A few weeks back, I reviewed The Match, the latest book by The Greatest Game Author David Frost. It recounts a legendary (and mostly unknown) match between the teams of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, and Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. It’s a book that I very much enjoyed, even as I found it almost unbelievable.
The story is true, but GolfWorld’s Bo Links is challenging Frost’s reporting of the scores.
But what about the numbers? While score is often secondary to the drama of match play, the numbers in this case are compelling. They are also in conflict. To be sure, the scorecard was bleeding red. In 18 holes the two teams combined for 27 birdies and an eagle. According to Frost, Hogan and Nelson shot a miraculous score of 57—15 under par—to nip Venturi and Ward, 1 up. The difference was Hogan’s holed wedge shot for a 3 at the par-5 10th hole. Only three holes (Nos. 1, 11 and 14) were halved in par. And on the other 15 holes, a black pencil was needed only four times, when Venturi/Ward parred Nos. 3 and 7, and when Hogan/Nelson parred Nos. 4 and 8.
In all the commotion, however, Frost miscounted. If we analyze his account hole-by-hole, Hogan and Nelson shot 58. They turned the front nine in 31 (six under a par of 37). With Hogan’s eagle to open the back nine, the professionals charged to the clubhouse with a closing 27 (eight under a par of 35). Add ‘em up. The total is 58 (14 under), not 57.
Further, Links says, others have different memories of the event. And a couple of newspaper stories written at the time record still another view (although it is not sure whether the reporters witnessed it, or relied on hearsay—more likely the latter).
It doesn’t really bother Frost, though:
While it’s one thing to dispute a press account, quite another when two eyewitnesses—two participants—disagree about what the score was. Nelson says 55, Venturi’s shot-by-shot account adds up to 58. This was the dilemma confronting Frost when telling the story. “It speaks to the instability of memory,” Frost says. “There were things people saw differently. When I found that, I tried to go with the preponderance of the evidence.” Frost says he attempted to track down news accounts but came up empty. He views the manuscript as a living thing, and in later editions of The Match there may be a few corrections.
It’s also fascinating to note that the scene was replayed ten days later, when Venturi and Ward once again teamed up against the pros; this time it was Nelson and Jack Fleck (winner of the previous year’s US Open over Ben Hogan).
Any way you slice it (or hook it), it’s a fascinating story.