JIM SLOAN ‘SHOT’ BEN HOGAN

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Jim Sloan never really pushed his photos on anyone. In the media business, whether it’s on large metropolitan dailies or a mid-size, there are also small town dailies that attract a group of contributors ranging from writing correspondents to photographers. Sloan was a true professional.

The guy hustled, figured the angles, brandished his gear, fed film into the canisters, throwing his heart in the art long before modern technology – aka digital – was available.

Sloan, who specialized in Boy Scout photography throughout the years, had presented the local newspaper with a lengthy list of photos throughout the years. On the back of those mostly black-and-white glossies was the familiar hand stamp – “Photo by James Sloan.”

There were photos of President Eisenhower, especially during that time when the World War II general was living out his final years in the Coachella Valley. Sloan caught the ex-president in a variety of poses, mostly on the golf course.

Fellow photographer Ansel Adams, musician Stan Kenton and politician Ted Kennedy were among the celebrity shots. Plenty of stories could be written about his photography connections with those famous faces. In his own way, Sloan, himself, was a celebrity photographer.

One of his photos, however, stood out. I remember when he brought it into my office. “I got this,” he said, pulling the 2 x 4 black-and-white out a small white envelope, “when I was down in Texas. I got him to pose for this.”

I looked at the mug shot. Smiling, handsome, almost stylishly posing, was the familiar face of golf legend Ben Hogan.

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This isn’t the photo that Jim Sloan provided to me during my days as a sports editor in Redlands. That photo, if it even still exists, is in possession of the newspaper. The Ice Man? This wasn’t the shot of golfing legend Ben Hogan that Redlands photographer Jim Sloan presented me with, but it will have to do (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

I glanced slyly at Sloan’s face. Hogan was a well-known recluse, a superstar who rarely claimed the spotlight. Players from Hogan’s era had often commented on Hogan’s arms-length distance, a coldness, a reluctance to seek the spotlight – but a legendary golfer.

Sloan’s photo was apparently opposite of such a philosophy. Was it a lie? Did Hogan occasionally shed that image? Was Sloan a personal friend? No, way. Couldn’t be. Ben Hogan, who had captured every major championship – four U.S. Opens, a British Open (in his only attempt), two Masters and two PGA titles – while overcoming that infamous 1949 car collision with a bus that nearly killed him.

All of which is a well-known story by now, part of history – along with that picturesque swing, the calmness, ice water in his veins, the famous comeback, the movie that depicted his life around the crash, Follow the Sun: The Ben Hogan Story. No sense in reciting all that here. This story is A Redlands Connection between a local photographer and a golfing icon that breathed immortality.

It was hard to trust Jim; I didn’t know him all that well, but I had to trust him. In a way, Jim Sloan was far more worthy than I was on a local front. A trick? A way to claim some kind of connection to a legend? A little self-indulgence? Redlands was a golf community, its country club often playing host to a variety of legendary connections. Wouldn’t it be great to fabricate a story with those golf partisans? A story connecting Jim Sloan to Ben Hogan would be a good one.

Golf had plenty of prominent connections to Redlands.

Club manufacturer Mario Cesario, whose son Greg was an All-American golfer at Arizona State, made golf clubs for Tom Watson, Nancy Lopez, Gene Littler and others – in Redlands. Watson himself even journeyed to Mario’s local shop for consultation.

Tiger Woods came to Redlands as a well-known five-year-old.

Phillips Finlay, younger brother of Madison Finlay, once took on Bobby Jones in the Roaring 20s. Or was twice? Or three times?

Dave Stockton, who famously outdueled Arnold Palmer at the 1970 PGA Championship, hailed from San Bernardino – but moved to Redlands.

On the other hand, here was a photo print of the Ice Man, Hogan’s historical nickname, that bore all of Sloan’s photographic trademarks. Remember my cynicism. That started melting away. I believed Jim Sloan was telling me the truth.

I asked the first question that came into my head.

“Did you shoot this photo in Redlands?”

Excuse my excitement. Jim, of course, had already told me that he was in Texas when he took the photo. Texas was Hogan’s home, somewhere near the Dallas area. I was excited to think that, somehow, Hogan might’ve traveled to Redlands.

All of which would have begged several questions: Why was he here? Who does he know from Redlands? Will he be returning here sometime? But, no, Hogan was never on local turf.

I wish I could re-create the conversation I had with Jim Sloan about his Hogan photo – but he was always in a hurry. There was no real conversation. Any time he showed up, it was always a quick-hitting visit. Sloan, in my memory, only showed up a few times for talk, presenting photos, or discussing some sports-related shot he’d taken. Something about the guy, always on the move, seemingly like he was late for something.

“I’ll give you this,” he said, “to use when he dies. Keep it in your obit file.”

And Jim Sloan disappeared. A few years later, Jim Sloan died. Hogan outlived him by a few years.

A TIGER INVITATION I’M GLAD I DIDN’T TURN DOWN

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

There they were, lined up, one shot apart among the leader board at the 1997 “Augusta Invitational.” It’s called The Masters.

