The following essay and selected advertisements compose a tribute to the profitable, occasionally strange, often beautiful, decades-long marriage of golfers and the printed advertisement. View the full feature here.
“The secret is in the choke.”
This is how I like to imagine Ben Hogan giving lawn-mowing lessons to his children, his neighbors, maybe even Byron Nelson. (Nelson, born and raised on a farm, would not have needed them, but this would not have deterred Hogan.)
Hogan, I’m convinced, would have spent hours practicing his lawn-mowing grip. He would have come up with his own time-tested mixture of oil and gasoline, one he was certain helped a mower achieve optimal performance, then refused to share with anyone except Herbert Warren Wind. Every April, he’d look upon the manicured fairways of Augusta National and silently sneer that they couldn’t hold a candle to his front lawn in Fort Worth, Texas.
Imagine living in the same cul-de-sac as Hogan, a man whose religion was golf, whose church was grass. His entire goal as a homeowner would be to make his front lawn look like a cathedral, and he would judge you as he did, silently glaring at the crabgrass and dandelions in your yard as if they were an affront to something sacred.
I believe all this because I do not think Hogan could turn it off, the thing that made him Hogan. Obsession is not a choice; it’s a way of life. He would have tinkered and tweaked his Toro mowers with a mixture of stoicism and rage, pulling them apart in his garage late at night, examining every piece of the motor just because he didn’t like the pitch of the carburetor.
He would’ve mown in his grass-cutting pants, of course. Always. Even on the hottest of Texas days. The idea of wearing shorts, and displaying his calves to the neighborhood, would have appalled him.
I like to imagine him cracking jokes about his rivals as he mowed, convinced that Snead or Sarazen used a lawn service or, worse, a neighborhood kid. Hogan’s mow lines would’ve been impeccable, a quilt of right angles that looked like he’d drawn them using a drafting table.
Can you imagine Toro executives approaching him about this ad, hoping he’d lend his credibility to their already trusted brand? I long to believe Hogan was hesitant at first. A man’s lawn is his own damn business, after all. It ought to reflect his own choices.
But eventually Hogan would have been swayed. Some overly eager executive at Toro would have sent a shiny red model to his house, insisting he try it out free of charge, and Hogan—alone in his garage—would have been unable to resist.
Just imagine him in his duckbill cap, one foot on the mower’s frame and one hand yanking the pull cord. You can hear the engine roar to life and picture Hogan’s strong, callused hands gripping the guide bar. He’d have a cigarette in his teeth and a cocky grin on his face. He’d find joy in the task in front of him.