Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan.
In all areas of sports there are stories of athletes who have had to endure injuries, personal setbacks, and career-ending accidents. After their time away from the game and their past glory and success, some have made amazing comebacks, against the odds or against expectations.
The comeback stories of Tiger Woods (who’s back on tour) and Ben Hogan (who played almost four decades and retired in 1970) are seen by many as two of the top comebacks ever in any sport.
And they just happen to be among the greatest golfers of all time.
Yes, there are other great comebacks that come to mind: Peyton Manning in football with his many neck surgeries, or Carson Palmer; Tommy John in baseball, the first to undergo a risky surgery now named after him; George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, both who stepped away from boxing, only to return to regain their titles.
But Woods and Hogan, Tiger and “The Hawk,” are ranked near the top. Let’s find out why.
Tiger Woods Comeback from Four Back Surgeries
80 Tour Victories. 14 majors. Still playing. 349 Tournaments played.
People are calling Tiger Woods’ comeback from a series of emotional and physical challenges that turned his world and career upside down—one of the best ever.
Tiger Woods, from the outset, electrified golf perhaps more than any other. He was a phenomenon almost immediately. He was the PGA Rookie of the Year in 1996 and the PGA Player of the Year 11 times. Woods achieved what’s called the “Tiger Slam,” by holding (winning) all four modern major championships simultaneously — the U.S. Open, Open Championship,and PGA Championship in 2000, then The Masters in 2001.
Then he hit a major road bump in life.
It’s easy for fans who don’t know the whole story to dismiss Tiger Woods’ woes as part of an unfortunate string of personal setbacks he had some years ago. It’s true that he hurt his own career with an infidelity scandal at the end of 2009. In that incident alone, he ran his SUV over a fire hydrant, struck a tree and was hospitalized with a number injuries.
But that’s not what Tiger had to come back from. Tiger Woods had a series of operations, including several on his spine, to help relieve the intensive pain that came close to ending his career. The player who used to walk confidently to the 18th green was literally brought to his knees by pain he suffered as he tried to play through it. From 2014 to 2018, Woods underwent four different procedures to address the pain in his back and neck that didn’t allow him to compete as he had in the past.
Tiger didn’t play in any tournaments in 2016 and played only a single tournament the following year. In April of 2017, he underwent the last of the four surgeries, a spinal fusion, a procedure that replaces degenerated disk with bone graft. Many wondered if that was the end of Tiger Woods as a competitive golfer.
In 2018, Tiger was back on the course, showing no signs of pain. He played in 18 events and showed looked like his former self. He came close to winning his first major tournament in nearly a decade, finishing second in the PGA Championship.
Then finally in September 2018 at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, Tiger sunk a par on the 18th to ensure his victory. That day, Tigermania was back in full force and the entire sports world was ecstatic. Tiger…the old Tiger…was on the prowl again.
That win was Tiger’s 80th tour victory and his first in five long years. Many people are calling Tiger’s comeback a miracle and one of the greatest for any athlete in history. Although Tiger Woods is now 43 and past his prime, he is in remarkable shape, has reengineered his game and seems to be have fully recovered.
He needs only two more tour victories to tie Sam Snead (82) for the most by any golfer, and four more major victories to catch Jack Nicklaus (18).
Ben Hogan. The Hawk.
64 Tour Victories. 9 majors. 300 Tournaments played.
If you’re not a golf fan, you’ve probably never heard of Ben Hogan. Even if you do follow golf, you might only recognize the name because of the brand of clubs that still bear his name. But no doubt about it, Ben Hogan is a legend in the world of sports—even today.
If not for a traumatic event that nearly killed him, Ben Hogan likely would have become the greatest golfer of all time. He was one of the top players of the 1940s. In 1948, Ben Hogan won 10 of the 21 tournaments he played in.
Life changed in an instant on a foggy Texas morning.
And while Tiger Woods is just one year into his comeback story (and with one tour win so far), the story of Ben Hogan and his heroic comeback from a near-fatal car accident in February 1949 is well documented. The details of Hogan’s accident and injuries make his achievements afterward all the more remarkable.
Ben Hogan joined the PGA Tour in the 1930s and had only one victory under his belt for several years. Then he hit his stride.
From 1940 to 1948 (excluding ’44), Hogan had 50 first-place finishes, including 13 in ’46 and 10 wins in ’48. (By contrast, in 2018, no player had more than three victories.)
Tragedy struck in February 1949. While driving with his wife in Texas, Hogan’s car was hit head-on by a Greyhound bus, so hard in fact, that reports say the engine was pushed into the driver’s seat and the steering wheel into the back seat. Hogan, however, had jumped into the passenger seat to protect his wife. They both survived, with Hogan’s heroism probably saving both of their lives.
His wife suffered minor injuries, but Hogan barely walked away with his life—he suffered a broken collar bone, ankle, crushed ribs, and worst of all, a double fracture of the pelvis. Not long after his initial treatment in the hospital, he had to undergo an abdominal operation when a blood clot formed, causing doctors to worry about a possible heart attack. Most people, who were already amazed that Hogan survived the crash, didn’t think he would play golf again. He spent two months in the hospital and the rest of 1949 recovering.
Incredibly, by the time January 1950 rolled around—less than a year after the accident, Hogan was back on the PGA tour. And in just 16 months after the near-fatal accident, Hogan won the 1950 U.S. Open, having to endure an extra 18 holes in a playoff to win. The next year, he won the U.S. Open again.
According to the PGA website, in 1951 (just two years after the crash) Hogan played in only a four events, but won three of them, including The Masters and U.S. Open. He was fourth on the PGA earnings list that season.
Hogan played only a handful of tournaments each year starting in 1950; his weakened legs wouldn’t allow for more. But he won five more majors in his career (three in 1953) and achieved the career Grand Slam…a win in all four major tournaments.
Everybody loves a comeback story.
An accident prevented Ben Hogan from setting golf’s all-time career wins record. Tiger Woods has the chance to catch Snead and Nicklaus, if his back holds out.
No doubt, everyone will be cheering him on.
Resources: pgatour.com/benhogan; pga.com/tigerwoods; wikipedia; todaysgolfer.co.uk/stunningcomebacks; espn.com/golf/story/_/id/24176614/best-sports-comebacks; bleacherreport.com/articles/1465256-why-ben-hogan-was-the-greatest