They used to say William Ben Hogan would play 18 holes of golf without talking to his caddie. He used to stalk relentlessly down the fairway, a lean, hawklike figure of 135 pounds.

Hogan, 64, is rarely seen these days, preferring to remain close to his home and golf equipment business.

But his shadow, however thin it may be, lingers.

Hogan won 62 tournaments including nine major championships: four U.S. Opens; two Masters, two PGAs and one British Open, the only one he entered. He was the tour's leading money-winner five times. He made $116,824 for those five leading years; Tom Watson, recent Masters winner, already has earned $190,260, with more than half of the season to come.

Hogan was born in Dublin, Tex., Aug. 12, 1913, the son of an Irish blacksmith who died when Ben was 9. From then on, it was struggle. His mother moved to Fort Worth and that's where Hogan saw his first golf course. He was a caddie at 12 and had to fight for the right to carry a bag.

Those years of being poor left their mark. He was perhaps the most intense golfer that ever lived yet the most controlled.

"Oh, Ben got angry all right," said Jimmy Demaret, one of Hogan's best friends, who also was one of the world's top golfers for two decades. "But Ben kept it all bottled up. We traveled together on the Lean and Low circuit when there wasn't much money around. Ben made every stroke count."

"Yes, they were hard days," Hogan said in a recent telephone interview from his Fort Worth office. "I am often asked if I'm not a bit envious of these young guys making all that money. I think I got $1,500 for winning my first U.S. Open in 1948. But a man must wind up with self-satisfaction. It's the game, the performance that counts.

"The big thing is the thrill of competition. I would have played as hard for an orange as a big purse. Money isn't everything. I have no bitterness. I made out very well when I played and I don't envy the present crop. It's just that when I played I was a perfectionist. I had to do what I did well or it wasn't worth doing."

Of the golfers today, Hogan said, "I saw Tom Watson win the Masters on television. I thought Jack Nicklaus was going to get away with the tournament. But Watson is a fine young player -- tenacious. I never believed all those choke stories about him -- that he quit under pressure. Anybody is bound to have a bad round occasionally. It happens.

"These boys are shooting lower scores than we did in my time. But it wasn't necessary to shoot those low scores. In any competition, you try to beat everybody else, regardless of the score."

Hogan has a point. He shot 14-under-par 274 in the 1953 Masters because Ed Oliver was on his back the whole tournament. Oliver had a 279.

"The equipment is better today," Hogan continued. "The courses are better and the present-day techniques of mainfaining a golf course are better. There are more sophisticated chemicals for the grass and golf course superintendents are agronomists who are highly skilled in their profession."

Hogan hasn't played in a year because of arthritis in his back. "I've started to hit a few golf balls now," he said, "and I hope it won't be long before I play again. I guess I was always peculiar about practicing. I loved to practice -- maybe I enjoyed hitting golf balls in practice more than on the course."

Hogan was inclined to be skeptical about reports that Sam Snead, his longtime contemporary who will be 65 May 12, will quit tournament golf Snead shot an opening 83 in the Masters and withdrew.

"I doubt Sam Snead will be counted out," Hogan olunteered.

"They say he's through playing competitive golf but don't you believe it. Sam has a fine body, a great physique. He'll be back, even at 65. He has been a wonderful player. I enjoyed playing with and against him. He was a tremendous competitor."

Hogan concedes that it is difficult for the older golfer to maintain his concentration. "What happens when you get older is that you can't play as well as you did and you lose interest," he said. "Golf is the most mental game of all. You get tired physically and that affects you mentally."

Every pro, including Nicklaus, dreams of making the Grand Slam -- winning all four of the major tournaments (Masters, U. S. and British opens and the PGA Championship) in the same year. Only four players. Hogan, Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player, have won the four majors, but never in one year.

In 1953 Hogan won the Masters, the U. S. and British opens and then did not compete in the PGA Championship.

"There were two reasons I didn't complete the Grand Slam," he says. "One: The tournaments were too close together, following each other by a week. The second reason was that I couldn't go the distance any more after my accident."

The "accident" remains one of sports' most dramatic and inspiring stories. On a foggy February morning in 1949 in West Texas, Hogan was driving to his home in Fort Worth when his car was hit by a greyhound bus head on.

The golfer threw himself across the body of his wife, Valerie. That action saved both their lives. Valerie suffered only bruises and a black eye. Hogan bore the brunt. He lay in the Hotel Dieu Hospital in El Paso for two months with fractures of the collarbone, pelvis and left angle, in addition to chipped ribs. A blod clot had formed in Hogan's left leg and moved to his lungs. A doctor was flown in from New Orleans to perform an operation that saved his life.

It took him 11 months to recover. He painfully walked around his living room day after day. Finally he went out to hit his first golf ball with Valerie watching. He shanked the ball like a duffer. "I've added a new shot," he told his wife. "Let's go out and celebrate with a steak dinner."

Hogan won his second U. S. Open at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., 17 months after the accident that nearly killed him. In those days, the final two rounds were played on the same day. That meant 36 holes of torture for Hogan, who limped home to tie Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio former Woodmont pro, for the title. Hogan won the playoff.

He won the British Open at Carnoustie, Scotland; over a course he had never seen. When he returned to New York he was given a ticker tape parade.

"I never forgot that," he said. "It was one of the great thrills of my life."

Hogan was considered dour when he was actually shy. The Scots called him: "The wee ice mon." He was a loner to many golf galleries because he seemed all business and never had time to banter with the fans the way Demaret, Snead and the later tour regulars did.

It was said of him that he virtually hypnotized himself into a state where the people in the gallery blended with the landscape like the trees and the grass. But he became a changed man after his accident. Thousands of get-well cards, letters and telegrams poured into the hospital.

"What really changed Ben Hogan," Demaret once said, "was that for the first time he discovered that people really cared for him."