Jack Fleck, a former municipal course pro from Iowa who stunned Ben Hogan in a playoff for the 1955 U.S. Open title, died Friday in Fort Smith, Ark.
The news, first reported on Twitter by PGA.com, was confirmed by the PGA Tour.
Fleck, 92, was the oldest living U.S. Open champion.
Fleck had been a full-time PGA Tour player for only about six months when he entered the 1955 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. After an opening 76 he was nine strokes behind first-round leader Tommy Bolt, but made up the deficit – still the largest in Open history – to tie Hogan at 287, 7 over par on Olympic’s Lake Course.
Hogan was already in the clubhouse, and NBC proclaimed him the champion before it went off the air. Gene Sarazen congratulated Hogan on what would have been a record fifth U.S. Open win.
Fleck, however, had other ideas. He was two shots behind after bogeying the 14th hole. He birdied the 15th, then, after two pars, sank an 8-foot putt for a 67 and a tie with Hogan.
In the 18-hole playoff the next day, Fleck played the front nine in 2 under to Hogan’s level par. A birdie at No. 10 increased the lead to three shots, but Fleck gave it right back with a bogey at 11. Another bogey at 17 sent Fleck to the 18th tee with a one-shot lead.
Hogan hooked his final drive into deep rough, took three more strokes to get back to the fairway and ended up making double bogey. Fleck made a routine par to close out one of the biggest upsets in sports history.
An interesting sidelight to the Fleck/Hogan Open legend is that Hogan was Fleck’s idol. Fleck was playing a custom-made set of Ben Hogan clubs, and Hogan himself had personally delivered a couple of wedges. In pictures of the two taken after the playoff, Hogan is looking at Fleck holding the trophy and has a smile every bit as big as Fleck’s.
“I remember his reaction very much,” Fleck told The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., in a 2013 interview. “I thought he would be disappointed with the fact he didn’t play to his highest level. But he was very nice and very appreciative even though he lost the playoff.”
Although the win will always be considered a major upset, Fleck proved it wasn’t a fluke by going on to win two more PGA Tour events – the 1960 Phoenix Open Invitational (in a playoff over Bill Collins) and the 1961 Bakersfield Open (in a playoff over Bob Rosburg). He was in two other playoffs as well, losing to George Bayer in the 1960 St. Petersburg Open Invitational and to Arnold Palmer in the 1960 Insurance City Open.
Fleck also made a run at another Open championship – finishing in a six-way tie for third, three shots behind winner Arnold Palmer, in the 1960 Open at Cherry Hills.
Fleck left the PGA Tour in 1963 and worked as a club pro in Wisconsin, Illinois and California. In 1977, at age 55 he qualified for the U.S. Open but missed the cut at Southern Hills.
In 1979, a year before the Champions Tour – then known as the Senior PGA Tour, was founded, Fleck won the PGA Seniors’ Championship in a playoff. in 1995 he teamed with Bolt to win the Demaret Division of the Liberty Mutual Legands of Golf.
“Jack started about the same time I started on the Tour,” Arnold Palmer said. “He was a good player, kind of a quiet, easy-going guy who played his game and never talked too much about it. He was a nice man to have on the Tour. I was sorry to learn of his passing."
Fleck turned pro in 1939, working as an assistant pro at the Des Moines Country Club. His golf career was interrupted by World War II, in which he served as a U.S. Navy quartermaster. He participated in the D-Day invasion, serving on a ship that provided fire in support of the landing of troops on Normany's Utah Beach.
Services are Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church in Fort Smith.