Jack Fleck, Who Stunned Golf World at 1955 U.S. Open, Dies
March 24, 2014
A relatively unknown touring pro from Iowa heading into the 1955 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, Fleck entered the limelight after defeating legend Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff.
“I remember his reaction very much. I thought he would be disappointed with the fact he didn’t play to his highest level,” said Fleck in a 2013 interview with The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. “But he was very nice and very appreciative even though he lost the playoff.”
Fleck had only been a full-time PGA Tour player for six months when he entered the 1955 U.S. Open, but managed to come back and tie Hogan at 7-over 287 despite a first round 76 that had left him nine strokes behind first round leader Tommy Bolt. The deficit overcome remains the largest in U.S. Open history.
In catching Hogan, Fleck went birdie-par-par-birdie to close out a 67. All the while he was toiling, Hogan was already in the clubhouse, where NBC and commentator Gene Sarazen were busy congratulating Hogan on what was expected to be a record fifth U.S. Open crown.
“I’d met him numerous times and had some talks with him. I admired Ben and his competitive nature and gamesmanship. It was exciting, very much so,” said Fleck of tying Hogan.
In the playoff the next day, Fleck jumped to a two-stroke lead after playing the front-nine at 2 under. A birdie at No. 10 increased his lead to three, but Fleck gave it right back with a bogey at No. 11 and another on the 17th.
On the 18th tee, Fleck arrived holding a one-stroke lead. Hogan hooked his tee shot into deep rough on his way to carding a double-bogey. Fleck made par for a 69, while Hogan shot 72.
“On Saturday morning before the final rounds, while I was shaving and listening to Mario Lanza singing “I’ll Walk With God,” a voice came out of the mirror and said very audibly, “Jack, you are going to win the Open.” I was startled and looked around the room,” said Fleck in a 2005 interview with Golf Digest. “While I was looking away, the voice came out of the mirror again: “Jack, you are going to win the Open!” I got goose bumps, and it was as if electricity was going through my whole body.”
Ironically in beating Hogan, Fleck had used a custom-set of Hogan clubs. Upon arriving at Olympic Club, Hogan had also given Fleck a few wedges.
“We were the only two players in the championship using Hogan clubs,” Fleck said. “I don’t think Ben regretted at all that he made me that set of clubs. That was a big plus for his company.”
In photos of the pair after the playoff, Hogan appears as happy as Fleck.
Fleck, who had been the oldest living U.S. Open champion, later won the 1960 Phoenix Open and 1961 Bakersfield Open. In 1960, he also finished in a six-way tie for third at the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, three shots behind winner Arnold Palmer.
After leaving the tour in 1963, Fleck worked as a club pro in Illinois, Wisconsin and California. His last win came in a playoff at the 1979 PGA Seniors’ Championship.