Steve Hogan II could have pitched the golf ball, but instead clutched his 6-iron for an attempt back on the fairway at the Riverside Golf Club. He glanced at the small narrow window through the dense trees. Impossible shot. Sweat rolled down the 9-year-old boy’s back from the blazing summer heat and mounting pressure on the Pepsi Junior Golf Tour’s stop in Grand Island, Nebraska. He relaxed his tense grip and swung. The ball smacked a tree, ricocheting right back at him. Disgusted with himself, Steve threw his club. As soon as the rage left his body, Steve met his father’s disappointed brown eyes. Steve Hogan Sr. shook his head and walked briskly down the green until his orange shirt and khaki pants faded in the distance.
Steve’s shoulders sank.
“Until you can handle dealing with adversity without freaking out, you can’t play in any more tournaments,” his father said on the car ride home.
Steve later wrote him a letter, apologizing because the last thing he wanted to do was to let down his hero, coach, and father. It taught Steve a lesson and not just about the game of golf. In life, when you hit a ball into the bunker, throwing a pity party just isn’t worth the effort.
Steve would spend countless hours after that day perfecting his left-leaning drive until it coasted down the middle. His father was a mentor to not just his son, but to countless other children. Hogan Sr.—a semi-pro tennis player before discovering golf—worked for the City of Omaha cutting grass and mowing lawns.
When Miller Park needed a manager, Hogan Sr. took charge. He found himself playing on the course at all hours, falling hard for the game. He eventually became the head golf pro at Miller Park in 1989. Hogan Sr. became the first and only African-American representing Nebraska (as a certified teaching pro) in the Professional Golfers’ Association of America in 1997.
In 1990, when three children kept sneaking on the course to steal balls and ride bikes across the rolling hills at Miller Park, Hogan Sr. didn’t call the cops. Instead, the golf pro told them to come back and he would teach them how to play. He started a nonprofit foundation, fittingly named Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes, to expose the neighborhood kids to a game most knew nothing about. It grew to be the largest junior golf program in the country.
In 1997, Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes became part of The First Tee, an international youth development organization that teaches character-building values through golf. Because of Hogan’s work ethic and passion, U.S. Kids Golf named him one of the top-50 golf teachers in America in 2004. In addition, he won the 2003 PGA National Junior Leader award.
Steve recalls how Hogan Sr. always said he wanted to create “not the best golfers, but the best citizens.”
Tony Driscoll is another beneficiary of mentorship from Hogan Sr. As a chubby 11-year-old, Driscoll used to hop over the fence by the second hole with his clubs to golf at Miller Park. After Steve told his father what was happening, Hogan Sr. coached Driscoll rather than turning him away. Driscoll played seven days a week at the nine-hole par-3 course until college.
“[Hogan Sr.] was the hammer and nail that made me realize what I am going to do with the rest of my life,” says Driscoll, who is now a PGA pro and director at Bent Tree Golf Club in Council Bluffs.
Steve played golf alongside Driscoll throughout high school at Central, competing against many fellow participants in Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes. Steve continued to golf at the collegiate Division I level, but politics and law fascinated him more.
His road to the bar, however, was not a straight shot down the fairway. Steve, a member of the Creighton College Democrats, jumped at the chance to work on the campaign of a first-term Illinois senator running for president of the United States. Steve took a shot in the dark and moved to Minnesota to become a field organizer for Barack Obama. He knocked on doors, hosted events, and convinced people to vote.
“It was an honor and a privilege to meet them [Barack and Michelle Obama]…to work on a dream campaign with a dream candidate with someone who looked like me,” Steve says. “It changed my life.”
Six days after Steve returned to Nebraska—following Obama’s election to the White House—his father passed away at age 55 from colon cancer. Miller Park was renamed the Steve Hogan Golf Course in his honor in 2009. Hogan Sr. impressed upon his son the importance of being considerate and compassionate. Steve knew from his father’s legacy that one person could make a difference, and he sought to put these lessons into practice for the common good.
Steve left Omaha again to work on the 2010 gubernatorial campaign of Minneapolis’ mayor, R.T. Rybak, and the transition team of Gov. Mark Dayton who won the election. Soon, Steve realized if he didn’t finish law school, he’d never do it. So, he returned to Creighton before another unexpected detour. He had an opportunity to intern at the White House in 2014. Creighton allowed him to enroll in the Government Organization and Leadership program so he could continue his studies with a dual major.
“Politics is such an awesome catalyst for change,” Steve says. At a young age, he hoped to be either a professional golfer or a senator. Steve put golf aside because he wanted to make an impact on a larger scale. Although Steve hasn’t made his dreams a reality, he looks every bit a future young congressman, dressed in a subtle gray and blue suit.
“Stevie always knows the score of the game in life,” Driscoll says. “He’s a gifted genius. We used to joke he would be president someday or the mayor of Omaha.”
Part of him wanted to stay in D.C., but he felt compelled to finish his degree. He graduated cum laude from the Creighton University School of Law in 2016 and passed the bar. Steve, now 32, focuses on litigation at the Omaha law firm of Fraser Stryker.
At the same time, Steve didn’t want to leave his father’s golfing legacy behind. Steve noticed many times his face was the only non-white one in the room. It was something Hogan Sr. knew all too well since he had to face the same issues on many all-white golf courses.
“It is about knowing your worth and no one is going to take that from you. It is about setting an example for race and culture,” Steve says. “I can do this and be better, and we as a people can do better. I want more black and brown kids to know they can do it.”
Steve was involved in his father’s program all throughout high school and college, volunteering his time on the green to help inner-city kids even while working on other charities. He says it would be impossible to measure the many ways golf has helped him professionally, an opportunity Steve wants to pass to more of today’s youth.
After Hogan Sr.’s death, hard times fell on Hogan’s Junior Golf Heroes—The First Tee of Omaha.
“He was a very unique individual, someone who could go in a room with potential donors and convince them of his dream while also being a PGA pro that could run and maintain a golf course,” Steve says of his father. “It’s tough finding one person that can fit all three roles.”
Steve was determined to keep his father’s program running. Almost 70 percent of the participating children don’t pay for the foundation’s nine-week summer golf program. Clubs, balls, and bags are all provided for those who would never be able to afford time on the green.
After a rotation of board members and executive directors, the nonprofit found its footing again. Steve is now vice-president of the board. Meanwhile, the program is once again thriving with Jeff Porter as its director and PGA pro.
Golf remains an important part of Steve’s life. He says lessons from the sport are sometimes simple, yet essential. Shake the competitor’s hand after a tough loss and look them in the eye. Face failure and be honest enough to admit a penalty. Or maybe there is a lesson in a biffed shot, something Steve knows all too well. For him, golf isn’t just a game.
Visit thefirstteeomaha.org for more information.
This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.