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New World Order: Texans -- best of the best

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Pity, that.

Over the holiday break last winter, the terrific remake of one of the 10 best westerns of all time pared a humorous bit of dialogue from the original version of the John Wayne classic True Grit.

Throughout the original, the Duke repeatedly referred to co-star Glen Campbell as a "Texican," which became a running joke in our family, since my maternal grandfather was from the Lone Star State and was darned proud of it. In fact, he was such a fan of native Texan Ben Hogan that he used to practice golf in his backyard, a well-worn copy of Hogan's famous Five Lessons book lying in the grass at his feet, dog-earned pages propped open for review.

Pictured here at Columbus Country Club in 1964, golf great Ben Hogan follows through on a putt at the PGA Championship. (US Presswire)  
Pictured here at Columbus Country Club in 1964, golf great Ben Hogan follows through on a putt at the PGA Championship. (US Presswire)  
Digging it out of the dirt, indeed.

Yep, those Texicans love their golf, so it's both by design and absolute intent during the two-week Texas Swing that this week's New World Order list is a composition of the greatest ever to hail from that particular republic, where they grow 'em tougher than gila monsters and with just as many teeth.

As it relates to golf, we can’t prove everything is bigger in Texas, but there are certainly more of them, for sure. For instance, of the 136 members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, an incredible 13 were born in Texas, including three of the most seminal figures in the history of the American game in the steely Hogan, saintly Byron Nelson and underappreciated Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

In fact, it's no Texas-size canard to say the Lone Star State is to the American golf landscape what Scotland is to the world's. What, the constituencies from California and Florida are complaining?

Scorecard, folks. The Golden State has produced six native-born Hall inductees to date, while Florida, which boasts more courses than any other state and is home to the World Golf Hall of Fame and the headquarters of both domestic tours, has produced ... zero.

When it comes to the other states, Texas squashes them flatter than an Amarillo armadillo that went for a short walk on a long interstate. Texas golf is so hot, the trees whistle for the dogs. After reading this incredible list of native stars, if you don't agree, you are either a numbskull or from rival Oklahoma. Maybe both.

10. Tom Kite, Austin

Two years older than fellow Austin native Ben Crenshaw, Kite pieced together a similar resume, barring one key shortcoming. Despite piling up a slew of victories and mountains of cash, Kite had never won a major as he arrived at Pebble Beach for the 1992 U.S. Open. Then 42, he endured perhaps the most brutal conditions in modern Open history, with 40 mph onshore winds turning Pebble into an exposed, baked-out torture track. But windy, dry conditions are nothing new to Texans, right? Kite gritted his teeth and endured. He was one of five players to shoot par or better in the final round as nearly everybody went cleats-up. Interestingly, he won two tour titles the following year and never won on the regular tour again, finishing with 19 titles -- same as fellow hometown boy and Texas Longhorns teammate Crenshaw.

9. Ben Crenshaw, Austin

Crenshaw won 19 titles on the PGA Tour, including two Masters championships, where he helped establish his reputation as perhaps the supreme putter of his generation. Crenshaw was never the purest ball-striker, but when he got on a moderately flat surface -- which describes much of Texas, come to think if it -- nobody was his equal. His father, Charlie, once joked of Ben's famous Wilson blade putter, "That club's been the best provider in the family." Crenshaw later led the U.S. to a Ryder Cup victory and has established himself as one of the premier course designers on the planet. One of the most genial men in the game, too.

8. Ralph Guldahl, Dallas

Before modern stars Ian Baker-Finch and David Duval ever won majors only to drop off the map in precipitous fashion, there was Ralph Guldahl. This excerpt is lifted from his unflinching bio on the World Golf Hall of Fame website: "Guldahl stands alone in golf history as the best player ever to suddenly and completely lose his game." He was born the same year as titans Hogan, Nelson and Snead -- and for a while seemed destined to whip them all. From 1936-39, Guldahl won two U.S. Opens, a Masters and three consecutive Western Opens, a veritable major at the time. He was deadly straight and unflappable on the course. "If Guldahl gave someone a blood transfusion, the patient would freeze to death," Sam Snead once said. Guldahl was a feel player with an interesting swing whose game began to unravel in 1940, about the time he was writing an instruction book that made him think about his swing in technical terms for perhaps the first time. By 1942, he was off the tour.

