to Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in hopes of drawing crowds. And there was a chance the whole thing could have been cancelled had not Francis Ouimet urged patience on the return of applications. And yes, there was no trophy presented to Hogan and the medal was slightly different. But if the US Open is supposed to produce a true champion, who better than Hogan?
Q: Do you see any parallel sports examples similar to the Hale America where there was a posthumous change to the player’s record?
PM: The only similarity, and it really isn't all that similar, is Major League Baseball deciding to include the stats from players in the Negro Leagues. That was more a reaction to the times and the records from the Negro Leagues are far from complete.
Q: Have you gotten any reaction to the book from anyone with USGA ties and the power to reconsider Hogan’s win?
PM: The only contact I had with anyone in the USGA was their research staff at the Museum and as I said earlier, they were terrific. Two of them are dedicatees. I don't know if the USGA even knows the book is out. The research staff does.
Q: As a journalism professor, what’s your assessment of golf coverage both old and current?
PM: I think I'm better qualified to judge this as a former sports writer. I lament golf coverage of the present. When I was at the Globe, we had two full-time golf writers, a Golf notes section on Sunday, and we covered all the big tournaments. Now, the Globe doesn't even have a golf writer. It's awful But it's going on everywhere. I also lament the incessant ads on the TV coverage. I did get a kick out of reading coverage of the tournament in the major newspapers of the day. Grantland Rice was the only writer who actually sought out players for post-round comments. But the comments were usually brief. We never got a serious breakdown of Hogan's 62. And more than once I saw a writer refer to Hogan as "Benjamin" which, of course, was not his name. It was a style more geared to purple prose (the style of the day, for sure) than actually telling you what was going on. It wasn't bad or wrong, just different. As a Journalism professor, I despair purple prose or any word that ends in "ly." But that's me.
Golf’s Longest Day Is (Almost) Completed
Severe weather caused delays in Columbus and New York, while the southern California U.S. Open qualifier must return tomorrow morning to be completed. Here is the USGA’s dedicated page which has sadly gone from posting stories and photos at the qualifiers, to none.
But think of the money saved that can be reinvested into the cash reserves!
A good portion of the field is now set for Torrey Pines and here are the names who made it through qualifying. Congrats to all:
The Bear's Club
Andrew Kozan (a)
Piedmont Driving Club
Spencer Ralston (a)
Woodmont Country Club (North Course)
Springfield Country Club
Long Cove Club
Meadow Springs Country Club
Joe Highsmith (a)
Century Country Club & Old Oaks Country Club
To be completed: Brookside, where 120 are playing for 16 spots and they’ll be returning Tuesday. You can check results here.
And Rolling Hills where a few have holes to play and then a possible playoff. You can check the results here.