Ben Hogan and the Municipal Pro


Much has been said about Zach Johnson, the humble professional from Iowa, and how his victory at the Masters shocked the golf world, but a closer look reveals that the most shocking victory in a major may well have come from another humble golfer from Iowa almost 52 years ago.
It was at the Olympic Clubs Lakeside Course, in San Francisco, where the golf world was shocked when a municipal pro from Iowa named Jack Fleck, defeated the games reigning icon, Ben Hogan, in a playoff.
At the age of 43, Hogan was still the purest ball striker on TOUR. After a phenomenal 1953 season when he had won three of that years four majors, the following year he had gone winless and was looking to end the streak at Olympic.
As always, his preparation was meticulous. Hogan had arrived a week early to study and practice at the recently toughened up course. So too did an unknown golfer named Jack Fleck. Their preparation paid dividends when after the first three rounds of the tournament, Hogan was in sole possession of the lead, followed by Sam Snead and Tommy Bolt, one and two shots back respectively, and the tournaments Cinderella story, Jack Fleck, who was three shots off the lead.
The U.S. Open was still played as a 36 hole final in 1955, and Hogan teed off for his final round in the early afternoon before a number of his pursuers. In an arduous final round, it appeared that Hogan had secured his fifth U.S. Open title when he posted an even par round of 70. Gene Sarazen, who was doing television commentary of the event rushed up to Hogan as he was walking off the 18th green and congratulated him on his victory. Hogan said all of the right things about there still being players on the course who could catch him, although neither Sarazen nor anyone else really believed it, except perhaps, Jack Fleck.
Fleck was on the 10th tee when Hogan finished his round and through Flecks first nine holes, he had cut Hogans lead down to only one stroke. Fleck would play steady, par golf until the 14th hole, where a misjudged 6 iron into the green would bunker his approach and result with a bogey. Fleck was now two behind the legend with four holes to play and few, if any, believed that he could close the gap on the Lakeside Courses difficult finishing holes. Fleck would send a spark through the crowd when he would come right back with a birdie on the par 3, 15th hole. Pars on 16 and 17 set up the 337 yard, par 4, 18th hole to determine if he could force Hogan into a Monday playoff.
Fleck chose a three wood for his drive on the 18th, but he would pull his shot and land in the left rough. From there, Fleck would choose a 7-iron, one more club than he had been playing all week, to attack the pin. He made a wise choice, as his ball would settle some eight feet from the hole, on a green that had been giving the players fits all week, including a number of four putts! Fleck continued his trance-like play, having read the break and negotiating the speed down the slippery slope perfectly, dropping the putt for birdie and securing a playoff against Hogan for the championship.
Hogan had long before changed, showered and packed up his locker. In a somewhat surreal image that defined the man, Hogan sat very much alone in the locker room politely acknowledging those who were congratulating him throughout the afternoon, although clearly uneasy about the assurance of the victory others were conceding. Hogan would bow his head as the roar from the 18th green signaled that Fleck had matched his score.
If it appeared that the entire world had bequeathed the championship to Hogan before the first tee shot was even struck, someone had forgotten to inform Fleck of his supporting role in the drama. Both men matched pars through the first four holes; with Fleck taking a one shot advantage on the 5th, thanks to a bogey by Hogan. It was a lead he would never relinquish for when Hogan needed to birdie the 18th hole to pull into a tie, instead the great man would hook his drive into the knee-high left rough. Error was compounded by misjudgment, and Hogan would eventually post a 6 on a hole where he needed a 3.
Fleck would play a textbook fairway-green-two-putts par that would secure his victory and one of the greatest upsets the game has ever known.
While Hogan would once again contend in major championships, the victory by Fleck somehow cracked Hogans invincibility.
Copyright 2007 Matthew E. Adams Fairways of Life
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Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a reporter for The Golf Channel, equipment expert, twenty-year veteran of the golf industry and speaker. In addition, he is a New York Times and USAToday bestselling coauthor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and author of Fairways of Life, Wisdom and Inspiration from the Greatest Game. Fairways of Life uses golf as a metaphor for life and features a Foreword by Arnold Palmer. To sign up for Adams Golf Wisdom email quotes or for more information, go to