This is the ‘greatest thing you can do in golf,’ according to Ben Hogan

Improving the quality of your misses starts with knowing your distances, Hogan says.

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If there’s one quality that defines Ben Hogan’s legacy in golf, it’s his ball-striking. Perhaps the best iron player of all time, sporting what is arguably the most idolized swing in history, his prowess from tee-to-green lives on in the minds of golfers everywhere.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when, while casually flipping through an August 1975 edition of GOLF Magazine, I read about Hogan espousing the importance of the opposite.

The article is titled “Ben Hogan Remembers,” and features a wide-ranging interview from a then 62-year-old Ben Hogan about the best year of his career: his iconic 1953 season, when he won all three majors he entered.

This particular insight came during a conversation about his putting. Saying that he was a good-if-unspectacular putter, Hogan said the true key to good golf (and indeed, his success in ’53) wasn’t the product of his putter, or even in the quality of his best shots. But, rather, in his misses.

“The greatest thing in golf is to be able to save shots,” Hogan says. “Anybody is going to make a lot of pars and birdies. The trick is to save shots when you miss. You don’t play 72 holes without missing some shots.”

That’s a nice idea, Mr. Hogan, but how can we actually accomplish that?

Know your distances

Hogan says it comes down to distance control, and the ability to know how far you hit each of your clubs.

“It’s just as bad to hit a ball too far or too short as it is to hook or slice,” he says. “You don’t have to be the world’s greatest golfer if you can manage your game. You need to organize yourself, mentally and physically. The first tee is a good place to organize. That tee shot is just as vital as the putt on the 72nd hole. You can lose the tournament right there.”

It’s some good advice from one of the greats. Organize yourself, starting with knowing how far you hit each of your clubs. It doesn’t matter how far you hit your clubs, but it does matter that you know how far you hit your clubs. If you avoid the classic high-handicap error of overestimating your distances and missing short as a result, you’ll start playing your best golf.

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Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Game Improvement Editor at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees the brand’s game improvement content spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University. His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.