Tom Kite had Tommy Tolles beaten by a stroke after 72 holes, 282-283. At 284, there was a legend, Tom Watson, a multiple major tournament champion. He was followed by a pair of golfers at 285, Constantina Rocca and Paul Stankowski. Previous Masters champion Fred Couples, two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, British Open champion Justin Leonard, PGA Champions Davis Love III and Jeff Sluman closed out their tournament with identical 286s.

At 270 stood Tiger Woods. A dozen shots ahead. Dominant. A record 18-under par. Augusta would never be the same.

He’d won The Masters.

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Tiger Woods, shown here winning the 1997 Masters. Sixteen years earlier, a 6-year-old Eldrick “Tiger” Woods showed up to play a 9-hole exhibition match at Redlands Country Club. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

It would be the lead story in the April 14, 1997 Redlands Daily Facts.

The local angle was simple.

Sixteen years earlier, Redlands Country Club head golf professional Norm Bernard had called me with an invitation. Maybe it was an assignment. Or a request. Maybe he was begging.

Little Eldrick Woods, already known to the world as Tiger, had been invited to Redlands for a 9-hole exhibition match. He was about to turn six.

Norm and I started a little verbal sparring. I didn’t necessarily want to be there. He very definitely wanted me to be there.

“I don’t know, Norm. A 9-hole exhibition?”

Would our readers even care?

“What else have you got going on?” Norm asked.

In truth, he was correct. Nothing, at least locally, was taking place. School was shut down for winter break. Except for the San Bernardino Kiwanis Tournament, a basketball extravaganza for Redlands High, nothing of a sporting nature was taking place.

It just seemed like I could be working on something more meaningful that day.

“Aw, Norm.”

“C’mon. I’ll buy you lunch.”

He was being as gracious as possible. While being demanding. Charming. A little pushy. Norm was always under fire at that club. Private golf members can be demanding. They want their privacy. They also wanted a little publicity when it mattered.

Redlands CC was full of private club members that were movers and shakers in our community. One of them, Bill Moore, had been my publisher. There had long been rumblings and grumblings about country club coverage in our local pages.

The women’s club had its set of demands.

Of course, there was the club tournament.

Weekly twilight play, results in the summer. Usually, it was the same names.

It was Norm’s job to process results for newspaper publication.

No resentment from me. All part of the job. Bowling had its own set of demands. So did recreation tennis. We had local motorsports. The soccer people were always on the move. The sports section is for everyone. Any achievements should be duly noted.

That was the undercurrent of the relationship between the local country club and the local newspaper.

The year was 1982, just after Christmas. Bill Moore, who’d sold the paper a year or so earlier, was gone. His country club cronies were no longer bugging him to light the fire under me. Meanwhile, they’d light the fire under Norm. No longer were there job-related demands hanging over my head. This was truly my decision. I had to admit I was a little curious.

The next day would be little Tiger’s sixth birthday. Already, the little guy had been celebrated on television, once on the Mike Douglas Show as a three-year-old that could amazingly swing a golf club. Bob Hope, an avid golfer in his own right, was also a guest that day.

Another appearance came on ABC-TV’s “That’s Incredible,” hosted by John Davidson, Fran Tarkenton and Cathy Lee Crosby.

Norm had known Tiger’s dad, Earl Woods. Because of that association, he’d invited Tiger to play golf at Redlands.

Fourteen-year-old Michele Lyford, who would one day go on to win the girls’ CIF golf championship, was selected to be Tiger’s playing opponent on that day. There was a small gallery as Tiger finished the nine-hole round by shooting 47.

Lyford was also the champion of the 1986 Junior World in the older 15-17 age category, an event held every summer in San Diego. It should also be pointed out that other yearly winners included Carolyn Hill, Kim Saiki, Brandie Burton (who was from nearby Rialto) and Christi Erb – future LPGA professionals.

Tiger, of course, was the headliner at Redlands on Dec. 27, 1981.

The highlight of the day was, perhaps, the final hole. Tiger had knocked his ball smack into the bunker, smack dab against the lip – an impossible shot for even the most experienced of golfers.

The kid was poised even then.

One day shy of his sixth birthday, Tiger took out his club and hit his shot backward, into the chipping area in front of the green.

Then he knocked the ball in position for a double bogey. Even then, he was trained to minimize trouble. Of the 30, or so, people in attendance for this little showcase match, they had to be awestruck at his club selection.

No one discussed the shot. No one told him what to do. The kid was left alone.

His father, Earl, wasn’t present. His mother, Kultilda, was watching quietly nearby.

This little golf prodigy had played bogey golf throughout the match. That in itself was incredible, John, Fran and Cathy Lee!

Afterward, the club gave him a birthday party.

Afterward, I’m embarrassed to say, I handed this little guy a piece of paper – and a pen. Yes, I asked him for his autograph. He made his letters carefully, his little tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth while he wrote, “Eldrick Woods.”

Wish I still had that little slip of paper.

Sixteen years later, he won the Masters. That was just the beginning.

I forgot what Michele shot that day.

My column on April 14, 1997 was all about Tiger. Redlands. Winning the Masters. My reluctance to cover it. I’d written, “I’m glad Norm convinced me to come.”

Norm called later to recall the memories.

Any more birthday parties you want me to cover, Norm?