7. Sandra Haynie, Fort Worth

Like fellow Texans Hogan and Lloyd Mangrum, whose careers were halted because of injuries and stints in the military, Haynie spent some time on the shelf. Dogged by arthritis and ulcers, she quit the game after amassing 39 victories, burned out and tired of the tour life at age 34. After several years off the tour, when Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open in 1980 at age 40, she was inspired. Haynie picked up the clubs again, made a comeback at age 37 and eventually claimed her fourth major title in 1982. Haynie, who once claimed the LPGA and U.S. Open titles in a span of weeks in 1974 at age 29, didn't take it for granted the second time around.

6. Jimmy Demaret, Houston

Demaret was a life-of-the-party type who made the guy at No. 4 on this list look like a shrinking violet. He wore clothes like Ian Poulter, cracked jokes like Bob Hope and could sing as well as Bing Crosby. No lie. Hope once called him the funniest amateur comic ever. He once cracked after a rough flight over the Pacific Ocean, "Lindbergh got eight days of confetti for less than this." The three-time Masters winner hit low shots that were perfect for the legendary Texas winds. Hogan once said, "The man played shots I hadn't dreamed of. He was the best wind player I've ever seen in my life." He was Hollywood to the crux. When they made that movie about Hogan years ago, Demaret played himself and flashed twice as much camera presence as the wooden Glenn Ford.

5. Lee Trevino, Dallas

He played against an army the biggest stars of the modern era -- Nicklaus, Watson, Player, Palmer, Casper. And the kid from the wrong side of the Texas tracks not only held his own, he emptied their wallets. Cracking wise along the way, Trevino took his slinging slice onto the PGA Tour and carved up every player he faced at some point along the way, entertaining fans like no player since Walter Hagen. He won six majors along the way, or as many as Nick Faldo, who was knighted by the Queen of England. Trevino might not have been the singularly best of his era, but he was certainly among the most popular, a guy average blue-collar fans identified with. He made Jackie Gleason look like a shut-in.

4. Kathy Whitworth, Monohans

We could summarize in a sentence and leave it at that -- she won 88 times on the LPGA, the most victories ever amassed by any player on a single major global tour. More than Snead, Nicklaus or anybody else. She gets major bonus points for longevity too, with a career that allowed her to play in parts of five different decades. She also had one of the most iconic hairstyles ever, a stacked beehive in her prime that could probably determine wind direction and velocity better than tossing a handful of grass in the air. Classy lady, too.

3. Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Port Arthur

Golfers are athletes? This gold-medal-winning Olympian athlete was a golfer. Babe was the central figure in the formation of the LPGA and even made cuts on the predecessor to the PGA Tour, playing against the men. She had panache, charisma and scads of raw talent. She didn't even play the game seriously until she was 21. She won the Texas Women's Amateur two years later. Among her biggest prizes were three U.S. Open titles, including the 1954 title, after she had been diagnosed with cancer, which eventually took her life at age 42. She was the greatest female athlete in history. Go ahead, try to convince us otherwise.

2. Byron Nelson, Long Branch

While other players of the era often looked like they were hacking at weeds with a scythe, Nelson had a swing to die for -- a fluid, rhythmic, almost effortless pass at the ball that led to the most incredible season ever produced, regardless of sport. Nelson won 11 straight tournaments in 1945, a record that will never be broken in an era of deepening talent and growing parity in the professional game. In TV parlance, Nelson was the genial good cop to Hogan's often gruff bad cop. Incredibly, two of the game's beacons originally learned the sport in the same Texas caddie program.

1. Ben Hogan, Stephenville

Why has Hogan been given the nod over Nelson? It's subjective, for sure, but Hogan's life story is the stuff of movies -- literally. He nearly died in a car crash, and before Tiger Woods' inspiring victory in 2008 at the U.S. Open, likewise limped around on a bad leg and still kicked everybody's tails. Hogan was an entrepreneur who endured for decades, while Nelson mostly settled into the gentleman farmer's life. Hogan won 64 events and nine majors, both the fourth-most ever, despite not figuring out the professional game until his 30s. Despite his early struggles, and an occasionally horrific childhood, he never gave up and eventually persevered. In other words, he was Texican to the core.


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