Hogan’s Miracle Letter

Hogan’s Miracle Letter

Ben Hogan once said he believed he had a purpose in life, and it was to give courage to those who are sick or broken in body. In one case, by writing an encouraging letter to a young boy he had never met, Hogan did more than just giving him courage. He helped inspire another champion.

Bobby Nichols was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. After caddying for several years round the time he was 14 he really started to take golf seriously. He developed a fine, fluid swing and won the State caddie championship at the age of 15. Then came the night of September 4, 1952, he was 16 years old with a bunch of friends traveling a high speed in a car which at 8pm, failed to make the next bend. When they finally came to rest, four boys and a girl lay trapped in the twisted wreckage. Firefighters, police and paramedics arrived quickly and fought to extricate them. A doctor at the scene indicated that no time should be wasted on Nichols since he wasn’t going to make it anyway. A priest performed last rites on the 16 year-old boy.


Two days later, Bobby was still clinging to life but the medical prognosis was not good. He was still unconscious and, in addition to a variety of minor injuries, he had a broken pelvis, a damaged spine, a collapsed lung, a bruised kidney, brain concussion and was paralyzed from the waist down. The doctor advised his distressed parents that, if he lived, he would probably never walk again. His dreams of golfing greatness had apparently ended in a head-on collision with a utility pole. For 13 tension-filled days friends and family maintained a vigil beside Bobby’s hospital bed. Suddenly he opened his eyes, looked around, and asked two questions. How long had he been asleep, and had he missed football practice? He quickly learned the answer to the second question when he discovered to his horror that he couldn’t move his legs. Bobby Nichols went home a month later. At least he was alive.

The weeks dragged by, and Bobby’s spirits sank even lower as it became more and more apparent that he might not recover. Then his golf coach, Brother Jerome conceived an idea that just might help. He knew that Bobby idolized Ben Hogan, who had gone through a similar terrible experience. Perhaps the great golfer would be kind enough to write the boy a few words of encouragement. There was nothing to lose, so he wrote to Hogan asking for his help, and the Hawk quickly responded. When Bobby’s mother handed him the letter with his idol’s name above the return address, he thought it was a practical joke, but when he opened the letter he found it was genuine. Hogan had written:

Dear Bobby,

I received a letter the other day from Brother Jerome at Saint Xavier’s High School, telling of your misfortune, and asking me to drop you a note. I was delighted to receive his letter, although it wasn’t necessary for him to tell me to write you. I would have done that anyway knowing of your accident.

I don’t know if there is anything I can say to you that would console you mentally or physically since I know you have been through everything. I always figured that no one ever went through life without some things happening to them, some of them minor, some major. Those of us who have had minor things just don’t have to work as hard recuperating as the people like you who have the major things.

I don’t have to tell you that the human body probably is the greatest machine ever known plus the fact that given the chance, it will heal any sickness or hurt. It is the determination and will of a person to do the exercises that will get him well, and, as you certainly know, there are no shortcuts.

I don’t want to sound like a preacher, and I hope you understand my thought for you. I am terribly sorry for your misfortune and you shall be remembered in my prayers.

My best wishes for a complete and speedy recovery.

I am sincerely,

Ben Hogan

The letter had an effect no doctor could ever have hoped to achieve. By the time he had finished reading it, Bobby Nichols was determined to walk, to play golf and to be a champion. Only days after receiving the letter, he sat up unassisted for the first time. A few weeks later he was out of bed, on crutches, practicing his putting and chipping. One small step led to another until, after several months, the happiest day Bobby had experienced for a long time finally arrived, and he threw away his crutches.

12 years after the near fatal crash, the 28 year-old Nichols realized one of his lifelong ambitions when he was paired in a tournament with his idol, Ben Hogan. It was the 1964 PGA Championship held at the Columbus Country Club in Ohio, right in Jack Nicklaus’ back yard.

Nichols opened the tournament with a course record 64 in the first round. He followed that with a solid 71 in the second round and a scrambling 69 in the third, giving him a one shot lead over Arnold Palmer going into the final round. That evening, looking at the giant scoreboard, he was excited to see that Hogan had shot 68 and had moved up in the standings. Under the PGA’s complicated pairing system they would be playing together in the final round.

The gallery was 100% Arnie’s Army as Nichols came to the 10th tee. He could hear them telling one another, “Nichols is going to choke,” or, “He’s about to blow up.” He could hear them saying that Arnie was charging and quickly found out from the vocal crowd that Palmer had just eagled the 10th. He knew he needed a birdie at worst to stay in contention. The tenth was a 536 yard par five, with a large ravine guarding the left side of the green. The long-hitting Nichols hit his tee shot as hard as he had ever hit a drive in his life. It traveled straight as a bullet, 300 yards down the center of the fairway. From there, ignoring the ravine, he went for the green in two with a 3-wood, leaving his ball 40 feet from the cup. His long eagle putt rolled towards the hole, broke several feet, and fell into the cup, dead center! He was confident now that the championship was his. Birdies at the 15th and 17th gave him a three stroke advantage over Palmer and Nicklaus.

Nichols also set PGA Championship records at the time by leading the tournament after all four rounds and setting a new low 72 hole score of 271. It was his crowning achievement in a professional career that would span four decades. Even more, it was a dramatic demonstration of the power of persistence and determination to succeed, no matter what obstacles one encounters in life.

Later that evening, Hogan came up to Nichols and congratulated him again. “You know,” he said, “I would never have gone for the green on the 10th the way you did.” Nichols recalls, “It made me feel proud, hitting a shot Ben Hogan wouldn’t have attempted, and having him acknowledge it as a great shot!”

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