Monday, January 3, 2011

Updated Thoughts On Hogan's 'Secret'

Perhaps the debate and theorizing of Ben Hogan’s ‘Secret’ has the most legs of any topic in the realm of internet golf swing analysis.

I think we’ve just about heard it all, from the sublime to the entirely possible. From pre-torqueing the foot at address to cupping the left wrist at the top of the swing to an alleged reverse pivot.

For me, it’s gotten to the point as to whether or not I really question if there was a ‘secret.’ You see, golf pros generally didn’t make a ton of money in those days and if you won a major, you probably were not set for life. There definitely could have been a monetary motive for Hogan cryptically discussing a ‘secret’ when there really wasn’t one in order to draw in the masses and make money off of them. Plus, Hogan changed what was the supposed ‘secret’ so many times that I lost count.

Here’s a good excerpt from Al Barkow (

Herbert Warren Wind, for many years the doyen of American golf writers, helped Hogan write the Life piece, and also his famous instruction book, Five Lessons. Many years after both had appeared I suggested to Wind that the so-called Life magazine “Secret” was bullshit. I was not the only one to come to that conclusion. Herb was nonplussed, and in a soft voice with an embarrassed tone he said, “Well, you have to make a living.” – Al Barkow
That being said, I do believe that Hogan had a ‘Secret.’ However, it was a secret that in particular worked for him and may not work for everybody else. It’s like Homer Kelley preached over and over with The Golfing Machine, there is no one way, but there is a best way for each individual golfer.

Thus, what worked for Hogan probably would not work for a lot of other golfers in the world. In fact, it was probably a case of Hogan finally seeing that he eliminated the hook thru a certain set of mechanics he had and then grasping what those mechanics felt like to him. But as I’ve preached on this blog, the feel is often ‘not real’ and a feel that works for one golfer typically will not work well for another golfer.

When it comes to investigating and analyzing scenarios like this, I like to break down things and figure out the facts first.

What do we know about Hogan ‘pre-Secret?’

He hit a hook.

What do we know about hitting hooks?

Typically, the face is too closed at impact and thus any path winds up becoming inside-to-out with relation to the face. For instance, if I have a face that is closed to the target by -5* and a path that is outside-to-in with relation to the target by -2*, that will still result in a hook because the path is actually inside-to-out with relation to the face by 3*.

The other way to hit a hook is to have a very inside-to-out path.

That begs the question, was Hogan a golfer that struggled with a closed clubface or a path that was too far inside-to-out?

I tend to believe that the closed clubface is the problem. As he said in interviews, his hooks were so bad that he couldn’t get the ball up in the air and he couldn’t hit it high on command.

What we know about a hooded face at impact is that it de-lofts the club. That’s why snap hooks go low, the face is closed and the club is now de-lofted.

I conclude that at a very basic level, Hogan’s ‘secret’ was that he figured out a way to prevent the clubface from getting too closed at impact.

How did he do that?

Well, it’s apparent that he tried many things before ‘the secret’ to prevent that clubface from closing. He utilized a weak grip before ‘the secret.’ He had ultra stiff shafts in his irons (X-Stiff, tipped 2 inches) before ‘the secret.’

Thus, my guess is that he learned to utilize the CP Release.


Take a look at an older swing of his that is believe to have been filmed around 1938, years before ‘the secret.’

Of course, this is filmed from the caddy view instead of the DTL view, so we cannot clearly distinguish what type of release he was using and what the closure rate was looking like.

But from this view it’s very clear to me that his arms ‘crossover’ much more quickly after impact than they do in this later ‘post-secret’ swing sequence.

If I had to guess, Hogan was utilizing a CF release and a horizontal hinge action in the YouTube video. We know that ‘post-secret’ he was utilizing a CP release.

Thus, with the CP release the handle got lower and the rate of closure slowed down. And for Hogan it probably slowed wayyy down.

Do I believe that the secret was ‘cupping his left wrist’ at the top of the swing? He may have very well done that. Hogan had a weak grip, something that would actually make it more difficult to keep a slow rate of closure. Hogan probably had ultra strong hands in order to CP release with such a weak grip, but he probably needed some extra help in preventing that clubface from turning over as well.

Now, I think other things helped him as well. I think his idea to make his shafts ultra stiff probably helped him develop that great pivot he had which probably helped him better grasp how to CP Release.

My guess is that Hogan probably thought to himself ‘If I don’t want to hit a hook, let’s try to feel like I’m hitting a slice on every shot’ or to that effect. And when he tried that, he probably started flushing lasers right at the target, shot after shot. If so, it reminds me a bit of Sandy Koufax who had one of the greatest fastballs in the history of the game, but couldn’t throw strikes because he tried to make batters whiff on every pitch. Eventually in a spring training game his catcher came out and said he should try and throw it slower so he can throw strikes and allow them to hit the ball, but at least he will stop walking batters. Koufax finally listened and ‘let them hit the ball’, except even when Koufax felt like he was throwing slow to let them hit the ball, he still threw it so fast that nobody could it him.

Such a simple concept for Koufax that shows that the feel can often be completely and utterly false from reality. And I wouldn’t doubt if Hogan felt like he was trying to slice the ball off the grid and found himself hitting it flush right at the target.

But it also shows that the ‘secret’ was probably just Hogan’s secret and it worked just for Hogan. Much like Koufax ‘let them hit the ball’ worked for Koufax.



Anonymous said...

There's also a large possibility that Hogan's "secret" was entirely mental. We already know the physical benefit to having a positive mental attitude and running through a setup "routine" which tells your mind it's in the right place for the swing. Why would Hogan not be doing likewise? This also ties in with the fact that a lot of sports psychology back then was 'voodoo' and hush hush so not many people would concentrate on the mental aspects as much as physical ones.

TIm Flaherty said...

There was "a Secret"...John Schlee, Tom Bertrand and Mike Cortson know it!