By James Dodson
In the 20th Century, excellence in the highest levels of golf often came in threes. In the early years — and especially the Roaring ’20s — it was Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazan who helped popularize the game in America. In the 1960s, the “Big Three” of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player dominated the major championships in an era in which television exponentially increased the sport’s appeal.
In between was a trio born within six months of each other whose games and personalities defined golf as it left the hickory-shaft era. The impact of Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan is still felt on the game today, and Dodson offers a detailed look at them as individuals, and in their interactions on and off the course. Snead was the self-styled Virginia hillbilly whose silky, rhythmic swing remained a constant long after his contemporaries had put up their clubs.
Nelson was the epitome of courtesy who also in the forefront of those who recognized that the development of steel shafts would change the way the game was played, and set out to find the perfect swing. In winning 11 consecutive tournaments and 18 overall in 1945 — both records considered unbreakable.
Hogan was an enigma, a tremendously reserved and sometimes brusque person who poured himself into understanding the game like few others have.
Dodson tells their overlapping stories more or less chronologically, with abundant detail. It’s not a breezy read, but a worthwhile one for fans of the game.